One of the world’s longest established and best-known music festivals, The Montreux Jazz Festival continues to support fledgling artists and make shows freely available while staging performances by international stars.
Due to take place from 30 June – 15 July at venues dotted around the Lake Geneva shoreline, this year’s event will feature an eclectic mix of musicians including Bob Dylan, Sam Smith, Lil Nas X, Janelle Monáe, Christine and the Queens, Chilly Gonzales, Mavis Staples, Norah Jones, Lionel Richie, Wet Leg and Iggy Pop.
Ahead of the event’s 57th edition, Montreux Jazz Festival CEO Mathieu Jaton discusses its post-pandemic revival, overcoming production challenges, driving new sustainability initiatives, working with key suppliers and partners, and the non-profit foundation’s commitment to supporting talent development and audience growth.
With festivals in Brazil, China and Japan running annually along with the Swiss original, the Montreux Jazz Festival is due to be rolled out in Abu Dhabi and Miami next year. The event has come a long way since local promoter Claude Nobs got the ball rolling in 1967.
The 2023 edition is very similar to the format of the 2022 event, as that was the big post-pandemic comeback for which we made a lot of changes including introducing new stages and a completely new setup. It was a huge success in 2022, so the goal this year was just to correct some small things. It is great to have the same setup, especially with the brand new venue we’ve created called the Lake House. It’s like a music incubator, with a new stage dedicated to upcoming jazz artists, mainly from the UK.
This year will be our last edition at the 2m2c – Montreux Music and Convention Centre Congress Centre before the venue is completely rebuilt. So, for 2024 we are planning to do something similar to what we did during the Covid situation when we did a stage on the lake. For 2024 we will build a stage with a 5,000 capacity.
So, the 2024 festival will see you build an outdoor venue that’s bigger than anything you currently have?
Yes, currently we have the Auditorium Stravinski with a 4,000 capacity, and a hall called the Lab that has a 2,000 capacity. In 2024 we will move the Stravinski stage to the lake, which is going to be amazing with the view of the mountain and lake behind the stage.
I understand the attendance is usually around 250,000. How does that break down between the number of shows that are free to attend and the paid for events?
It is roughly 100,000 tickets paid and 150,000 for free events split across nine stages outside.
Has there always been a focus on providing free to attend shows?
Yeah, definitely, both elements of the festival are totally mixed. This is really the concept and the DNA of the Montreux Jazz Festival. It is very important that the free shows are focused on upcoming artists, and by giving access to music for free it is a kind of education for the audience. It’s very important for us in terms of artists but also in terms of audiences.
The Montreux Jazz Festival is a non-profit foundation, and the goal is to give access to music to everyone. The city of Montreux only has 20,000 inhabitants, and we come in with 250,000 visitors so it really is impacted during the period of the festival, so it’s great to be able to offer free access to shows.
The economic impact on Montreux must be enormous. Do you have the numbers?
It means a financial impact for the region of 60 million Swiss Francs, which is of course very important especially for hotel booking because for the two weeks of the festival we generate between 15% to 20% of the overall annual revenue of the hotels in the region with around 60,000 overnight bookings.
How is the event recovering post pandemic, and has it been impacted by rising costs and staff shortages?
We returned on a large scale in 2022 and ticket sales were amazing, but staffing was an issue. We have 2000 staff working for the festival as volunteers. It was not difficult to find them but it was quite difficult to keep them. People signed up to come to the festival and on the first day we were missing around 200 people, they just didn’t come. We hired around 300 staff during the festival, which was quite a big deal because it was not easy to manage the festival that way. In Switzerland a lot of people lost their jobs in production during the pandemic. It was quite difficult to find the right people at the right time but we were helped by the fact that the Montreux Jazz Festival is the most iconic event in Switzerland, and all the big production companies want to keep the event in their portfolios.
This year ticket sales are higher at this point than in 2022 which is a good sign. It looks like the major events in Switzerland are not suffering, people are really focusing on major brands, but the lesser known and cultural events that are more intimate are having a lot of difficulties.
Who are the key production supply partners you work with?
On lighting we work with a company called Skynight, based in Geneva, For 30 years our sound partners has been Meyer Sound, the American company which provides the most beautiful sound quality.
In what ways are you working to minimise the environmental footprint of the festival?
It’s a very important focus for us and the city of Montreux. Montreux is a big festival brand and very influential in Switzerland, so we are trying to do everything we can, working hand in hand with the government, on a communication perspective, to educate the audience to be respectful of the environment.
We are working very closely with the city to treat all the waste from the festival. Transport is another major issue. We conducted a huge survey that established that 54% the festival’s carbon footprint is caused by the transportation of artists and the audience. We’ve partnered with the city and Government to encourage visitors to come by train or electric bus. Last year we saw a 50% increase in the number of people that didn’t arrive by car. This year, we have additional trains running until 4am to enable people to return home to the main cities.
For the artists, we have a partnership with Porsche that will see them collected from the airport in Titan electric cars. We are also encouraging artists to travel by train or electric vehicles to the event.
The cost of electricity is, of course, getting more and more expensive. We have an electricity supply partner in Switzerland who we are working with to explore how the festival can be powered entirely independently within the next three years by using solar panels and other renewable energy sources.
We have an association in Switzerland which involves major cultural events including Art Basel and the Locarno Film Festival. The association has signed a sustainability charter that covers the ecological perspective but also social sustainability; in terms of employment, salaries, contract durations and education.