About This Festival
When it comes to festivals, branding is important. Montreux’s brand is jazz but, in reality, the Montreux Jazz Festival is all about fusion: hip-hop to acid jazz, techno to indigenous African bands. Any music with a soul will have a stage here and, in fact, there are often boats on the lake dedicated to salsa or samba so this is more of a multicultural music fest.
One of Europe’s Most Prestigious Music Events
With workshops and a relatively intimate environment - given that there are nearly 200,000 people attending over the two weeks - there’s an opportunity to get up close and personal with the artists. This is a great place to catch both emerging talent and those that are in the twilight of their career and, if you’re lucky, you may get to see a collaboration of a 25 year-old teaching a 75 year-old legend how grooves are created today. Magic often happens at Festival OFF, which features a couple hundred free concerts around town in just about every space you can imagine. This two-week festival makes the hills come alive in the Alps, and the lake and mountain provide a picturesque backdrop for the music.
The History of the Montreux Jazz Festival
As modern music festivals go, this one has some legacy. In 1967, three jazz-lovers from the Swiss Tourist Office created a 3-day festival that has now expanded to 15 days. They chose Montreux as their location because this small, historic city on the eastern end of Lake Geneva provided the kind of nurturing atmosphere for jazz lovers to commune. The festival was immediately a hit, even at a time when rock and pop music festivals were starting to dominate, partly due to the collegiality of the festival: everyone coming here has a respect for jazz and its musical offshoots. That’s why the Montreux Jazz Festival is known for both its collaborations and for its environment, a place where the audience can truly connect with the artists in small venues and a variety of workshops.
While many new music festivals have sprouted in almost the half-century since Montreux emerged, this is the kind of festival that still has street cred with artists, as well as a loyal audience that comes every year. This is why Bob Dylan showed up here in 2012. What’s masterful is how almost all of the venues, from large to small, are within a short walking distance from each other. Unfortunately, the original location, the old Montreux Casino, burned down in 1971 during Frank Zappa’s performance (Deep Purple’s song “Smoke on the Water” tells that story). With a mild and mellow climate, the lakeside supports palms trees and tropical flowers so, at times, you’ll feel like you’re in some splendid resort that’s hard to pin down geographically. There’s a six-mile lakeside promenade that’s a romantic spot for sunset watchers. Montreux has been called the “Pearl of the Swiss Riviera.” If you didn’t come with your honey, you may meet someone at Montreux.
Cosmopolitan: that’s probably the best way to describe this international crowd. There’s a sophistication that has more to do with taste than money. While not an exclusively high-brow crowd, these are people who know and love their music and, after a concert, you can get into a spirited conversation with musical enthusiasts from around the world. The spirit of the festival remains despite the fact Claude Nobs, the primary founder, died in early 2013. If you love music, you’ll love Montreux.