I don’t know if my words can do yesterday any justice, but I can give it my best shot.
Rachel and I woke up late, and hurried ourselves down to breakfast so as not to miss it. Already accepting that the 90 degree weather would put us in a lazy mood for the day, we grabbed our books and walked down the waterfront to fold out chairs that lay by the water. Much to our surprise, two young men were sleeping in broad daylight on towels and sleeping bags, with their possessions tucked underneath the chairs. I’m seeing a lot more of these who come and go from the festival without having made proper sleeping arrangements. When Ray and I felt our skin getting pink, we took refuge in the shade and continued reading our respective books until Dad came back from dropping the rental car off in the city.
We all walked downtown together and did some window shopping and actual shopping, hoping to get our errands out of the way: we did not. Back at the hotel, we decided to go swimming at the local pool again. And, let me preface this anecdote with a disclaimer: I know, it’s Europe. Yet with that being said, there were too many naked people in and around the pool for my liking. I tried to hide how much of a prude I am about social nudity, but I didn’t do it well. I covered my eyes when walking past the nudists, and buried my face deep in my book when I was sitting pool-side so the book engulfed my peripherals. I’m still trying to move past the ease these people had at such a public display; I know I’m not in Kansas anymore.
I had hoped that we would be able to hear the finals of an ongoing piano competition run by Iiro Rantala that I learned about at his concert. But by the time we finished at the pool and found the location of the competition, the judging had been completed. We were only in time to hear Rantala and a few others speak, and the winner to be announced. After the winner was told what he had won (a hefty amount actually), he played the most heartfelt rendition of “What A Wonderful World” I’ve ever heard. It even rivaled that of our singer from Hotel Bären. 😉
We very quickly sought out wristbands, praising the again empty counter. After a delicious dinner by the waterfront, we strolled down to the other end of the waterfront. Dad got caught up in the music in the park by Les Castagniers, a Swiss folk group. I typically like Irish folk music, but the poor harmonizing, tacky punk look, and unskilled handling of their various instruments was an immediate turn off for me. Dad would still disagree that they were, in fact, an authentic group. But I’m not buying.
Not too long after, we entered the Stravinski Auditorium, along with 3,000 other patrons. That was when the most amazing moments of my life were about to unfold, and I didn’t even know it yet.
The first act of the night was Bobby Womack, a funk musician whos career I assume had hit its peak in the 70s. His music wavered between dull and and upbeat funk songs. But it felt like his background singers and horn section were pushing Womack to perform, or even stay standing. Songs slurred from one to the next with no real definition of an ending. After an hour and a half, we, and a large percentage of the audience were ready for it to end. We had run out of ways to feign interest. However, there was one man in the crowd who could not contain his excitement for the groove, despite the tempo of the music. He did quite possibly the most feminine and ridiculous dances I’ve ever seen, as if he were a 20 year old woman in a club. If you’ve ever seen Hitch with Will Smith and Kevin James, you know the type of dancing I’m talking about. I wanted to go up to him, and tell him “This is where you live, this is home.” Finally, it was over. As an experienced concert-goer, it’s hard to not think of one act preceding another as an “Opening Act.” But here at Montreux, they place importance on the fact that these shows are double-features with equally established artists.
However, Wyclef Jean’s performance that followed Bobby Womack’s made it clear who the real attraction was. Jean was absolutely incredible. He was so charismatic, yet so appreciative of the roar of applause the audience gave him. He began by playing jazz piano, then singing a bit. He later said he did that to “Not give the impression that he’s just another one of those rapper guys.” After the audience was drawn in by his reggae and messages of peace, Jean shed the mask, and broke into raps in English, French, and Spanish. He got the audience hyped up and dancing like I’ve never seen before.
At one point he stopped the performance, looked up at the VIP box that was above all of us partying at ground level, and said “F*@% the VIP!”. He made his way up to the balcony, and stood on the railing that was to protect the VIP from a tragic fall. Wyclef defied the purpose of that railing, and got the seated VIPs standing and dancing: it was exactly the statement the night needed. Wyclef read the audience like a book, and while he made his way down from the balcony, he had his DJ play “My Girl” by The Temptations so people would pair up and dance.
Around that time, the night took a different turn, and it became less about a concert to hear a performer, and more about one collective celebration of hip hop, reggae, rap, jazz, and latin dancing. From there, any hope to regain control of the audience was lost. We were going insane dancing and jumping around, and he loved it. He switched from old Fugee classics to newer songs of his solo career with phenomenal communication with his DJ, bassist, drummer, and guitarist. He even played the radio recordings of some of his better-known songs, and sang or rapped over them; he didn’t care. He didn’t have anything to prove to us. And we loved that.
Wyclef came back out for 4 encores, and changed the tone of each encore. He united the crowd over Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, played his own version of a Pink Floyd song on his guitar, began a Brazilian Carnevale celebration, and finally ended the night with a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Somewhere in this, a Conga line started. By then the audience had dwindled to about 700 people, and Wyclef himself joined us all in the celebration. We did the Conga with Wyclef Jean and hundreds of others from all around the world. Wow. Wyclef had other great interpersonal audience moments too. He had a few kids get up on stage and dance with him, and even grinded with a woman who could have been as old as his mother. It was disturbing, but entertaining as anything. We couldn’t stop laughing, and neither could Wyclef as he lectured “Mama” on what to do and what not to do while dancing.
By the time the performance ended, it was 1 am, chalking our time in the Stravinski up to 5 hours. We were dead on our feet, and still trying to process everything we had seen and the invigorating experience we (surprisingly) survived. Just absolutely incredible.