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Pop-rock festival in Yerevan

 

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In 1980, Stas Namin had the idea to arrange a global pop rock festival. The Stas Namin Group had been banished from Moscow and worked at that time in Armenia, and Stas put forward his proposal for a 1981 festival to Armenia's Ministry of Culture. Having been given the green light, he started to make arrangements for the festival. Using his personal contacts, Stas went as far as to invite to the festival even a number of foreign rock groups from England, Holland and elsewhere, as well as the biggest national stars of that time, active in various genres, such as pop, rock, jazz (Ganelin-Chekasin-Tarasov trio, big band of Konstantin Orbelyan, young Valery Leontyev, Zhanna Bichevskaya, Guner Grabbs, and others). All went well to begin with, but as the festival drew closer, the Armenian authorities started to realize that a large-scale event was in the making, the likes of which had never been seen, and what was more, it was in a genre that was at variance with the official Soviet song. It was at that point that roadblocks went up...

It turned out, all of a sudden, that the festival's styling - placards, badges, etc. - had been designed too provocatively daring for that time. The logo featured a flying eagle, a microphone in its claws, shown over the map of Armenia, which in turn was flying through space (all that was classified as ideological subversion: an aggressive symbol for Armenia's secession from the


USSR). All of a sudden, the authorities vetoed the eagle, having found the symbol to stand for aggression and propaganda of America, and had the name changed from "Yerevan 81 Popular Music Festival" to "Popular Song Festival", to bring it more into line with the genre of Soviet song, since the phrase "popular music" was not used at that time, being associated with Western ideology.

Roadblocks were also put up to control the line-up. The national line-up was cut first of all by removing alternative rock groups, such as Akvarium, Machina Vremeni, and others, with foreign participants being barred in toto. What is more, all that took place in the last days before the festival; some of Western groups that had already arrived in Moscow were barred from travelling to Yerevan on the pretext that no hotel accommodation was available. Nevertheless, the festival did take place as planned at the city's cycle race track (with 70 thousand in attendance), and there was even Yevgeny Ginzburg's TV crew which had arrived, naive as it was, to film it for the 1st "Ostankino" channel. The festival was attended by dozens of journalists from all over the country and from abroad, and the festival proved a great success, roadblocks and all. Everybody was happy: viewers, participants, and critics. The concert lasted from midday till 2 am, and the audience was still reluctant to go. The entire concert was attended, to the very end, on foot, by the festival's honorary guests – well-known composers and poets, along with Time's famous journalist Eric Amfiteatrov and other journalists from France, England, Italy, and elsewhere. They danced where they stood and clapped their hands throughout the concert, and then there appeared in Time magazine that festival-extolling article entitled "Yerevan Woodstock", which sealed the festival's fate, and at the same time that of Stas Namin, for the next few years.

As you know, back then, it was the absolute rule of the principle "What the West praises we must revile". No more than a couple of days later, a heavy-handed article was published in the Soviet press (Novoye Vremya), which presented the festival as a disgrace to the Soviet art. Armenia's State Security Committee made an official report to the Soviet KGB on the activities of Stas Namin, and the Stas Namin Group was immediately deported from Armenia, Stas having his passport taken away from


him at the airport allegedly because of some irregularities in the paperwork.


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