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Shady shashlik Moscow City Hall organized an extremely last-minute free rock concert. It’s scheduled for the day of the city’s next mass protest.

Source: Meduza
Sophia Sandurskaya / Moskva news agency

On July 31, a notice appeared on Moscow City Hall’s website announcing a new rock festival called Shashlik Live. The festival was scheduled to begin only three days later and continue for two days in Gorky Park. Most of the musical acts involved had been invited to participate only a few days beforehand, and some learned about their sets from the City Hall notice itself. Two of those bands, Bravo and Tequilajazzz, quickly announced that they would not be performing. The Shashlik festival is not the only major public event set to take place in Moscow this weekend: Area residents could also choose to attend another music festival organized by the entertainment website Afisha, a soccer match between Spartak and Dynamo — or a mass protest supporting opposition candidates for the Moscow City Duma. The city’s police department warned last week that it may be unable to handle such a large number of events. For its part, the Moscow government argued that Shashlik Live was planned “pretty long ago” and with no reference to the city’s growing election protest movement.

Moscow City Hall announced a new “rock and shashlik” festival set to take place on the same day as a mass protest in the city center.

On July 31, Moscow government officials posted a notice announcing that a new festival called Sashlik Live would take place that very weekend, August 3 and 4, in Gorky Park. The festival, they said, would be free of charge, and it would feature a chance to “try meat dishes created by Moscow’s best restaurateurs” while listening to “all your favorite Russian rock musicians.” Among the acts scheduled to perform at the event were rock bands Bravo, Chaif, Spleen, Tequilajazzz, and Uma2rman, with television host Svetlana Zeinalova and musician Alexey Kortnev scheduled to MC the show.

Two other large entertainment events are also scheduled to take place in downtown Moscow on August 3: the Afisha Picnic indie music festival and a soccer match between Spartak and Dynamo. On top of all that, the latest in a series of protests for independent Moscow City Duma candidates is scheduled for the same day, and in part because local officials did not grant a permit for the event, it promises to attract mass arrests and ample attention in the liberal Russian press. Multiple media sources reported that Moscow’s police department had previously asked for the Spartak-Dynamo match be rescheduled because “the forces available to Moscow’s police garrison may prove insufficient” to handle both a soccer rivalry and an opposition protest, leaving law enforcement officers with no other option but to “engage additional forces from nearby regions.”

Some bands found out they had been scheduled for the festival only after it was announced.

On the morning of August 2, the bandleaders of Bravo and Tequilajazzz announced that they had no plans to perform on August 3. Yevgeny Fyodorov of Tequilajazzz wrote on Facebook that he is currently taking a road trip “through the forests of the Balkans,” meaning that “Tequilajazzz will not be performing on August 3, 2019, in Moscow or anywhere else.”

Bravo frontman Yevgeny Khavtan told the independent television channel Dozhd that the festival’s organizers had contacted his band’s manager and “put the band in their lineup without permission.” During the course of the interview, he added that the group could not perform at Shashlik Live even if its members wanted to because the band is currently recording in a studio located far away from Moscow.

Before long, the festival’s official lineup began to change: New artists like the band Leg Cramp!, Vladimir Kuzmin, and Valery Syutkin were all added to the schedule. Alexander Shobolov, Syutkin’s manager and sound director, confirmed to Meduza that the singer would perform at Gorky Park around 5:00 PM and admitted that he had received an invitation to join the festival at the last minute on the evening of August 1. Shobolov did not recognize the name of the festival: “I didn’t know it was called Sashlik Live,” he said. “But you know, everybody loves shashlik. We’ll play, and the audience will eat shashlik.”

A number of musicians said their invitation to the festival felt “abrupt.”

Ivan Demyan, who leads the rock band 7B, told Meduza that his group had been invited to perform at Shashlik Live “three days ago — on the 31st or the 1st.” He added, “It’s a bit of an abruptly planned festival, but does happen sometimes that a concert shows up [on our schedule] abruptly, even a week in advance, say.”

Spleen band manager Alexander Morozov also said the festival was organized extremely recently in an interview with the radio station Business FM. “A couple of days ago, they put everything together very suddenly,” he said. “I don’t know how people are going to get in, but I’m guessing it’s free. They wouldn’t have been able to sell tickets in that short a period.”

