Saturday, September 14, 2002

Bulgarian Blues Diary

Day 1 - Sept 11. My birthday (a date no one will ever forget anymore) I won't forget this one either - for one thing it laster 31 hours, with time change and all. We landed in Sofia and after freshening up at the hotel (very old-world hotel) we made our way to a restaurant for a veritable banquet with a lot of the artists who came to Canada and other Bulgarians who worked at this end to help the Bulgarian Cultural Festival in Toronto that the Downtown Jazz office produced in 2000 and 2001 (hence the reason I am here). The guests around the table include world-renowned musicians and singers, a documentary filmaker, diplomats, radio producer, etc. At the end of the meal, the lights went dim and a giant birthday cake came out and they all launched into "Happy Birthday" - then the Bulgarian equivalent. Then most of us made our way to the club I will be playing nex Wednesday, called "The Swinging Place" One of the guests at the banquet was kaval (recorder like instrument) player Theodossi Spassov who joined me to sit in with a pop group that was playing (two of the guys had studied at Berklee). I did a couple of tunes even though I was pretty wiped out by then. I though the crowd was more disco oriented - and the general Bulgarian attitude made me feel that they would prefer disco to blues, but they gave me a great round of applause...and, one again a spontaneous launch into happy birthday as I was about to leave the stage. Theodossi played incredible on tha Kaval - he had a pick-up and went through the PA with an octavider or something and he rocked. I knew he was regarded as a national treasure, but didn't realize how big he was until the next day when we were doing a tour of a reconstructed medieval village in Etura and I was in the little shack where a woman made the kaval the same way they have for centuries, and there on the wall was a poster (1984) of Theodossi. The only thing in the place that was not 200 or more years old. He says he'll be joining me again at the gig on Wednesday and I look forward to doing more with him in a duo setting. Must remember to bring a set of strings to give the guitar player who lent me his strat - sinceI broke a string as I finished up my guest appearance.

Day Two: Forgot my passport at the hotel in Sofia - I won't let it out of my sight again! We visited a reconstructed village from the middle ages (mostly used for outings from Bulgarian school kids and some dedicated tourists (something like Puck's Farm) - it's quite a ways off the beaten path - and off the beaten path in Bulgaria can get pretty rough. On the way the traffic had come to a standstill because of a serious accident but our inventive driver got us around it. The washroom facilities were almost as primitive as the rest of the village but I'm advised that I will be seeing more like that throughout the country. After visiting the tourist re-creation we went to another village which is renown as a "artisan village" and we got to see some great craftsmen at work. In the evening we arrived at an amazing hotel called the Abarnazi Palace. It's a small, exclusive mountaintop hotel that was one of the residences of the former president/dictator of Bulgaria. Pat Taylor was instaled in the President's Suite - very luxurious and official looking. You got the feeling that a lot of very important decisions were made in those rooms (not too many that benefited the country). Did my tai-chi on the huge deck - overlooking the heliport,valley and mountains.