Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

The Wandering, Guitar Carrying, Vagrant of Music-less Sochi

May 1, 2016



SOCHI, Russia – My three visits to Russia have been the most fruitless three visits to any country in the world as far as my open mic journey goes. I’m on my last day in Sochi today, and I leave after midnight for an all night return to Paris. The only place I have played in Sochi on this trip is in my hotel room. I’m not totally depressed about that, though, because not only was it great to play, but I actually wrote a first draft of a new song! Still, Sochi has proved to be the least successful place for me on any of my world travels. But I think there is a good reason for this – part of it to do with me, part to do with Sochi.

First, let me make it clear: I have played once in a bar in Sochi, as I note in my post from 2014 about playing in the beer garden near my hotel in Sochi. That place is still there this year, and I have eaten all my meals there, but there was no music, no band, this time. Second, I would like to add that I have done many searches for open mics or open jams in or near Sochi online, even asking for a Russian speaker to help me, and I have found nothing. So it is NOT an easy thing to do, even if you are a Russian speaker.

In fact, adding to the above point, I must say that on this trip, I actually have a Russian acquaintance from Paris, who ran an open mic in Paris – and so is quite attuned to the music scene – who had a month or two warning in which he said he would help me find a place to play in Sochi, and he came up with nothing! And I forgot to mention that the reason he said this, is because he himself is here in Sochi right now! So even my Russian acquaintance from Paris who is currently in Sochi, knows music scenes, and works in the travel business, even HE could not find a place to play here!

The Bruderschaft is in the background.

The Bruderschaft is in the background.

Still, having said all of that, I must add that I myself did NOT do what I have done in just about every other country I have visited: I did not just walk the streets all over town and try to find a live music joint, other musicians, and see if I could act like a magnet and draw the music scene to me. But that, unfortunately, is partly because of the nature of Sochi itself: The immediate surroundings of where I am staying is in the former Olympic Village. It is nothing but hotels, beach, amusement park, race circuit, restaurants set up for the Olympics and then the conversion to the F1 race and tourism.

Don’t get me wrong, there IS a place called Sochi outside of the Olympic Village. In fact, the place I’m in strictly speaking is called Adler. But the Sochi we all talk about happens also to cover 145 kilometers of oceanfront, in a long, long strip of vacation industry kinds of places. Sochi is the leading holiday resort for Russians, and so this is not an easy place to walk around in like some of the major cities where I have managed to find music despite language barriers and a dispersed musical culture. I can walk the streets of Nagoya or Tokyo or Istanbul or Sao Paulo or Kuala Lumpur and many many other major cities where the F1 takes me, and I can find the music. Here in “Sochi” I cannot so easily do this. In fact, I can’t really do it at all.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 03: A stray dog walks through Olympic Park ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on February 3, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 466979991

SOCHI, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 03: A stray dog walks through Olympic Park ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on February 3, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 466979991

Or rather, maybe I should be hiking down 145 kilometers of coastline trying to find an open mic or bar that has an open mic or open jam. But this is not so easy when I have a job to do also. And as I learned last year as I jogged down a portion of the boardwalk, there’s the added problem of wild dogs in Sochi, and in my experience, wild dogs dislike guitar carrying vagrants as much as they dislike joggers.

Excuses, excuses. Anyway, that, so far, is the extent of my adventures in Russia this year, and so far, on all of my three visits to the country since 2014. I must try to book a stopover in Moscow sometime, as I’m about 98 percent sure that must be a different story all together.

Oh, and I really must add that the part about playing in my hotel room here is really far more positive than what my state of mind was in last year’s visit to Sochi: Readers may recall that last year I discovered at the last minute that Turkish Airlines would not allow me to take my guitar on the flight to Sochi without me paying extra – about a third the cost of the guitar – and so for the first time in 7 years I did not take my guitar with me on a trip. This year, I was horrified a couple weeks before going to Sochi to learn that my Turkish Airlines flight had been cancelled, and I had to find a last minute replacement with Aeroflot. It was only after I booked that that I recalled my fiasco with Turkish Airlines, and felt lucky I could bring my guitar again this time on the much more friendly Aeroflot!

Jamming at the Bruderschaft Beer House in Sochi, Russia

October 13, 2014

The Bruderschaft is in the background.

The Bruderschaft is in the background.

SOCHI, Russia – Just when I thought I had finally failed for the first time ever in the last six years that I have been attending Formula One races around the world and vowing to find a place to play at each event, just at the last moment, the last night in Sochi, Russia, at the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, that’s when I left the restaurant, walked out the door and heard the sound of live music. Suddenly, I had a hope, a last ditch, last attempt, last offering, possibility of perhaps being able to play on stage in Russia.

So I looked around and saw across from the Russian restaurant where I had eaten – the Graf Orlov – and also across from the facing Italian restaurant where I had eaten on the previous two nights – the Il Bacilico – that there was a massive beer house called the Bruderschaft, and that the music emanated from within. It also turned out to be the same location where I knew some journalist colleagues had gone for a few drinks. So failing the possibility of playing music, there would at least be a bit of conversation to be had.

This whole complex, you must understand, is part of the Azimut Hotel on the site of the former Winter Olympics, now right next to the Sochi Autodrom Formula One circuit, where the inaugural Russian Grand Prix took place yesterday. The area was full of Formula One teams, journalists and other personnel, in addition to spectators and other Grand Prix related people. It was the same complex where I had played in my hotel lobby on the first two nights – only noted once on this blog – and while it was all very comfortable, I had realized that in choosing a location to stay near the racetrack, I had also found myself in a world without the kind of nightlife that was likely to spawn an open mic, open jam, or other open live music event. Wrong.

So I walk into the Bruderschaft, and I am approached by a woman manager, and she asks if I want a table. I say, “Well, I really want to sing, play music.” “Yes, of course, you can do that.” I looked at her in disbelief, and then looked at the funny little covered stage in the middle of the beer house bar, and on the stage were three musicians: A guitarist who also sang, a man on saxophone and another on keyboards.

It turned out that the man on guitar singing was just another client, and that the other two were the house musicians. It turned out, even better, that another one or two people from the public went up on stage afterwards, and when I asked if I could play and sing, the answer from the stage, too, was sure, of course.

And so it was that I had discovered, if not quite an open mic…yes, an open mic. And so it was that I played “Wicked Game” and “I Won’t Back Down,” me on the electric guitar and vocals, and the keyboard player on the keyboards and the saxophone player on the sax. And boy, was it fun. Playing Russia, just when I figured I had been defeated and would for the first time not play in a new country where I was visiting for my work.

I had not forced myself to take the train to the downtown, central part of this vast ocean front holiday resort area, the southern Russian holiday mecca. I had not taken the risk, despite going all the way to Russia, to go then all the way into the downtown area and spend hours searching the streets maybe only to either find nothing, or to play until it was so late I could not find my way back. After all, I had a job to do. But then, there it was, done, I’d found a place to play on stage with Russian musicians in Russia. What a blast! Hope I get to go again next year, and then I’ll search further afield.

I did, by the way, check out the beachfront area of nearby Adler, which was ten minutes away in a taxi. But it was so stretched out in area, also, that trying to sort my way around all the many bars and pubs and music joints, as just too bit a thing to do in a single night. I was in Sochi for around five nights, but the logistics after choosing the Olympic Village as my hotel area, were just not up to it.

In any case, there it was, on my doorstep from the beginning. At the Bruderschaft in the Azimut Hotel area in Sochi. And the open armed, open mic policy of the musicians and the management, was just like what I find everywhere else in the world, when it comes to music joints and vibes. Check it out!

Powered by