Raughley Nuzzi, International Rock Star

Continuing with my travel theme for a moment, let me tell you about the Georgian Highway.  I was going to type “the Georgian highways,” but then I remembered that there’s really just the one.  Alright, so it forks in Samtreydia, but that hardly counts.  Snakes don’t have two tongues just because it forks, folks!  (That metaphor was tossed in a. just for the hell of it or b. to persuade the stubborn stalwarts out there who vehemently demand my resignation as a writer over this Georgianhighwaygate.  Your choice.)

The Highway connects Tbilisi with all the major cities in Georgia.  When taking a Marshrutka you follow the only major road West until you reach Samtreydia, and then you think to yourself, “Hmm, am I going to Batumi or to Zugdidi?” and fork the proper direction.  Pretty simple stuff. Making things even easier, the signs are all written in Georgian with Latin letters underneath!  You don’t need to recognize ქუთაისი to find your way to Kutaisi.  So, imagine my dismay when I found myself on a road with no Latin letters.

I wasn’t scared because I couldn’t read the signs (Of that I was perfectly capable), but I was nervous because of what it signified.  I was so far off the beaten path that the Georgian signmakers (A powerful Union, to be sure) assumed that no one who couldn’t read Georgian would ever go there.  There weren’t even any signs in Russian!  How did this come to be?

Over the weekend I traveled to Zugdidi with the expectation that there might be tricky weather at some point along the road.  Getting there was damn hunky-dory and when Yev and Liis headed back to Tbilisi on Sunday the weather was pretty hunky dory then too. (I don’t know the proper hyphenation [or not {Also, swear to God, just heard the NBC theme from the TV in the other room!  Where the Hell am I?}] of “hunky-dory,” so probably it will be governed by preferences at the moment.  That means you’ll see less and less of the hyphen as I tire of reaching for the – button.  It’s just so far away.) I was planning on returning to Tbilisi Sunday with Yev and Liis (hereafter known as the Post-Soviets), but life intervened and I stayed an extra day in Zugdidi.  The weather had been fine on Sunday, but somehow it had gone to Hell by Monday morning.  It looks like Hell Froze Over.

So we made it through Kutaisi and arrived in Zestaphoni with little trouble.  Sure, it was foggy, gray, and slushy, but we were making good time and the Marshrutka was only half full (I’m an optimist, friends!).  That’s when the police barricade got in the way.  Literally and figuratively.  Apparently the road between Zestaphoni and Gori was blocked off.  Or something.  That’s the roughest part of the journey.  It’s usually a solid hour and a half of windy mountain roads.  This time, however, we had to take the long way around via Chiatura.  Chiatura is surely a nice place.  I saw a building or two of it.  Unfortunately, it’s probably sixty kilometers north of Kutaisi and way out of the way.

We drove for a solid hour (I kept falling asleep and my phone was dead, rendering me time-less) until we got stuck.  While hugging the shoulder to avoid a marshrutka coming the other direction, we slipped laterally a bit and landed in four perfectly tire-sized potholes!  Wunderbar!  After waiting for a bit as the driver spun his wheels, a bunch of the other guys in the marshrutka hopped out.  I had a bladder fit to burst (A phrase I picked up from old episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine, featuring Ringo Starr!) and so I hopped out as well.  Bonus: I helped with the marshrutka!

We tried pushing it from the front and we tried pushing it from behind, but we just couldn’t get it going.  And that, my friends, is what she said.  We flagged down a car and borrowed a nylon rope.  Now we had a rope, but nothing really to do with it.  We hung about for thirty minutes before a suitable, kindly helper came along.  This nice big American Car drove up (I’m not a huge fan of the American motor industry, but you know what?  Sometimes a big car is just the thing!) and it had two little hook-y things on the front.  We tied the marshrutka to it and it began backing up as we pushed it from the front.  The rope snapped.  Twice.

Finally, with a triple knot and a good heave-ho, we hopped the ditch and sprang free of the snow’s icy clutches!  The day was saved and we drove on, timelessly and happily into the great white unknown.

Now, let’s get to the story.

Months and months ago, Bill, Daryl, Rick, and I first played together as a band at a bar in Tbilisi during the band’s break at Ashley and Rob’s wedding reception.  We always talked about getting back together and playing more.  All last semester we plotted how and where we could have a rehearsal space.  We contemplated a pseudo-abandoned hotel in Ureki, renting a space in some city, or a few other options, but it all came to naught.  Sleep is overtaking me and so I will have to resume this another time…tomorrow?

With the New Year, we decided that the time had come to make shit happen for real.  We arranged to have a rehearsal at Rick’s house in Zugdidi the first weekend we were all back.  Sadly, Bill and Daryl couldn’t make it to the rehearsal, so Rick and I had an impromptu concert of three songs, badly sung and moderately played.  Hmm.  Thinking ahead, I’ve decided that all this preparation stuff is pretty boring.  Let’s just point out that it involved me seeing some Armenians in a junk shop about some speakers and scrambling to arrange the space, the rehearsal times, and the opening act—all very hectic and stressful, especially amongst my busy day-to-day activities such as, you know, working.

The concert got off to a great start with the band ხაში (“Khashi”)—the same band of ninth-grade girls I met back in September—rocking out to some Can’t Buy Me Love!  The girls are far more talented than we are and even manage to do a great job singing in English!  During rehearsals all day we were even a bit worried that they would steal the show.  But you know what?  If they had stolen the show they would’ve totally deserved it; my hat is off to them!

