Gig day….finally. It’s been a great few days but we are ultimately here to play some music and we are all itching for the opportunity. This show has been balancing on a cliff edge for weeks, teetering and threatening to topple off into nowhere with the government and its various agencies giving it little not-so-innocent shoves every now and then. It’s hard enough to put on a music festival in this country, these types of things are relatively new especially when they involve foreign acts. This particular festival is the brainchild of Youdai, who is a famous Chinese DJ (both on radio and in clubs), he was the first to play western rock music on the radio and is responsible for introducing this generation to scads of new music. Youdai is also a friend of Zuoxiao Zuzhou (ZXZZ) whose song I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side we covered on Renmin Park and who also contributed a vocal and lyric, A Walk In The Park, to the album. Zuoxiao is an extremely well regarded artist in China and his music has broken down many barriers, he is also becoming quite popular. When Youdai heard about our collaboration with ZXZZ the idea for this festival was born. Youdai went about the labour intensive process of contacting all of the foreign acts that he wanted to have perform and then after signing contracts with them he had to then undertake the massive job of getting all of the necessary permits and clearances needed from the various government and security departments. This included not only getting the government to agree to specific bands (bands that he had already signed contracts with), but also getting all of the repertoires translated and approved by the necessary departments. An example of the type of detail that he and his team needed to deal with was trying to come up with a translation of our name so that we wouldn’t be ruled out by the censors…our Chinese name is now Cowboy Fan. We also had a couple of songs crossed off of our set list; Sit Sadly because it contained the word “gun” and 3rd Crusade because, well, just because. In any case, he got all of the permits and permissions signed and then about four weeks ago Zuoxiao Zuzhou ended up getting into a political mess and banned from performing live or making any public appearances. At that point the advertising for the festival had already been put out on the street, radio ads had been created all with Zuoxiao Zuzhou’s name featured prominently. The government threatened to shut down the entire festival but a compromise was reached where the festival had to take pull back all of the advertising and take ZXZZ’s name off of it all; their beer permit was pulled; their capacity was limited and they weren’t allowed to sell tickets at the door on the day of show. And so they did. And I’m sure that this is just part of the story, I’m sure that all of the people that are responsible for making this festival a reality have had to jump through more hoops than we will ever be aware. It’s all part of bringing this country step by baby step into the modern world.
We arrived at the festival grounds for soundcheck in the morning only to find a jumble of cables and wires strung all over the place and a lot of stressed out looking tech people. The grounds are massive: an unused, uncared for swath at the south end of the Olympic Park. They don’t do anything small in this country. With a lot of patience and helpful direction, Jared and Tim got the stage set and we were able to do a proper soundcheck. The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent scattered around Beijing shopping for that last gift or taking in one more site. At around 4 o’clock we got a call from the festival saying that our set time had been moved up an hour. The curfew for the show had been moved earlier by the police and one of the acts was not taking the stage in a timely manner so they were booted off the bill. As you can imagine, the turnout for the festival was a little lighter than they hoped but from our point of view we finally got to play, had a fun show and capped off a great week. I don’t think our appearance will result in Cowboy Fan streaking up the pop charts in China but we hope that it will lead to a return to this country and a proper tour to half a dozen or so cities. We haven’t gotten enough of this fascinating country or of its resilient, friendly, outgoing people.
In the meantime our friend Zuoxiao Zuzhou was not even allowed to attend the concert (the large police presence had been given his photo and told to arrest him if he showed up) so it was arranged for us to get together with him at a restaurant after the concert. We had a great night with him, feasting on cuisine from the Muslim orientated province of Xinjiang, drinking lots of beer and sampling some of China’s finest “white lightening”. It was such a pleasure to finally meet him, his generosity was overwhelming his excitement at meeting us was thrilling.
Tomorrow we head home, tired and happy. This is my fourth time here and I still want more and I’m pretty sure everyone would sign up in a flash for another spin through this country. One layer only leads to the next and every layer is as fascinating as the one you just pulled back. Here’s hoping that we get back soon.
See you all in Hungary.