Festival Junkies

Further confirmation that the Swiss are Europe’s festival junkies comes from Philippe Cornu, who admits several of the Gurten Festival team have been known to say they’ll never touch one again, but they soon come back for another hit.

"I’ve said it myself, particularly after years when we have had a lot of rain and lost a lot of money. On the last night I’ve stood there too exhausted to think, and feeling too old to put myself through it all again," Cornu explained, although he’s now done so for the last 17 years.

"But within a couple of weeks, whoever has said they were giving up will be back on the phone and saying they were tired at the time and that they didn’t really mean it – and they’re keen to do it again."

Gurten started – or rather stop-started – in 1977, but only happened seven times in the first decade and then disappeared altogether.

In 1991, Cornu brought it back. Since then, it has become an annual fix.

He says this year’s Gurten Festival, the 25th in 31 years, hasn’t planned anything special other than to produce another successful event. Located in Berne, it draws from both the French- and German-speaking markets.

Despite comparatively recent difficulties – having to compete with Mother Nature a couple of times, German promoter FKP Scorpio setting up Greenfield Festival three weeks before Gurten and nearby, and seeing the 2006 World soccer championship cut its crowd by 20 percent – the 16,000-fixed-capacity event still comfortably holds its place among the top Swiss outdoors.

A per-day crowd-pulling league based on 2007 figures shows only Paelo-Nyon (35,000), (30,000), Frauenfeld Festival (28,000) and Greenfield (25,000) had more through the door.

Cornu said Gurten has always been about "building it and having the will to survive." It’s already survived some turbulent times in the Swiss outdoor market, when named festivals have been known to disappear, change hands, go bust, change hands and go bust. But there have been times when the Gurten festival junkies have enjoyed their highs.

"God must be Swiss," Cornu said in 2005 – the year that began with worries about the competition from Greenfield – when a near sellout Gurten crowd basked in four days of sunshine, sandwiched between several days of such soaking rain that a few European festivals were virtually washed out.

This year’s Gurten, July 19-22, will include Herbert Groenemeyer, Kaiser Chiefs, The Chemical Brothers, Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals and KT Tunstall.