There are some awesome places on this beautiful planet that lend themselves perfectly to music events, the Montreux Jazz Festival is a case in point, stretched out on the shore of Lac Leman, the setting greatly enhances the music on offer. Cafe Del Mar, in Ibiza is another venue that springs to mind. Not strictly speaking a music festival but the daily Sunset Session is assisted by the setting sun and the chilled vibes enjoyed by the clientele.
Maybe Thomas Sturchi and Marco Godat had this kind of thing in mind when they founded the Zermatt Unplugged music festival in 2007. Zermatt is a pretty and compact Swiss village with a fascinating history and a draw for people worldwide in both summer and winter. It could be described as a cosy resort, sheltered as it is on three sides by mountains, with the magnificent Matterhorn at its head watching over the village below. It’s a no brainer and fits the bill as a perfect venue for an intimate music festival.
Thomas Sturchi had a background in staff recruitment and sold his business to diversify into the entertainment industry, Marco Godat was involved in a top Swiss talent agency so it was a perfect match between two can-do people with a vision to start something special. Initially conceived as a singer-songwriter festival, hence the name ‘unplugged’, the first event held in 2007 was a success and gave them both the confidence to expand and build something unique to Switzerland as the only festival of it’s kind. However Thomas and Marco soon felt that the one man and his guitar idea was perhaps a little limiting so they decided to open it up somewhat for the 2008 edition and widen the scope but still remain acoustic in essence.
The Zermatt Unplugged event is held annually in early April at nine varying venues around the village. The intimate nature of the venues creates a winning ambience that brings out the best in the artists booked to perform. No massive, hanger like stadiums here, all the venues were chosen for their cosy and intimate nature. Perhaps the pick of the venues is the Main Tent, erected by around 170 workers, 100 of them volunteers, setting up and dismantling approximately 140 tons of material. The Main Tent has a capacity of 1,800 seats and is the largest of the venues by far. The other stand out venue is The Vernissage Club, with a 500 seat capacity, designed by the renown Zermatt artist and architect, Heinz Julen.
There was a hiccup in 2009 when the administration of the municipality and the festival organisers could not agree on a date, so disappointingly, the event didn’t happen that year but in late 2009 long term financial and logistical support was agreed by both parties, thus ensuring the events longevity.
Intimate venues and settings and the unique ambience helped by the layout of Zermatt have also ensured the event has established itself on the calendar. As word of mouth has spread an ever growing list of top artist, enthusiastic about the festival and wanting to perform there has grown, the event has certainly attracted some top names, among them, Suzanne Vega, Alanis Morissette, Jason Mraz, Lionel Ritchie, Chris de Burgh and Seal to name a few.
The ten year anniversary edition has just finished and has certainly built on the solid foundations laid down so far ensuring the festival goes from strength to strength. Among the artists appearing this year were Michael Bolton, KT Tunstall and Paulo Nutini. If Thomas and Marco remain true to their initial philosophy the event will remain intimate and acoustic, perhaps never growing to rival the Montreux Jazz festival in size and scope but after all small is beautiful as anyone who has attended this charming and unique festival will attest to.
Next years festival is already shaping up to the the best yet, with some surprises in store. You have plenty of time to get yourself booked in. The week long festival is an ideal opportunity to get some time on the slopes with the ideal apres ski thrown in for good measure. As Fred Pontin used to famously say ‘book early, you won’t be disappointed’.
Rebecca Taylor is Director at SkiBoutique.
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