There was this strange thing where Georgians would run up to and all over the stage to take photos. This was Khashi's first performance, actually, since the school doesn't have the requisite equipment to make it work properly. As such, all the girls parents were there and one came up to me after the concert beaming and thanking me for throwing a concert. I felt really good about that!

I had asked them to play for maybe thirty minutes to get the show off the ground, and they overachieved by maybe fifteen or twenty extra minutes—no biggie!  We heard a nice arrangement of Lady Madonna and lots of pretty talentful instrumental pieces as well!

They did a really great job and at one point had some little tots come up to sing or play the piano. Even the four/five year-olds played better than we can! Also of note: The man against the right wall taking photos from onstage.

Finally, our time had come.  I had invited all my TLG friends, most of my students, and several of my coteachers and family members.  Almost everybody came!  (Okay, so the students didn’t come, but the ones who had friends in Khashi did!)  Later, when pressed for reasons why they couldn’t make it, Manana told me she had work and Tata had a funeral.  Pretty good excuses, if you ask me!  Ilia had my camera and the duty of being my official Bootstrap Concert photographer, a duty he accomplished to great effect!  I saw him snapping photos of me watching Khashi and going all Paparazzi on us as we walked to the stage.

Rick, the virtuoso that he is, is tuning his guitar to match that piano! Crazy! Did I mention that I'm a drummer?

Our concert got off to a roaring start with some really kickin’ rock songs.  I think the first one was even called Rock ‘N Roll!  Plus, I had my first ever drum solo.  I’d barely even practiced it because I’m a timid, shy kinda guy and I worry “What if it sounds bad?”  It turned out really well though!

We had a couple different musical arrangements. That is to say that we are versatile in our instrumental capabilities!
Daryl had some excellent song choices in Johnny B. Goode, Twist and Shout, and La Bamba. What a guy!

When planning the concert I had thought it would be fun to have everyone dancing as we played!  With that in mind, we didn’t plan on any chairs.  Tina, however, thought that it would be cruel to have no chairs.  Knowing that super-fat Yev* might have a hard time staying on his feet that long, I agreed that we should put some chairs against the wall.  That quickly turned into an army of Georgian children bringing chairs from God knows where and setting up three or four rows of chairs at the back of the room.  It made for a really weird dynamic where the audience was something like 60 feet away from the stage and no one was dancing.  Angela credits there being “too much space to dance without feeling like people were just staring at you.”  Fair point, Angela.  Fair point.

Across the giant gulf, the audience sat and appreciated our killer music. Am I being too brag-y? Probably.

Despite the potential awkwardness, however, we did have a couple of songs that were so awesome that people couldn’t help but dance to them!  They came right in the middle of our set and brought the crowd alive!  First up was one of our signature switcheroo moves where the entire band trades instruments—I took bass and lead vocals for All My Loving by the Beatles.

Despite my meager talents, I took a shot at singing! You can also see Bill's excellent stint on the drums/as a back up singer. It was a fun bit of switcheroo!

Then we nailed Twist and Shout and had people Twisting and Shouting all over the place!

Most of the dancers are the girls from Khashi and their friends, though Nathan and his buddies were equally pumped as well!

Finally, one of my personal favorites, we gave a shout out to our favorite (“favourite” for you Brits out there!) Mexican, Damon,** and serenaded him with La Bamba!

This song once again demanded my vocal talents. However, I didn't know the bassline well enough to sing and play so I picked up Bill's comically-oversized acoustic guitar and faked it. You should've seen my killer guitar solo, though!

So, we weren’t only playing Beatles songs, those were just some of my favorites.  Khashi’s lead guitarist joined us to play and sing a Green Day song and we had some Chuck Berry and Rolling Stones followed by a nice version of a CCR song with Khashi girls as back up singers doing harmonies with Bootstrap Bill himself!  I looked out into the audience and saw through the haze of great distances that Pik Quinn, Marissa, and Joanne were holding up adulatory signs declaring their love for the band.  Or rather, for the BlueStrap Band.  Apparently Pik Quinn had gotten our name wrong, but that just made the signs all the more adorable!  Someday, when TBSB gets super famous, those signs will sell for millions on Ebay!

We toned things down for a bit and hit a high note near the end with our first run through of Hey Jude.  We hadn’t practiced it at all, so maybe it sounded shitty, but I thought it worked really well, all things considered!

I'm gonna work on getting a video up, but the internet is being a bitch today and it's not worth the hair-tearing frustration at this moment.

I’m gonna do you all a huge favor and try to upload a video of our performance as well!  Just of Hey Jude, anyway.  If you listen carefully, you can hear some lovely backup vocals provided by yours truly!

Despite my admittedly poor vocal talents, I enjoy throwing some nice "Ahh"s in there to support my dear friend Bootstrap Bill!

At the end of the concert we got to have some really nice rockstar moments.  I think that despite the dubious quality of our performance, our friends and colleagues who came out to support us just love us!

Unfortunately the close up that Ilia took of the two bands was pretty blurry, so I'm gonna go with this one.
And the nice close-up doesn't include Rick!
In addition to our loveliest groupies, Joanne and Marissa, one of my ninth grade students came up and asked for some band autographs. She's a cool kid and we happily obliged! It was a real grand-slam of an evening, let me tell you!

Over all, it was a really solid night.  The concert was absolutely the highlight of my weekend.  We all went out for khinkali and dancing at a bar where the band played a lot of Bootstrap Band hits.  In honor of Pik Quinn, we decided that the Georgian band covering our covers was the original BlueStrap Band.  Cheers, fellas!

*Yev isn’t fat.  He’s just from Group 3!

**Damon isn’t Mexican.  He’s just fat!  (No he’s not!)

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