New Orleans-style music takes center stage at a fundraising festival in Switzerland.
Story and Photos by Kasey Jackson
It’s 8 a.m. in Zofingen, Switzerland. It’s early July, the morning sun already doing its job as the heat rises from the cobblestone streets. It’s sure to be a long day. But 300 volunteers are prepared. Smiling. Greeting each other with a friendly “Guten Morgen,” a nod and a handshake before hustling off to get some work done. There’s plenty to do.
Kiwanis members from 11 clubs in three divisions are on the ground here for the annual New Orleans Meets in Zofingen—a music festival that brings jazz, blues and more to this tiny walled city founded in 1201. Three stages will offer live music beginning in the evening, but before that, there are tents to pop, foods to cook, beer and wine to chill, sounds to check, lights to focus and gates to assemble. Everyone has an assigned job—and things are going just as planned. “Perfect,” says Kiwanian Markus Lanz, a two-way radio in one hand and a cell phone in the other. He’s in charge of security. He’s waiting for about 20 security guards to arrive, so he heads off to check on their status. Later, he’s seen zipping around on a scooter.
He also points out a “secret passage” between buildings, which will come in handy later when crowds make it tight to maneuver. It’s the quickest way to get between the stages. Insider information helps on a day like this.
Now in its 21st year, the Zofingen festival has become the place to be. By the time the first acts hit the stages, there are almost 7,000 people in the crowd. And that’s saying a lot for a Monday night (and a school night for the kids) in a city with a population of only a little more than 11,000. Almost everyone is here.
With the festival underway, the jobs have changed. Kiwanians are now taking tickets. They’re serving beverages. Carving meat. Handling money. Preparing food for the musicians. The list goes on.
Papa’s Finest Boogie-Band is on the main stage and bringing down the house. Dancers from Pink Cadillac are jumpin’ and jivin’ as the crowd claps and taps along to the beat. Children stare in awe at the flurry of color spinning before them as men lift women into the air, skirts upended under the evening sky. A little boy tackles a festival favorite: New Orleans Mega Spiess mit Burli, which translates loosely to meat on a stick with a piece of bread skewered on the end. It’s delicious.
As darkness approaches, the temperatures have cooled, but things are heating up. One must fight one’s way to the front of the stage to witness Sharrie Williams, a powerhouse of a voice described as “the princess of rockin’ gospel blues.” She’s here from the United States, and she’s attracted quite an impressive crowd from all walks of life. An older couple is dancing together under the stars while a young man with long hair pumps his fist in the air and dances like nobody’s watching—though he’s right at the front of the stage.
All of this not only is for a good time, but also a good cause. Ticket and concession sales from this and previous festivals have paid for many Kiwanis projects, including a sports club for the handicapped, a recreation center, theater workshops for kids and teens, a football camp and Model Club fundraising for The Eliminate Project.
This story originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Kiwanis magazine.