The Happiest Week of my Life

I have lots of joyous times in my life. But I don’t recall a time where I was this happy pretty much every waking moment for a week. Going to Eurovision, experiencing the entire thing live, was incredible.

First off, the shows themselves. Seeing it live is a much more intense experience than watching it over the web. And watching it from the floor right in front of the stage (1st semi-final and the final) was much more intense than watching from the stands (2nd semi-final). The impact cannot be explained, you have to experience it. At times you are owned by the song, at other times you’re part of the song singing along, and sometimes it’s all so amazing that you are caught up jumping and waving a flag.

And the others watching are also caught up in each song. Yes most everyone has their favorite. But they are caught up in each song, wanting it to be extraordinary, cheering for every artist. The audience is not competitive. They are not wishing the other acts poorly. And that makes the experience an incredibly positive one. Everyone in the audience wanting all the acts to be extraordinary, I’ve never seen that before. Truly wondrous.

Second are the people. I got to meet Will (wiwi), Vebooboo, & Deban – all really nice people. And a blast to talk with. And I talked to a ton of other press people. All of them complete ESC fanatics. And again, while everyone had their favorites, no one wished poorly of anyone. It was a blast talking to them about past shows (I’m not the only one who thinks Pastora Soler was robbed last year). And also a lot of fun talking about this show, what we thought was working well for the acts, how we thought each would do.

I also talked to a lot of fans. Every time I rode the train to/from the arena, every time I was eating at Burger King (at 1:00am that’s the only dinner option so tons of ESC people there after the show), I would say hi to a group I sat next to. And we would talk about the show. How much we loved it, who our favorites were, why. And sometimes about their country (every Greek I talked to felt they were now on the way out of recession – which was nice to hear).

And seeing the fans. All the women from Finland there wearing wedding dresses. Everyone waving flags (thank you to the people who gave me flags to wave – Austria, Estonia, & Georgia). Lots of people with their countries flag painted on their cheek. Or wearing their countries colors, from a group of 4 men from The Netherlands dressed very nicely with orange ties, to people dressed up in full body bird suits (again all orange).

People were amazed that I had come from the U.S. to see it. Apparently that is very rare. Although I met a news crew from Australia and a couple from New Zealand so they travelled even further. Everyone wanted to know if ESC was popular in the U.S. I always replied that I thought the U.S. audience was maybe 5 – 10 people. But again, made for a fun conversation.

Third, I mostly ignored work for the week. Because I was having such a good time, and because of the time difference, I checked email twice a day and only responded to items that absolutely could not wait, ignoring everything else for the week. That was gigantic.

Fourth, being press at ESC is a backstage pass. It was interesting to see what goes into the rehearsals. Listening to the artists at the press conferences, and getting to ask an occasional question was really interesting. Standing on the side of the red carpet seeing how the artists worked the press was fascinating. And best of all, seeing up close how thrilled the artists were to be there. Yes they wanted to win, but it was clear that all of them took great pride in getting to the contest. And they should, being one of the best is an amazing accomplishment.

Some of the artists were a total crack-up (I mean this in a very positive way). Cezar totally believes in himself, but puts it across in a way that is positive (very rare to see). Krista is an energizer bunny 100% of the time. Aliona is a total class act. Roberto was clearly just amazed to be there (it was sweet). The list goes on.

And then there were the parties. At a lot of them, while put on by one country, acts from other countries would show up and perform too. It was like being at a small dance club where the live bands were 5 or 6 of the best bands in Europe. And they were performing for fun, which infects the audience. So you had everyone jumoing, dancing, screaming.

Between the shows, the press events, the parties, the discussions in the press room, it never stopped. The few times it did, there was Malmo and Copenhagen to go explore. Both are wonderful places to visit.

I’m 57 years old. My days tend to be the same. I’m a programmer and I love creating software, but it’s the same world I’ve been in for decades. I’m involved in politics but that is a conflict riven environment, and again the same thing I’ve been in for decades. In those worlds I am with my people. Fellow programmers. Fellow political junkies.

But at Eurovision I found another place where I am with my people. Finding something new, a new tribe, a new experience – wow. At my age it never occurred to me that such a thing could happen again. So to find a new place where I am with others that all share the love of an event, that made it even better.

Thank you to everyone at Eurovision – you made the week wonderful for me. I will be back.

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Eurovision – The Most Amazing Musical Contest in the World

There is nothing that comes close to ESC (Eurovision Song Contest). Not American Idol, not the Grammys, nothing.

Why? First, because of the variety of the music. From pop to ballads to opera to dance to acts the defy categorization. At the same time, each is designed to be popular. They must be, to first win in their country, then to win in the final competition, where 150 million people are watching, and voting.

Second, the artists are amazing. The competition in each country (except the U.K.) is among the best artists there. Many countries view this as the ultimate international competition. San Marino will never dominate the Olympics, win the World Cup, or any other international competition. But they can win ESC. And for the country that does, a year later they host and can introduce their country to 150 million Europeans.

A video is worth a thousand words. So here’s the best from this year.

