Blue Balls Turns 20

What began as a musical day on an old steamboat in 1992 and grew into a week-long festival will celebrate its 20th anniversary this summer.

In those two decades, Switzerland’s Blue Balls Festival has grown its annual crowd from the 300 music fans who boarded the paddle steamer Stadt Luzern for the trip around Lake Lucerne to about 100,000 per year.

It’s attracted such internationally known acts as Van Morrison, Jethro Tull, B.B. King, Billy Idol, Tracy Chapman, Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Healey, Jimmy Cliff, and KT Tunstall.

The idea for the original boat trip came from local musician Urs Leierer, who planned a night when his friends and colleagues could get together for a jam session.

“I started asking my musician friends and they asked their friends, then it grew to the point that we knew we had to make it a special event,” Leierer explains.

After its second year the event had become very special and the crowd grew so much that it had to move ashore, settling by the side of the lake at Lucerne.

It now takes place around the city’s harbour and uses the KKL Lucerne, the pavilion and the Schweizerhof Hotel as its main venues.

This year Leierer, who still runs Blue Balls, will once again use the steamboat Stadt Luzern as a venue as part of the anniversary celebrations.

The boat was 300 years old when it made the trip for the first festival, but a thorough refit and refurbishment means it’s still the flagship for the five-strong steamboat fleet – the world’s biggest – that makes the daily six-hour journeys around the picturesque lake.

Leierer’s also making it a special anniversary by booking several exclusive Swiss shows, including Antony & The Johnsons with a 40-piece symphony orchestra, an unplugged concert by top German band The Söhne Mannheims, and Regina Spektor.

Other acts booked for the party by the lakeside at Lucerne July 20-28 include Kaiser Chiefs, Paolo Nutini, Gentleman & The Evolution, Mika, and The Kills.