Here in Europe Country music festivals are few and far between. However two weeks ago Martina McBride graced us with her presence at Country Night Gstaad. This Swiss country music festival takes place in the idyllic alpine village of Gstaad and once every year this jetset holiday destination is flooded with country music fans. And not just Swiss fans made the beautiful journey, fans from France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Spain made it as well.
The festival, which started back in 1989, is said to be Europe’s leading country music event. A statement you understand when realizing which artists have played here in the past: Trace Adkins, Miranda Lambert, Craig Morgan, Kenny Rogers, Lady Antebellum, Clint Black, Bomshel, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, Julie Roberts, Clay Walker, Rhett Akins, Joe Nichols, LeAnn Rimes, Terri Clark, Tracy Lawrence, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sara Evans, Gary Allan, Wynonna, Jo Dee Messina, Lorrie Morgan, Mark Chesnutt, Lee Ann Womack, Billy Ray Cyrus, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, Emmy Lou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Dwight Yoakam, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.
The two day event, traditionally held on a Friday and Saturday night in September and recorded for both Swiss tv and radio, took place in a unique marquee style tent with a seating capacity of nearly 3000. The adjacent sports hall offered the visitors many different shops, food stalls and bars, showing off themes names like ‘The Harley Bar’ or ‘Johnny Cash Corner’.
Starting of her performance on the Friday night Martina said:
‘I’m so happy to be back in Switzerland again. We were all really looking forward to coming here and playing for you tonight’.
The last time the four time CMA vocalist of the year played in Switzerland, or Europe for that matter, was back in 1994 when she was opening up for Garth Brooks. That date, and therefor this country, hold a special place in her heart she says, as it was during this trip that she found out she was pregnant with her oldest daughter. This time all three daughters came with her and were invited to come on stage to say ‘hi’. When asked about her daughters and writing her hit song ‘Teenage Daughters’ Martina shared the story of how the song came about.
‘Writing ‘Teenage Daughters’ was kinda like therapy
‘It’s fun to be able to write something that is from your own life. And that song definitely came out of a true life situation. My daughter at the time was 16 and we had, what she refers to as, a little ruff patch. Which was really just one morning we had one of those mornings where we just weren’t clicking. We’re really great friends and we’re very close but I think I probably wouldn’t let her stay up past her curfew or something and she was not happy with me and mentioned it to her dad in the car on her way to school. So I said: ‘I don’t know why she thinks we’re fighting. I thought everything was fine’. I went in to write that day and we started out writing a completely different song and I just stopped and said: ‘You know what’s really interesting; having teenage daughters’. It’s such a journey. Not only them and what they do and who they are but also how you view yourself. When they’re little like my 7 year old, Ava, they think you hung the moon. She still thinks I’m cool. And then, as they grow older, you see them getting more independent and your role changes. So that’s just a lot to wrap your head around. So I said: ‘That’s what we should write about, having teenage daughters.’ We all kinda looked at each other and we couldn’t believe there has never been a song about this before. We wrote it very honest and obviously with a little humor and after finishing writing my 16 year old walks in to the room and we all looked like we’d been caught doing something wrong. She said: ‘What’s going on’. ‘Well we actually just wrote a song about you’ we replied. When we sang it for her, by the first chorus she was smiling and she loved it. So I feel like it’s a song that resonates with parents and teenagers as well. We wanted to write the song from both the mothers and fathers perspective because I sing a lot of songs about women and I wanted to also include the fathers.’
A lot of artists now a days appear in movies or are in tv shows. Has Hollywood knocked on you door?
‘We’ve had some television offers in the past couple of years and form me it’s about making sure it’s the right project. I have 3 daughters who are in school so I’d have to make sure that it won’t take me away from home for long periods of time. And yeah, I’m open to all of those opportunities but I’m very choosy or want to make the right choice if I do so…. We’ll see, I feel like it’s in my future at some point. Definitely.’
If you could duet with any artist for your next album, who would it be?
‘Well, I’m a fan of Lady Antebellum and I love Charles Kelly’s voice. So I would love to sing with him.’
Would you also consider doing a duets album?
‘I would love to make a record of duets. I think there’s so many things musically that I still want to do. Special projects like a duets record or another country classics record like Timeless. So yes, I hope that I do get to do that in the future. The challenge will be to come up with an interesting way to do it because it’s been done a lot already. So I kinda want to spend some time and think about how I want to approach that.’
A lot of people out here love traditional country music. What was the reason to do your Timeless album?
