When Music Climbs Mountains
“There ain’t no mountain high enough,” sings Marvin Gaye, in his famous song about love with no limits. And yet the Swiss apply these lyrics in an entirely different way, via the exceptional, high-altitude, musical experience that is the Unplugged Music Festival, held each year in Zermatt.
No other music festival is like it. In Zermatt, music truly has room to breathe in the fresh mountain air. Of the 15 performance areas set up around the ski town, three stages are actually perched on the very mountains themselves: one at the Sunnegga funicular station (at 2,288 m), just four and half minutes from the centre of town; one on the oversized terrace of the Blue Lounge in Blauherd (at 2,600 m), complete with views of the Matterhorn; and lastly, the most remote stage at the Gandegghütte alpine hut (at 3,030 m), just a few steps from the icy base of the Theodul Glacier. At these heights, there’s little else but the rock itself, forming a crown over one’s head of rugged mountain summits, topped with the occasional ice cap. In addition to the exceptional setting, another unique characteristic of the Unplugged Festival is that it’s entirely dedicated to the beauty of acoustic music. One of just a handful of such festivals in the world, there are no studio effects used here. At Unplugged, musicians perform with nothing more than their voices and their music in its purest form, a challenge not for the faint of heart, and many songs have to be rewritten especially for the occasion. And yet there’s no straining to hear the music at these performances. In town, the main stage welcomes just around 2,000 spectators, while the stage at The Alex Hotel is designed for just 400-1000 spectators, depending on the show. Audience sizes are even smaller at the Winkelmatten Chapel or at any of the other hotel and bar partner venues, which provide a host of “New Talent Stages” featuring up-and-coming musicians. These intimate venues are key to the festival’s appeal, offering rare opportunities for close-up experiences between the public and the performing artists. The 13th edition of Unplugged will once again take place at the end of the winter season, from April 14-18, 2020. The full program will be announced on December 5, just before pre-sale tickets are made available (December 10) and general sale begins on December 12. Dido and James Morrison are among the names that have already been confirmed in the line-up for this next edition of the festival, which promises to be as spectacular as ever.