About This Festival
In days past, the United Kingdom held the monopoly on European music festivals, but the situation has been shifting over the past 20 years. Today, the continent can boast summer music throw downs that are the rival of anything going down at Glastonbury. Paléo Festival de Nyon, much more commonly known as Paléo, was one of the originators of the continental fest scene, and remains one of the standouts of the genre.
In fact, Paléo—held in the town of Nyon, in the Swiss canton of Vaud—puts to rest the notion that festivals on the European mainland are only a recent phenomenon. A Paleo festival has been held in Nyon since 1976, although the original incarnation was a much smaller 1,800-member audience folk music concert. Since then, Paléo has grown in drabs and drabs and, every now and then, huge spurts. By the '90s, the affair was pulling in arena-packing headliner acts. What was once a little party near the shores of Lake Geneva has become one of Europe's major annual open air events, attracting a crowd of over 230,000 attendees and musical lineups that run as deep as the Marianas Trench.
Click here to witness Paléo posters as they have evolved over the decades. You'll get a good sense of the evolution of this event, from intimate little folk fest to main stage mega show.
More Days, More Venues, More People
You read the number right before—Paléo attracts a big crowd. A six-figure crowd. But it always feels like a fairly smaller festival for one simple reason: the itinerary is drawn out over six days.
Unlike so many other festivals, which only last through one or two weekends, Paléo is a contiguous six day affair. In many ways, this sustained longevity is one of the defining features of the festival. In general, the increased time works to your advantage. While there are a lot of musical acts at Paléo, the seething crush at headliner shows is alleviated (a little) by the sheer spread of days and acts. That's not to say those big gigs don't get crowded, but there's room to negotiate your act lineup.
The length of Paléo impacts the attendees as well, for the same reason you have a different attitude about one hour in a bar versus an entire evening. There's not the pressure to pack a week's worth of festival fun into a three-day window—your week's worth can actually last a full week. The folks here, be they bands or attendees, are a little more laid-back about everything (well, as laid-back as you get in a country like Switzerland). Essentially, Paleo lets you know that if you don't have all the time in the world, you've got a lot of it.
This, of course, assumes you can afford the fiscal and temporal investment of four days plus of non-stop summer festival. Tickets for Paléo usually go on sale on April; get on them if you want to see the show, because you're competing with about 230,000 other potential concert-goers, and only 35,000 tickets are sold per day—they sell out quickly.
What to Expect
Paléo covers a pretty big festival grounds, with the acts divided into six different stages; Le Grande Stage is where you'll see most of the big headliners. Because the festival practically covers a whole week, you'll want to prepare a fair bit beforehand when it comes to selecting the days and acts you want to attend. The big acts are staggered, so you usually (usually…) don't run into a situation where simultaneous good gigs are happening, but you need to be careful about picking days. Or, y'know, you could just stay all six days.
On that note, four-, five- and six- day passes are available and are a popular option—they grant you free access to Nyon's open air swimming pool, and in a charmingly intellectual gesture, free entry to the town's two museums (mentioned below) and the Swiss National Museum in Zurich. Passes take the form of a bracelet, which you can apparently mechanically seal—sounds slightly terrifying, but also pretty secure.
Besides a good glut of public art and the obvious musical element, one important element of Paléo is Le Village du Monde (The World Village) section, an area that is transformed into an invited region, city or country from around the world. Within the village is Le Dôme, which serves both as of Paléo's six stages and a gallery for artists from the region in question.