All of These Deserved First Place

Cezar (Romania)

Not just a song, but a primal force of nature. Watch it full screen to get as much of that impact as you can. And you won’t like it the first time. Wait a couple of days and watch it again. This went from thumbs down to one of my two favorites over the course of the week. With some of the best staging of the show.

Zlata (Ukraine)

Beautiful song exquisitely sung. The most common genre at ESC is a pop ballad sung by a female vocalist, and Zlata does an amazing job where the staging supports her but she carries the song. (This is my other top favorite).

Emmelie (Denmark)

This won. And well deserved to, another amazing pop ballad exquisitely sung. The staging added a lot to the song – the best ESC numbers use staging to make a song even better and Emmelie made it an integral part of her song.

Eythor Ingi (Iceland)

An incredibly evocative song. An Icelandic ballad and Eythor does an amazing job with it. Minimal staging and it’s primarily his voice and stage presence.

Node & Sophie (Georgia)

An absolutely beautiful duet.

All of These Deserved Second Place

And arguably first place.

Dina (Russia)

Another female vocalist with a beautiful pop ballad exquisitely sung.

Marco (Italy)

Italy always sends an act this is a little different, and very good. Sort-of a ballad, but more… something else – really good entry.

Anouk Netherlands)

Haunting ballad. Anouk was the favorite of a lot of people.

Aliona (Moldova)

Beautiful song, incredible voice. And I think the best staging of the show with her dress.

Alyona (Belarus)

The stereotypical Eurovision song. Incredibly upbeat pop with a glitzy act. And Alyona wears an impossibly short dress made of sequins. And it’s really good.

Krista (Finland)

“Marry Me” us easily the most upbeat song of the contest. And Krista was every bit as hyper in person. Pretty much every woman from Finland at the show was wearing a wedding veil or a wedding dress.

And a Damn Close Third

Farid (Azerbaijan)

This song came in second place. And it’s a really good love song.

Koza (Greece)

Greece always sends an incredible upbeat act and this year was no exception. A folk song that has you dancing with them.

Gianluca (Malta)

A very sweet song, presented perfectly. Gianluca works the crowd and then ends with all of them on a park bench singing.

Roberto (Belgium)

Roberto comes across as the most earnest singer, someone who can’t believe that they made it here. And the song sucks you in getting you to sing with him.

Cascada (Germany)

An incredibly energetic dance number. Arguably it got low votes because most of Europe blames Germany for the austerity measures that leave horribly high unemployment. Very unfair as it’s a great song.

Ryan (Ireland)

A very energetic number. Just as the Greek entry was something only Greece can send, this is one only Ireland could send.

The Show

If you love the songs, then consider watching it live next year. Seeing all the songs one after the other, not knowing what to expect next makes it an even better experience. And then waiting for the vote – agony.

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Almost Heaven, Malmö Sweden

I spent the previous week in Malmö at ESC. Eurovision was fantastic. And part of what made it fantastic was Malmö. It’s a fantastic city.

Let’s start with what wasn’t perfect:

  1. Almost everyplace serves beer cool instead of cold.
  2. And, uh… that’s it.

The people there are terrific. I think the Swedes are some of the nicest people on the planet. Every person I met was pleasant. And helpful. Anytime I was trying to find something the first person I asked took the time to help me out. I think it’s illustrated best by the response to a question. Where an American will answer with “yes,” most in Sweden answer with “yes, of course.”

It’s a very pretty city. A lot of downtown is building that have been around for hundreds of years. They’re nicely designed. And they have a pedestrian street that goes on for over a mile, with several large beautiful plazas along it. But they’re working buildings, not a museum or tourist city. That makes it even nicer. The Eurovision Village at the Gustav Adolfs torg plaza was awesome, both the layout and what was presented there.

They also have a great transit system. The train has 2 stops in Malmö and the next one South is the Copenhagen airport. A ton of bus lines. And bike racks everywhere. I think if I lived there I would not own a car – the train/bus would always be faster.

The arena complex, where Eurovision was held, was perfect. Any smaller and ESC would have looked cramped in it. Any larger and not as good a show for people further away in the stands. I think Sweden made the right choice holding ESC in Malmö.

  • I stayed at the Mayfair Tunneln Hotel. Super nice. The building is 700 years old yet it’s as nice as a new hotel. Great free breakfast. And super-helpful service.
  • The Mando Steakhouse has the best pepper steak I have ever had – anywhere. And they serve their beer cold!

Awesome city.

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Who’s Going to Win at Eurovision 2013

Ok, so anyone who thinks they truly know is kidding themselves. There is no clear frontrunner. But here’s how I think it will play out.

There are 5 acts that are in a class of their own. The relative position of these will be determined by how well each presents Saturday. I think it will go as follows:

  1. Georgia – as they are the best of all 5. And they’re the only duet while all the rest are female vocalists.
  2. Denmark – with Georgia pulling the Eastern vote, second place will go to a West Coast girl.
  3. Ukraine – Zlata at her best is amazing. If not for Georgia, she would get first.
  4. The Netherlands – Anouk comes next as another West Coast girl.
  5. Russia – And Dina then brings it back from the East.

