Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock

 I managed to miss the seminal cultural event of my generation. The summer of 1969 I was working with a roomful of other college students at the NYS Department of Education. One Friday a coworker goes, there's a big concert this weekend with a ton of stars, in some place about 80 miles from here called Woodstock. Anybody wanna go?

No one did. It was gonna be crowded and 80 miles was far and the weather was gonna be horrible. A lot of rain.

So, I never say no now when it comes to concerts, though I still hate crowds and it rains all the time in Sarajevo. Plus I have liked Hari Mati Hari, the enormously popular Bosnian singer, since I heard him do a rendition of O Sole Mio at the National Theater a few years ago. About 45,000 people turned out for a free concert at Kosovo Theater. Some people sat on the bleachers but thousands like us stood on the grassy soccer field.

He came onstage a hour late but you could not be angry because he then put on a 2 1/2 hour show that included the national soccer team, stars Dino Merlin and Nina Badric and Eldin Huseinbegovic and Drazen Zeric Zera. The kicker was an emotional duet with Halid Beslic, a beloved fold singer, who has not appeared in public since a near fatal car accident earlier his year. Hari did O Sole Mio too. I worried at first when he came on stage in a black and blue outfit, but he quickly changed into his signature all-white suit.

I was amazed at how young the crowd was. There were some people my age but it was overwhelmingly teens and young adults and they cheered, danced and hooted and sang along. They seemed to know every word to every song. The ones they liked the best they marked by jumping up and down like Masaai warriors. And you couldn't not jump with them because someone from behind would grab you and move you up and down. Another reason not to like big crowds.

The fans took zillions of photos of the lit-up stage and of each other mugging and dancing and swayed to his oldest favorites holding up their cell phones. When did they stop using lighters at concerts?

Hari is not universally loved in Bosnia, I discovered. He went to Germany during the war, he wears white suits, he left his wife for another woman, he sings of sadness and lost love. "I have lost all respect for you," a co-worker told me the next day as I blared "Sreca" and "Ne mogu ti reci sta je tuga" on my computer. 

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