‘The reason I did that record was because I grew up singing those songs. I grew up singing classing country music. My dad had a band when I was young and he taught me all those songs. So it was what I heard growing up.
When I got into recording, my first album was very traditional. I had a record executive that sat me down and asked: ‘What kind of country artist do you want to be?’ and I can’t remember exactly but I said something like ‘I wanna be really great’. And he goes ‘Well that’s not good enough. You have to tell me what kind of country artist you want to be’, so I said ‘I want to be a traditional country artist’. That was my first response so I made a very traditional album, ‘The time has come’.
I evolved and somehow my music moved a little more towards the pop side of country music. So I really wanted to make a record that spoke to me about where I came from. Being a member of the Grand Ole Opry, is something I’m very proud of, and I’ve been able to honor a lot of traditional country artists; Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, ect. at various events in Nashville. So I wanted to make a record that showed my love for traditional country music. I also made it a little bit for my parents. My mom said: ‘This is the first record of yours I can listen to all the way through’. Haha, thanks mom. ‘
Can you tell us more about your latest album ‘Eleven’ and how it’s different from your other work?
‘I think that as an artist my challenge is not making the same record over and over again. Even though I’m sure I have fans that would like me to make the same music over and over again. But part of being an artist is pushing yourself and pushing your boundaries a little bit and over the past couple of years I’ve been more influenced by R&B music and just other genres of music. I wanted to explore that a little bit. On Eleven I wrote more then half of the songs on the record, which is the first time I’ve written so much for an album. One thing I’m really proud of is that I feel like I can sing a lot of different styles of music so on the new record I wanted to explore all different kinds of things.’
But of course she was here to play music and we came out to hear her sing.
‘I love to sing. There is a certain difference about singing live then making a record. You know, you have the instant connection with the audience and there’s more energy on stage. And I love performing live.’
And she proved why she’s still one of the best voices in country music and a great musician. Kicking off both performances with ‘Wild Angels’ and including ‘Blessed’, ‘Broken Wing’ and ‘Independence Day’ but playing two completely different shows.
‘We try to change it up a little, depending on the audience and what they would like to hear. This audience has most likely never seen me before, is more laid back then what we’re used to in America and love traditional country music.’
With that in mind the band, which included 2012 Canadian Country Music Association Award Female Artist of the Year Carolyn Dawn Johnson as background vocalist, started playing Loretta Lynn’s ‘You ain’t woman enough’, followed by Lynn Anderson’s ‘Rose Garden’ and the beautiful ‘Help me make it through the night’ by Kris Kristofferson. But the best cover of the night by far was Judy Garlands ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’. Sang a capella, and later only joined by an acoustic guitar, the song and Martina’s voice had something magical which left every person in the tent with goose bumps.
On the fun side the crowd was encouraged to snap their fingers to ‘King of the road’, sing along with ‘Free Falling’ and come closer to the stage at the end of each show.
The Friday night show felt more intimate. It was lovely to hear Martina talk to the audience about her childhood, parents and bring out her own daughters. The Saturday night was a great show that offered more traditional sing from the ‘Timeless’ album. I was also happy to see her current single ‘I’m gonna love you through it’ and ‘This one’s for the girls’ added to the setlist.
Ending each show with the powerful ‘Broken Wing’ and ‘Independence Day’ Martina manages to get every single person in the audience, that mainly spend the night sitting down and really listening to the music, on their feet. No matter which of the two shows they saw, everyone in the audience absolutely loved it.
‘It inspires me so much when I look out into the audience and I see everybody’s reaction and they’re happy to be there. My goal with a show, no matter where I’m playing, is to make a connection with the audience and for us to leave feeling like we know each other a little bit better’ – Martina McBride
A big thank you goes out to the organisation of Country Night Gstaad. Thank you for having us come out and enjoy it with you. Next year will be the 25th edition of the festival. What a spectacle that will be.
When going to this festival it’s important to realize that because of it being taped for Swiss tv there a certain rules: the audience is only allowed to photograph the first song of each artist and is not allowed to stand during the performances. There’s also a no smoking, drinking of eating policy inside the tent. The adjacent hall offers many food stalls and bars and there are designated smoking areas outside.
In return however you get amazing country music artists, a great atmosphere and a chance to maybe meet the artists after the show as most artists hang around and grab a bite to eat themselves. There’s also music and dancing till the early hours of the night.
For more information about Country Night Gstaad, go to www.countrynight-gstaad.ch
Writer and photograph: Marloes Lucy Duizer