And in 6th place will be… Moldova. Aliona has a beautiful song, presents it incredibly well, and the staging from her dress is easily the most powerful staging that adds to the song in the contest. I think few will vote her first but almost everyone will give her a point or two. And that adds up to a lot of points.

The rest of the top 14, in some order (listed here by running order) will be:

  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Romania
  • Iceland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Italy
  • Norway
  • Ireland

I was originally thinking the U.K. would end up 25th or 26th. But after some of the turkeys that won Thursday, Bonnie might break the top 20. But if she does – it will be barely.

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Georgia on my Mind

Wow – Georgia!

Everything I heard said the best acts, the ones that were beyond sublime, were all in the Tuesday semi. And it sure seemed that way Thursday night. And then Georgia came out. I was expecting another mediocre song and wow. Absolutely beautiful. Totally enthralling. And even better because it was totally unexpected. They could well win. It’s now a top 5 fighting it out for first.

And it’s not Eurovision without a travesty. The drama of Eurovision requires that we have someone robbed of a deserved win. And last night Israel was the one to pay the price. Israel should have been in 5th place at worst. And yet they didn’t make the top 10. And San Marino, while not as good as Israel (sorry wiwi), was definitely much better than some of the turkeys (Hungary & Armenia – was Europe on crack last night?).

So how was the show? There was no opening similar to Loreen on Tuesday. We did get the three singers taking us through previous Eurovision winners, but that was a repeat of Tuesday. So ok but nothing great from 8:00 – 9:00.

I sat in the stands this time. A very good seat. The view on average is better there. On the floor at times it is incredible (Loreen walked down the stairs 10′ from me walking directly toward me). But other times on the floor you can barely see the back of the performer. But the intensity, the vibe, the emersion, that is all much much greater on the floor. The people on the floor are 1,000% into the show. While up in the seats there were three girls of around 20 who spent the show talking to each other and texting people – I don’t think they ever watched the show. And it makes for a different experience.

San Marino was a good song. Very nice to watch. Valentina has a beautiful voice. If it had been in the Tuesday semi-final I could understand it not qualifying, although it was as good as some. But not making it out of Thursday’s semi – that makes no sense. It was good.

Azerbaijan was really really good. Everyone ignores them because they’re off in a forgotten edge of Europe and outside of oil company executives no one hears anything about them the rest of the year. But they send extraordinary acts year after year. They may become as big a musical powerhouse as Sweden for Eurovision. And last night they delivered again. Farid delivered an incredible song with emotional intensity. I think his staging hurt him some. It was clever, but really too clever and it made you focus on the staging at times rather than the staging adding to the song. I don’t think he is in the can win category, but I think he misses that by a whisker.

Finland was great. It’s a great song, well staged. And Krista appears to be having the time of her life performing it. Not quite in the top category, but damn close and very enjoyable. And as she is going on to the final, it will be interesting to see if Turkey broadcasts it. If her public persona is genuine, then she is clearly having more fun participating than anyone else.

Iceland – oh wow. For most of the song Eythor stands there and delivers. No staging, no effects, just his voice and his projection. And he delivers. And then his has background singers toward the end but it’s subtle and just adds to what he’s doing. It may be the only reason I don’t put him in the very top is I prefer female vocalists. Wonderful number.

Israel – beautiful song powerfully delivered. She drew everyone in and carried them through the song. Not the best of the evening but damn good (and deserving to go on).

Norway was good but I don’t think it lived up to its hype. Margaret sang beautifully. But she didn’t pull me in. It was watching a great performance, not being sucked into a great performance. However, that’s being in the arena. Watching on TV I don’t know if that’s as big an issue as it’s really hard to pull someone in via a TV screen. So really good, but not awesome.

Georgia – oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.

Romania – Some people say Cezar is the greatest Eurovision act ever. Some people say he is so bad, his participation will destroy Eurovision. I’m pretty sure one of the two groups is right, but even now the next day I don’t know which. His performance is almost a primal act of nature. I think his act will be talked about and remembered longer than any other. I’m glad to see he made the final. And I’m hopeful that in a month or two I’ll finally decide what I think of it – and needing that time means it is a great work of art (I guess).

The rest ranged from cute (Switzerland) to mediocre (Latvia, Macedonia, & Bulgaria) to atrocious (Malta, Greece, Armenia, Hungary, & Albania).

Tuesday’s semi was a sublime experience. Watching from the floor with the rabid fans, not a stinker in the group of songs delivered, and very good voting results. Last night was not as good. But I think it takes the marginal entries and the bad votes to make the good parts better. Knowing each act can be awful has you wondering what you’re going to see as each starts. The pain of watching Albania made the joy of watching Georgia even greater. Seeing a vote where Israel is voted out and Armenia is voted in means that Saturday night we have no idea how the vote will go.

And I left very very happy. I got to ask a question of the Georgia delegation at the follow on press conference and that led to my talking with a number of the people from their team after. They were all so happy making the final and when I said that I thought they had the best chance to win, it led to a fun conversation. They gave me a Georgia flag and I was waving it the whole way back to my hotel. And I’ll be waving it Saturday night.

It was a wonderful evening.