The following is a blog post I wrote in September, 2007, while a Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan. I always find it amusing to look back at what I was doing in past years on the same days. This is still one of my strangest Peace Corps memories, and still one of my favorites.
Elton John Bakida
I live in Azerbaijan and I went to see Elton John. Not exactly what I expected to do during my first week as a PCV. Although not very common to the PC experience, I’m sure I will remember the experience well.
First of all, buying the tickets was an experience. Unlike with Ticketmaster, we were able to barter the price down to 10 manat. How could I pass that up?
Second, we had to breech multiple polis checkpoints to even enter the stadium. There was a throng of people being blocked by officers when we got there. I don’t know it it’s because I’m reading a novel about the French experience of WWII, but I felt like my companion and I were in a military zone attempting to reach the other side of freedom. We got through the first line of guards by showing our tickets and by, as far as I can tell, being Americans.
We walked 100 hundred feet of no man’s land into a group waiting at a fence. Every now and then the gate would open a foot or two and the crowd would force a few lucky survivors in. The music was starting so I approached an officer and said, “Niya biz gedmirik? Billetlar var!” Somehow he understood and took us to the gate. We were in!
But it didn’t end there. We were herded through a metal detector that went off for everyone (but no one was stopped…). A guard felt my backpack and seemed concerned, “Bu nadir?” I don’t know the word for sunglasses, but got the point across that I had my sunglass case in my bag. We walked to the fourth group of officers waiting at the stairs to the stadium. We were ushered to the next group of officers lining the top of the stadium, and then ushered to better seats than the ones on our tickets.
From across the field, Elton was a small dot of blue satin and sequins. He looked great, and sounded fantastic. For the first half of the concert, the crowd was mellow, a few people dancing in their chairs. But then Elton started “Sacrifice.” The Azeris sang every word passionately. The stadium became aglow with everyone’s cell phones and lighters waving over their heads. It was quite beautiful. The same happened during “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” I admit it – I am a fan of Elton John. I grew up listening to him and knew all the words of most of the songs he played. It was interesting that those were the songs that the Azeris in their 20s knew. I feel like in America it would be “Tine Dancer” and “Your Song” that would get the crowd response. Nevertheless it was amazing to be surrounded by thousands of people singing retro British pop at the top of their lungs with thick Azeri accents.
Elton and his band played all his biggest hits, those listed above along with “Crocodile Rock,” “Candle in the Wind,” “Benny and the Jets,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” and “Burn down the Mission.” I was especially excited to hear “Daniel.” I’ve always loved that song. I think because Daniel is my brother, and he is older than me and he’s going to New Zealand, which I imagine is like Spain.
All in all, good times were had. It was a great cross cultural experience and I learned a lot.