This summer in Russia a truly iconic music event took place. To set the scene, let’s take a travel back in time – over 50 years, in fact.
Those of you of my generation will remember the famous Woodstock music festival that took place in Woodstock, New York State in America in August 1969.Nearly half a million people attended. The festival has become widely regarded as a very significant moment in popular music history. Here’s a brief list of some of the famous performers who were part of the event: Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Band, Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, Ten Years After, Joan Baez, Santana, Joe Cocker, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. If those names are not very familiar to you, you’re clearly much younger than me!
It became a crucial and memorable event for the so-called “counter-culture” i.e. the anti-establishment, left wing movement at that time. So, what is it’s connection to good old rock’n’roll? Let me explain.
50 years after the original Woodstock, some big players in the Russian music world organised a huge music festival on 14th September 2019, to commemorate Woodstock 69. The venue was an impressive one – The Golden City, a location on the outskirts of Tula, a city to the south of Moscow. And in this 2019 version of Woodstock, rock’n’roll played a significant part. Some great rock’n’roll bands took part. For example, the Moscow Beatballs, the Red Elvises (what a name!) and the Raw Cats. I’ll hand over now to Sergey Arnautov, vocalist and drummer with the Moscow Beatballs, to tell you more.
Well Richard, I do know the history of the original Woodstock. For example Joe Cocker became famous after appearing at the festival. It was a lot of fun in all kinds of ways. At the Moscow Festival, we played our usual rockin’ set. There were of course not quite half a million people there, unlike at the original Woodstock. But there was a great turnout nonetheless. One of the national Russian TV channels covering the event officially confirmed there were several thousands attending. Such a festival is hard to organise. We’re amazed that everything went smoothly, without a hitch. And it’s very nice playing before an appreciative audience. And we enjoyed meeting the festival organisers in person.
There was a funny incident. We were just about to go on stage, but our guitar in its case was in the dressing room. The problem was that the dressing room was located behind another stage, where other musicians were performing at the time. Yura was waiting for a break between the songs but there was no break; there was some endless composition by Feliks Lahuti. We were forced to get on stage right during the performance and go through the door. The dressing room was chock full of children so we had to squeeze through them, but everything was fine. Luckily, we had placed the rest of the instruments on the stage. Yura made it with his guitar for the beginning of our show!
The audience received us very enthusiastically, because we are who we are. We really like the entire music from the period of the original Woodstock. If we start listing examples, they’ll take all the pages of your journal, but here’s just three from the 1960s – the Shadows, Creedence and Jimi Hendrix. My favourite song from that period ? A tough question; it’s impossible to choose.
It was important for a rock’n’roll oriented group like ourselves to perform at the Russian festival, as it was one of the most important musical events in Russia in recent times. Naturally, relating our music to a different audience is important to us. The venue itself, the Golden City, was a big interesting place. You could sit next to the fountains or walk among the sculptures while listening to the concert. There were people of all ages there. Both young children and older people. Everyone danced and sang along.
Russian rock’n’roll has a big future. That’s for sure. This dancing style will soon become an Olympic sport; by that we mean the acrobatic form of rock’n’roll. Right now, there are many emerging young bands whose performance is of high quality. The retro era is coming back, even in fashion.
Thankyou, Sergey. One of the other rock’n’roll bands performing was the Red Elvises. And there is a Beatballs connection. The Red Elvises comprise quality musicians, which include two members from the Moscow Beatballs; Timur the bassist and Yury on guitar. The style of the Elvises is rock’n’roll, but with a more Russian cultural influence. Interestingly the Elvises also include American personnel in their line-up; namely Igor, their band leader, vocalist and guitarist. The Beatballs rock’n’roll is more strongly influenced by rockabilly and blues, or as they like to say, blues’n’billy. Both these bands went down a storm at the Festival. All the audience regardless of their favourite musical genres, gave them a rousing response.
