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 cosy, sheltered as it is on three sides by mountains, with the magnificent Matterhorn at it’s head watching over the village below. A perfect venue for an intimate festival. I doubt Thomas and Marco could have predicted how their baby would grow and still be around 11 years later. Zermatt Unplugged has now become a run-away success yet still retains it’s intimate nature.
A little history; Thomas had a background in staff recruitment and sold his business to diversify in to the entertainment industry, Marco 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 in Zermatt. Initially conceived as a singer-songwriter festival, the first event held in 2007 was a success and unique in Switzerland as the only festival of it’s kind. However Thomas and Marco felt that the one man and his guitar idea was perhaps a little limited 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 in nine 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 are the main tent, erected specially by around 170 workers, 100 of them volunteers, setting up and dismantling approximately 140 tons of material, for each festival. The main tent has a capacity of 1,800 seats and is the largest of the venues. The other stand out venue is The Vernissage Club, with a 500 seat capacity, designed by the re-known Zermatt artist and architect, Heinz Julen.
The 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.
This year’s edition was pretty special for me. I went to see Emeli Sande, Lianne Le Havas and The Kooks. All three surpassed my expectations, especially Emeli Sande who’s emotional delivery had people in tears. I’d go as far as to say that she’s right up there with the best I’ve ever seen in a live setting. The Kooks were powerful, tight and sounded superb. Lianne Le Havas was fantastic and has an astonishing vocal range. But what made this year memorable was the impromptu jam session that rocked the Mont Cervin Palace. Ronnie Scott’s Allstars were in town and various locals with talent and courage got up on stage to entertain a very appreciative crowd. Emeli Sande wasn’t slow to get up and make an appearance, which went down a storm then lo and behold my friend Paddy ‘ID’ Corrigan got up and treat us to a master class in rapping, he was on form and in the groove, the crowd were lapping it up. There was an amazing energy and buzz in the room which was palpable. It was one of those spontaneous occasions that develop out of nowhere and carry everyone along on a wave of emotion and enjoyment. That was the highlight for me and will be hard to match next year. I’ve been to every Unplugged festival. I’ve never been disappointed but this year will be hard to top. Thomas and Marco are no doubt working on doing just that right now. Bring on 2019!