Crescendo: Snowpenair 2014, Switzerland

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ANURAG MALLICK takes the narrow gauge Swiss mountain railway to Kleine Scheidegg to attend a high altitude music concert featuring Deep Purple and Swiss rockers

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Having attended Deep Purple’s ‘Battle Rages On Tour’ in 1995 (their first appearance in India), the prospect of attending another Purple gig nearly two decades later didn’t seem that exciting. Gillan, Glover, Paice and Morse hadn’t gotten any younger. However, what got me hooked was the venue – Kleine Scheidegg, with the backdrop of three spectacular Swiss peaks Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch! This wasn’t just open air; this was Snowpenair! I had heard of music festivals in rainforests and secluded islands, there was Burning Man in the Nevada Desert, but a high altitude music show on snow, hell this was new…

Interlaken, that scenic tourist destination located ‘between the two lakes’ (Thunersee and Brienzersee named after the lakeside towns of Thun and Brienz) was buzzing with tourists. Travellers from around the Bernese Oberland had congregated at Interlaken Ost railway station. The narrow gauge railway breezed past quaint stations like Wilderswil and Schynige Platte to Grindelwald. We hopped on to the connecting Wengernalpbahn train. Soon, Alpine meadows flecked with snow were transformed into an endless sea of white as we pulled into Kleine Scheidegg.

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We disembarked, inhaling the cool and crisp mountain air. The setting was like a Mondrian painting – blotches of red, yellow, blue, green, orange of fluorescent ski clothing against the white snowy expanse. At 13,842 ft, Mount Jungfrau (the Virgin) stood shoulder by shoulder to the Monch (the Monk) at 13,449 ft. As the gates opened and people stomped down to the arena, we slip-slided our way to the VIP enclosure. Unlimited wine and starters got us into the groove as the Lewis-Bowie-Hammer Band took centre stage. Sharon Lewis, the frizzy-haired Big Momma of Soul belted out R-E-S-P-E-C-T with Joseph Bowie on the trombone and Michael Hammer hammering away at the drums.

After a dose of Southern style R&B and numerous references to Ganja, it was time for the local musicians to take over. Marc A Trauffer got the crowd to sing and sway along to ‘Brienzer Buurli’ (Boy from Brienze) and ‘Nit min typ’ (Not my Type). It seemed we were only the klutzes who didn’t know the words to the songs. But the music was infectious and catchy. Then it was Gola’s turn to rock the house. The tattooed musician with a shiny pate whose rags to riches story from being a carpenter to a rockstar was legendary.

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To a world that thought Swiss music was just about Alpenhorns, cowbells and yodeling shepherds, these new artists were giving a definitive voice to the nation. Despite Montreux’s association with its iconic Jazz Festival, Swiss rockers were still a rarity on the world stage. Finally, Deep Purple came on. It was an epiphany seeing the ageing rock stars in Switzerland, a country that had unintentionally given them one of their biggest hits and the most recognizable guitar riffs ever – Smoke on the Water. In 1972 when some joker with a flare gun burnt down the venue at a Frank Zappa concert at the Montreux Casino complex, the band members watched the scene from their room in The Grand Hotel just across the lake!

Soon the Kleine Scheidegg arena transformed into a Japanese karaoke bar as people mouthed the lyrics ‘We all came down to Montreux, on the Lake Geneva shoreline…’ with nationalistic pride. It was as if they were singing the Swiss national anthem! But this time there was nothing to fear – no mad arsonist, no rattan ceiling, just the shadow of the peaks and the blue sky above. As a man swayed recklessly with his lit Zippo, I only prayed there would be no Deep Purple song in future ‘We all came down the Glacier’…  

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.

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