Another rock’n’roll band to perform unfortunately received a less enthusiastic response. The Raw Cats, who are indisputably a brilliant group, arrived late at the festival. And it seemed their three hour ride to the venue proved a little too much for them. It was clear when they arrived that they had consumed, erm, rather too many fizzy drinks and lemonades. It wasn’t the best day for this iconic band, a group who are legendary in the world of Russian rock’n’roll. In their condition, they even had difficulty climbing up the ladder to get onto the stage. Unlike their usual hot, rockin’ sets, on this day it was rather under par.
And now let me hand over to Nikita Kalganov.Hats off to Nikita, who was one of the main organisers of the Festival. His hard work was instrumental in helping towards make this wonderful Project come to fruition. Nick will tell you more about it.
Hi Richard, East meets West once again in Russia! For the Russian rock scene, autumn 2019 was marked by one of the most unexpected and game-changing events in the history of the post-Soviet music industry. On 14th September, central Russia hosted a brand new international rock music festival called “Russian Woodstock”. It was a major open-air event dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the legendary “Music and Arts Fair” festival that took place in 1969 on the outskirts of New York City and was memorialised in the history of world rock music as the Woodstock Festival.
The appearance of Russian Woodstock on the modern rock’n’roll scene was no less spontaneous than that of the original Woodstock in 1969, when the eventual concept of the festival had been more or less put together only within the previous few months, with numerous organisational challenges facing producer Michael Lang and his team along the way. In many ways similar to its legendary predecessor, Russian Woodstock was built from scratch almost as a last minute effort.
The initial instigator of the Russian Woodstock festival was the dedicated Russian producer Igor Sandler, a pioneer of the Soviet rock music scene. Igor started his journey back in the 1977 as the most flamboyant keyboardist for “Integral”, one of the first famous Russian rock bands inspired by the West. Following his successful experience with Integral and another self-established rock act called “Index-398”, Sandler moved to the UK where he became part of the “Red Rock” music band, touring at different venues all across England. Two years later he returned to Mother Russia with an intention to support young and talented musicians in his native rock music scene.
According to Igor, the urge to do something of value in order to commemorate the legend of Woodstock stayed with him ever since his early years, when he purchased a bootleg vinyl record starring most of the original Woodstock artists, that was formally unavailable in the USSR. When 2019 came along, he was understandably at the forefront of those millions closely watching the relentless attempts of Michael Lang to breathe new life into the legendary festival.
When at the end of July 2019 the proposed anniversary of Woodstock in the USA was officially cancelled, Igor Sandler decided that he couldn’t just stand still watching the inspiration of his youth fall apart. In spite of the obvious lack of time necessary for proper funding and media coverage, Sandler spread the word to all of his fellow musicians, partners and friends in the music industry. He invited them to unite in the name of art and support him in a bold endeavour to hold the anniversary Woodstock festival on the territory of central Russia.
At first, it was next to impossible to imagine that the modern Russian rock scene, over-ridden by either more traditional lyrics-based Russian rock or more psychedelic alternative pop-rock festivals, could respond to a pure call for rock’n’roll music so quickly and embrace a new non-commercial festival of such scale.
This free admission tribute event was planned to comprise four stages (main stage for the headliners, a “New Projects” one for younger bands, a “Street Music” stage for outdoor troubadours and an acoustic stage for seasoned guitarists and instrumentalists) operating simultaneously throughout the one-day event. To achieve this, Sandler made an agreement with the owners of the “Golden City” – a huge countryside resort in the Tula region located 200 km to the south of Moscow – for them to host the festival and take care of catering, safety considerations and accommodation.
All styled in elaborate ancient oriental fashion, the venue was a perfect spot for a picturesque anniversary open-air event, and it was up to Sandler’s team to gather the line-up that would fit the concept of the festival. Notwithstanding the tough budget constraints, Igor was determined to gather the artists who would be willing to step up to the idea and the values of Woodstock, rather than for publicity and direct commercial interests. Plus, Igor was convinced that whatever it takes, an anniversary Woodstock 50 must be an international show.