At the same time, Chaif bandleader Vladimir Shakhrin told Meduza that the group’s August 3 concert was “already two weeks” in the making. He refused to answer any other questions, instead repeating, “So? What do you think is wrong with the concert?” The band’s manager, Ilya Spirin, confirmed that the band had been working on its August 3 performance for at least a week.

Meduza’s questions about the event seemed to put some of the musicians involved on guard. For example, Uma2rman Public Relations Director Yulia Sazhina declined to say exactly when the group was invited to perform at the festival, calling the matter a trade secret. She also noted that “this has all turned into something of a detective story.”

Meanwhile, Oleg Genenfeld, who represents pop-rock musician Yulia Chicherina, asked why a Riga-based outlet like Meduza would be interested in an event set to take place in Moscow. “You shouldn’t be interested in this information,” he said. “What difference does it make when [we were invited]?”

Vyacheslav Karev, who represents the musician Sergey Skachkov, also found the question to be “strange.” “What difference does it make when he found out? […] It was a few days ago, I don’t remember exactly. It might have been a week ago.” Skachkov himself explained that he does not keep track of who invites him to events and when. “I was told where the concert is going to be. I don’t care whether there will be shashlik or not.”

Most of the musicians either hadn’t heard about the August 3 protest or said the festival had nothing to do with politics.

Alexey Kortnev, who leads the band Neschastny Sluchai and is serving as the Shashlik Live festival’s director, told Meduza he found out about the event from his manager two days ago. Kortnev added that he had not heard anything about the August 3 protest at that point because he had been on vacation “very far from Russia” and “didn’t have the ability to keep [his] finger on the pulse.” Nonetheless, Kortnev said he supports the protesters: “I think it [the scandal surrounding the Moscow City Duma elections] is a total disgrace. What they’ve done with the independent candidates is impudent in the extreme. What’s happened is absolutely unacceptable. Of course, I’m behind the candidates [who weren’t allowed to register] 100 percent.”

Most of the musicians Meduza contacted said they did not know a protest was planned in Moscow for August 3. “So who’s running this support for independent candidates?” Sergey Skachkov asked Meduza. “What kind of people are going? Young people, and what do they know? You’d do better to ask whether any of them know who’s in the Moscow City Duma at all. See if they can name a single name. God, I don’t care — it’s the Moscow City Duma, [and I don’t care about] the State Duma either.”

“We live pretty far from Moscow — the band lives in Yekaterinburg. We don’t participate in any elections [in Moscow] — we don’t vote there,” said Chaif manager Ilya Spirin. “People are always talking about protests, with permits or without. I personally haven’t followed this protest.”

Ivan Demyan explained that he didn’t know anything about the protests because he was on tour. Alexander Morozov, who manages Spleen, said the concert had nothing to do with the protest scheduled for the same day: “These two events are running entirely in parallel, and neither depends on the other. I truly hope not.”

Moscow government representatives have said they decided to organize the festival “pretty long ago.”

The Shashlik Live festival is sponsored by Moscow’s Commerce and Services Department, which is led by Alexey Nemeryuk. Taras Belozyorov, Nemeryuk’s press secretary, told Meduza that he does not know exactly when the decision to organize the festival was made. “We organize concerts on a regular basis. As far as I remember, the decision [to hold] this concert was made pretty long ago,” Belozyorov said.

Gorky Park does indeed host public events frequently: on July 27, for example, as more than 1,300 people were arrested in an election protest nearby, the park was full of revelers celebrating International Hamburger Day at an event called Burgerfest. According to Moscow City Hall’s website, more than half a million people attended the festival.

Taras Belozyorov said he could not speak to whether or not police would be able to handle Moscow’s slew of upcoming events. He told Meduza the question was outside his area of expertise.

Two days before Shashlik Live was set to begin, its organizers were still searching for cooks. At least one posting was still open on the job-hunting website headhunter.ru as late as August 1, 2019. Shashlik Live’s organizers declined to comment on the festival’s hiring practices.

Report by Kristina Safonova and Alexander Ibragimov

Translation by Hilah Kohen