To Russia with Love – Part 1 – First Impressions

I suppose if one were living life fully, each moment in each day would seem like an adventure. Travel takes me away from all that is ordinary which is no doubt extraordinary except for that I have gotten use to everything and everyone that is usually around me. Last December a fan of mine in some ways awoke me from my waking sleep when he wrote me from Moscow and inquired if I had plans of performing there in the future. My custom is to write back and explore if there are any possibilities. I then received an extraordinary response from Жилин Андрей, or should I say, Andrew Jilan who claimed that when he was fifteen he had three favorite musicians/groups that he listened to. I never dreamed that I would ever be in league with Jimi Page and Iron Maiden but there I was raised high in the pantheon of cultural icons. We skyped each other and set a week mid May for my debut concerts in Russia and perhaps for the first harp guitar concerts heard there as well.

John Down in Moscow in a vehicle.After having performed in Ukraine and Germany my wife Deirdra and I arrived on my Birthday in Moscow. Andrew had prearranged a cab – basically someone who has highjacked the family car and has found a few hours of employment (the cabbies at the airport charge several times more).

Valdimer Putin - photographAndrew had never received a rock star before. I didn’t know if he was being kind and shaved part of his head to emulate me or that he enjoyed looking like Vladimir Lenin but his gentle demeanor put us at ease as we rushed through the strange landscape of endless apartment structures and construction detours.

3.John Doan Tour Moscow Housing

There were cars everywhere driving down boulevards six and seven lanes across on each side. The smart way to get around was by subway which was buried deep into the earth. Amongst the hustle of humanity in these subterranean passages I felt like a secret agent viewing into a strange new world. Were people suspicious of my taking pictures? Alas, I was put at ease to see harp guitar-like instruments portrayed in ceramic tiles along the walls and began to feel more at home. They even had super-treble strings!

Once on the subway, I tried to find a seat and wanted to blend in.  Unfortunately, the only vacant one was between a couple locals who for some reason did not give me the feeling of welcoming a comrade.  So I tried to inconspicuously take my place between them while acting like I was engrossed in reading an advertisement for McDonald’s. All I could think about was that slender slice of fried chicken sandwiched between those imposing Russian buns.

I was on my way to perform at the convention center downtown for the NAMM show.  It was a 45 minute trip so I thought, oh well, when in Rome do as the Romans, so I did my best to become a true Moscovite.

I finally arrived at the NAMM event (National Association of Music Marketers) who were sponsoring the first music trade show in Russia. Just tuning up drew a small crowd before being inundated with a multitude of Soviet musicians and salespeople. There enthusiastic response to my music and the harp guitar was overwhelming. I really was not expected the flashing red lights and hands waving in the air.

At the NAMM show there were retailers of instruments of all shapes and sizes.  There was even a guitar that may have been built near the old Chernobyl nuclear plant and Billboard Magazine even had a booth there. I was standing in the booth when Deirdra asked me to pose for some photos by putting my face in an opening behind some cardboard signs. I had no idea why she was laughing so hard but I was sure it was at my expense.

The show was amazing and it was easy to get lost playing all the cool instruments.

14.Moscow NAMM JD keybd

Look for “From Russia with Love – Part II – In the Footsteps of Fernando Sor” to learn more about my adventures discovering Sor’s life and times in Russia (coming soon).