Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Best & Worst of the Montreux Jazz Festival (Montreux, Switzerland)

16 days is a long time for one festival. By the end of it all, we were all a bit ragged. As the menacingly tattoo'd (but teddybear sweet) security guy who works the Miles Davis Hall backstage area said, "I'm really tired, but also sad that this is coming to an end." Me, too. There were tons of fun moments, wacky moments, aggravating-at-the-time-but-funny-in-retrospect moments. So, while my mind is still on it, here's a partial "Best & Worst of" list.

Best Surprise
Must be Sting. I wasn't even going to see the show, I'd moved so away from his music the last few years. But the producers got us a little private booth, so not being able to say "I would really rather check out Morrissey" I watched Sting. And wow! He played with only 3 other musicians in a back-to-rocker-roots dynamite show. No idea if this is going to be his new direction or if it was a one-time aberration, but it was one of the best shows at Montreux this year.

Best Discovery (for me)
Tinariwen. I'd never even heard of them, They're a Tuareg band. The Tuareg people originally lived in Mali, I think, but were expelled and lived in Algeria in exile. Tinariwen's first gig was held in a Libyan barrack! They appeared as part of Santana's not-very-blues night, "My Blues Is Deep," and blew me away. One guy plays djembe and the overall sound is very North African, but the other guys play electric guitar and bass, so it's a cool mix of western and African culture. Plus, I loved their desert robes! Must find a CD!

Worst Suprise
I knew Claude Nobs, the founder of the Festival, played harmonica with the Stars. I just didn't think he would do it in front of a paying audience. I mentioned earlier that Big Dog calls him the worst self-promoting promoter. One wall in the press room is covered with news clippings about the NobsMan. The Wall of Nobs just makes me laugh, but his appearing with every Big Name Performer is not very funny. Maybe his playing his harmonica with them was cute in a homey way when the Festival was a small, handmade affair. But it's grown and (yes, it IS because of him and his dedication that it's continued for 40 years and is now the huge international event that it is, but...) ticket prices are high enough that a paying audience shouldn't have to be subjected to this.

Best Service
Free buses! From Vevey (town on the west of M) to Villenueve (town on the east). They come every 10 minutes, run all night and shuttled us from the Casino to the Auditorium several times each day. No more walking miles and miles loaded down with gear like pack mules! Yeah!

Worst Dis-Service
The price of drinks at the bar inside the Press Room is 1 Franc MORE than anywhere else in the venue! Yeah. Stick it to those freeloading journalists! Gouge 'em! Maybe they'll stop coming to cover the festival. Maybe the world will forget there ever was a Montreux.
We stopped buying anything here. We'll go across the street to get a 1.20CHF bottle of water over the 5CHF water in the press room. We'll go next door to the nice terrasse cafe for a 5 buck beer instead of having one for the same price in the press room. So there!

Best/Worst Scam
The Jazz currency. I'm not talking about music. These are coins you have to convert your Swiss Francs into before you can purchase anything at the many stalls around the venues. They're used for food, drinks, souvenirs. And prices are high! Moreover, you can buy Jazz but you can't sell it back. See where it becomes a real scam? Someone's making a lot of money on unused Jazz. Local kids bring their own wine, beer, food. No one stops you, so you should, too.

Worst Frustration (for Big Dog)
The HDR-Z1 camera. We got this camera to shoot in HDV last year and it was our camera this year, too. Small, lightweight and shoots in HDV. Perfect, right? Not for Big Dog. "Because it's small and has no weight, I can't put it on my shoulder to steady. Handheld is a real bitch. Plus it's got too many switches and buttons and instead of the main ones being real switches and buttons, you have to go into a stupid menu. There're too many functions professional camera guys would never use. And the positions of all these teeny, itsy-bitsy switches you need itsy-bitsy fingers to push, are all wrong. Focus? You'd think it was in a place where you could get to it easier. Instead, there's a GAIN switch!" I won't (and can't) put in his entire rave but believe me, after a while, he begins to foam at the mouth. The camera is turning him into Rabid Dog.

Worst Frustration (for me)
Lean and mean is good. But when you are too lean, it makes you really mean. After the 4th day, we lose our second cameraman and our lights. for most of the festival, it's just me and Big Dog. I am audio, PA, producer, pack mule, makeup, stylist, writer and reporter. Big Dog is DP, director, lighting gaffer and grip, PA, sometimes audio, co-producer, accountant and pack mule. Both of us were always sweaty and very often bitchy. Problem was, I had to be in front of the camera.

Best of the Fest
It's the people. Most of the staff was superb. And the audiences were absolutely fantastic. Because of this, I think the musicians are really relaxed and that creates a unique environment. I loved the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic groove of the place. Unlike festivals in the US, there were very few buttheads. Even the kids behave sensibly. Like Japan, Europeans don't seem to care too much about underage drinking -- and they seem to drink more responsibly than Japanese kids!

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