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!

To Russia, With No Guitar – I Won’t Back Down

October 7, 2015



SOCHI, Russia – So I’m sitting in my hotel room in Sochi, at the site of the Winter Olympics, and it’s pretty dismal outside, with lots of rain, and my work does not start until tomorrow.  So what would I do right now to be playing my guitar, like I have done for the last seven years while travelling on my job to cover Formula One races.  Yes, this trip to Russia is the first time in seven years that I have not been able to take my guitar on a flight to a faraway country to play in my room and seek out open mics and jams and other venues to play at. Thanks Turkish Airlines.

I love Turkey, I love Istanbul, and I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Turkish Airlines.  That’s why I decided to take Turkish Airlines to Sochi, since, as it turns out, it is also the cheapest way there from Paris:  Paris – Istanbul, Istanbul – Sochi.  In fact, the flight last night after midnight from Istanbul to Sochi was about 98 percent booked by Formula One paddock people, drivers, team staff and media.  So I’m not the only one who has discovered the Turkish Airlines way to Russia (with love).
Turkish Airlines

But as it has been many years since I flew on Turkish Airlines, and I have my paces all set out for most of the other countries I fly to, and as I’m aware that of all of the world’s airports, Charles-de-Gaulle, in Paris is one of the most difficult ones for a musician with a guitar to pass through, I decided to check out the Turkish Airlines site for its baggage policy before I left.

I was also spurred on to doing this because I noticed that in my international flight on my electronic ticket, it said I could take 30 kilograms of baggage – which is wonderful, since I’d be well under 30 kilos even with the guitar in a hard case.  But I then noticed that there was a special policy for lepers.  Sorry, I mean musicians.  It said that if you really wanted to take your guitar onboard – i.e., if the instrument exceeded cabin baggage size – you had to buy a seat.

This all seemed pretty absurd.  So I decided to call up Turkish Airlines at the airport in Paris and query.  They took my name, checked my ticket, and told me to wait, that they would look into it.  Actually, no, they did answer one of my questions, which was, if I have 30 kilos of baggage, can I divide that into two pieces.  They said I could divide it into as many pieces as I wanted, but that, oh, if one of those pieces happens to be a guitar, then I might have to pay an excess luggage fee.

Off the woman went, and when she returned, she confirmed that I would have to pay about 15 euros per kilo of that excess luggage.  In fact, it was NOT excess luggage, it was just a guitar.  I explained that with my main bag and the guitar – which would weigh 7 kilos, hard case included – I would have a total of 24 kilos in the flight, which is well under the 30 kilos allowed.

The woman told me that it made no difference, since one of the pieces of luggage was a guitar, I had to pay out of my nose for the privilege of taking it with me to Russia on Turkish Airlines, i.e., a minimum of 105 euros extra…and I’m not actually sure if I had to pay the 105 both ways, or if that covered the entire return trip.  And I no longer cared, because 105 euros to take my guitar which is NOT excess luggage, for me was not just torture of a musician, it was also a sum I cannot afford.

One of my journalist colleagues, upon hearing this story last night at the airport upon arrival, reminded me that he had seen me singing and playing my guitar in Sochi last year, at a pub, and that I had sung Tom Petty’s, “I Won’t Back Down.”  I was impressed with his memory, but I was suddenly less impressed with myself, as I said to him that this year, I had just backed down.  I had backed down from Turkish Airline’s extortionate practices against guitar carrying musicians.  But on the other hand in a way, I did not back down.  I was not going to let the airline make me pay a vast sum of money that they did NOT deserve.

But so here I am on a rainy day in Sochi, and missing my guitar like hell.  Maybe I’ll find an open mic, though, and play someone else’s guitar….

PS, Last year I did the same trip with Aeroflot via Moscow. It was more expensive, and Moscow Airport was a little too crowded for my liking. But both the Aeroflot people and the people at the Moscow Airport were super cool about my guitar, allowing me to take it into the cabin, and even, at the airport, asking me if I wanted to go up and play some music on the stage that was being constructed behind me in the airport for some upcoming concert.

PPS, I keep on having these urges, where I am sitting at my computer, and I want to turn around and grab my guitar for a few chords and songs…. Have to keep stopping myself….

Powered by