To pay respects to the values of the original Woodstock, the organisers invited over 50 bands to play at the festival, with contemporary Russian rock’n’roll bands playing alongside artists from the USA, Cuba, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Holland, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. To make the festival even more spectacular and meaningful, Sandler also sent personal invitations to two direct participants of the original 1969 Woodstock. One was Barry Melton aka “The Fish”, lead guitarist of Country Joe and the one who followed Joe Cocker at the original event on 17th August 1969. The other was Elliot Cahn, rhythm-guitarist of Sha Na Na who performed at Woodstock on 18th August 1969, right before Jimi Hendrix closed the show. Given the misfortune of the cancellation of the proposed anniversary festival in the USA, both veterans of the original Woodstock were more than eager to visit Russia and share the tribute stage with the younger generation of rock’n’roll artists. Apart from the original Woodstock musicians, all four stages of the event were occupied by numerous spectacular and edgy rock bands performing to new audiences and truly adhering to the values that Russian Woodstock inherited from its ideological ancestor – Peace, Love and Music.
A mixed line-up at Russian Woodstock also contributed to the idea of making it a truly international event, for the majority of the key bands at the festival actually had a multi-national membership. Some of the most spectacular acts (in my opinion) are specified below.
Tri State Corner (Germany/Poland/Greece) – experimental folk-metal band. Linda (Russia) – well-known experimental Russian singer and song-writer. Gypsy Jack (Cuba/Belarus/Russia) – one of the most notable contemporary live rock bands on the Moscow scene. Reds’Cool (Russia) – almighty old school hard rock band from Saint Petersburg. Alex Carlin Band (USA/Belarus/Russia) – multinational trio formed around Alex Carling. Fabulous Human Being (Russia) – new manifestation of the famous Russian bluesman Mikhail Kistanov. Prana (Russia) – traditional grunge duo from Moscow. Farba Kingdom (Russia) – independent electronic rock family tandem where the husband (Danil) plays the guitar and the wife (Lisa) plays the keyboards. Mouse in da Chaos (Russia/Ukraine) – extreme nu-metal band mixing anything they can lay their hands on, including indie rock, synthpop, heavy metal, britpop and all sorts of alternative music in one pot.
And here are the groups who performed with the rock’n’roll style of music included in their performances.
Red Elvises (Russia/USA) – experienced USA band of Russian origin in constant creative search for new ways to impress their audiences, literally transforming themselves from classic rockabilly throughout their shows, to fit the atmosphere and concepts of the events they play at.
Moscow Beatballs (Russia) – extraordinary live Russian rock’n’roll band notable for employing a huge bass-balalaika (a traditional Russian instrument designed in a non-conventional fashion), instead of a regular bass-guitar or an orchestra contrabass usually used by similar-style bands.
Disco Dicks (Germany/Holland) – experimental European duo who position themselves as “EDM rock’n’roll” or “techno blues”, mixing rock’n’roll techniques with the concepts widespread in electronic music; but playing it all live without any computer equipment, in the pursuit of their universal mission – to get rock’n’roll back to the contemporary dance floors.
Reds’Cool (Russia) – almighty old school rock band from Saint Petersburg, recently re-introduced with a new powerful frontman, Kir Soro, whose latest achievement was supporting Whitesnake at their Russian shows.
Junkyard Drive (Denmark) – new rising Danish rock’n’roll stars with levitating guitar riffs and one of the most highly acclaimed rock singers in Scandinavia; they are among the most dynamic and vigorous live rock bands in modern Denmark.
Singing in unison to the values of the original 1969 festival in the modern era of political instability and swelling stereotypes, the international bands at the Russian Woodstock clearly helped to bridge the gap between East and the West. They merged different rock scenes in a single stream that will hopefully bring forward the new era of fraternity among contemporary rock musicians, opening a completely new page for the Russian rock’n’roll scene and introducing new opportunities for young Russian rock’n’rollers to share stages with ambitious international rock artists.
Thankyou Nikita. His last paragraph above reflects the optimism and idealism of the original Woodstock generation. The organisers of Russian Woodstock 2019 deserve praise for putting on such a huge Project, at relatively short notice. The photos accompanying this article were all taken at the Festival (most of them taken by the official photographer Piotr Levkov)– not in 1969 of course, but fifty years later in a tremendous Russian Re-Creation. For sure, Russia Rocks!