Despite many overlaps in their programs, the Gurten and Paléo festivals are quite different.
For a Bern local, the Gurten Festival is a must. It's essentially a party with the entire city on top of a big hill. Even as a newcomer to Switzerland you will inevitably run into people you know. While at first glance this year's program seemed outdated, the international line-up of classic bands and newcomers delivered some surprisingly incredible shows. But the best part about the Gurten Festival is the community feeling. It's not about wearing your cool new festival clothes, it's about hanging out with friends in the sunshine (or the pouring rain) and enjoying a massive weekend.
Paléo contrasts Gurten with its slick presentation, colored lights, art projects and interactive sections, all set to the backdrop of a massive Ferris wheel. And the food, if only Swiss cities had this variety! Festival goers enjoy a mouth-watering abundance of international food stalls. But one of the most interesting parts of this festival is the Village du Monde, a tent dedicated each year to a different region of the world. This year's focus on the Andes brought some fantastic international acts and food. At 6 days long, I wonder if Paléo could keep my attention for that many days but it certainly tries its best.
Hello Switzerland had a chance to chat with two of the international artists who played both these festivals this year, Markus Füreder of the Parov Stelar Band and Steve Gene Wold, a.k.a. Seasick Steve.
Füreder, originally from Austria, was friendly and nostalgic when describing the Swiss audience, noting that playing here feels like "coming home". He also sweetly admitted to still feeling nervous before each performance until he has the chance to connect with and charge the audience's energy.
But the star of the festival was Seasick Steve, a soulful, storytelling, rock and blues musician from Oakland, California. At 73, playing several homemade or personalized instruments, this guy seriously rocked. When I asked him at his press conference why he makes music, Steve's answer was poignant. Holding up his hands he said music is entwined in the fibres of his body. It is essential to him and there is no life without it.
Both festivals were brilliant for different reasons. They were superb introductions to the festival season here in Switzerland and testaments to its diversity. If you attend either of them next year make sure to download the handy Gurten Festival Buddy app for iPhone or Android and the Paléo Festival app for iPhone or Android before you arrive.
You still have time to squeeze in a few more festivals in Switzerland this year. Check out the Hello Switzerland Festival Guide for what's coming up.
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