It was a nice warm Friday morning in my Harlem room when I received the message:
“-Wake up buddy! This is serious! The band is confirmed!”
It was Yura, a friend and an ex-colleague of mine. He’s a famous Russian TV personality I used to work with. A couple of months earlier we met in NYC to grab some drinks and talk about rock n’ roll, and catch up about our lives. In the drunken haze we were in, I asked him if he knew anyone connected to the Aerosmith show that was coming up in Moscow. He said he’d ask.
Turns out that a few weeks later he did find some connections to the organizers of the show.
The opening slot was still available, and we were free to send them audio/video materials for their consideration. Aerosmith were in fact reviewing the submissions, and choosing the opening act themselves!
So we sent our “message in a bottle”, in the form of our electronic package across the ocean to Russia.
In the meantime, our guitar player, Anthony, contacted Aerosmith’s own Brad Whitford, whom he had randomly met in the past on a train. They had kept in touch and had become buddies. Anthony told Brad about our application and our interest in playing the show. So Brad said that Steven [Tyler] is the one who makes the final decision but he would do his best to support us.
Time passed, and a few months later we had already lost any hope of playing that show and I was no longer even thinkin’ about it. The time was getting closer to the date of the show and there was no response.
That Friday morning the message confirming our opening slot arrived, and it was literally ONE WEEK prior from the day of the show.
And just to be clear, we live in New York City, and this show is in Moscow!
Holy shit, man!!!
I jumped out of bed. Thoughts are running fast in my head.
“This is happening!! This is HAPPENING!!! You’ve been working for this chance so long. Calm down Cheggi and think”.
There were too many things to think about.
The gear situation. Are we bringing it with us or are we renting? Obviously renting, but what is the cost?
Plane tickets -are there any available? and what is the price?
And the most important: visas!!!
I don’t need a visa. I am Russian. All other band members have different citizenships which makes it more complicated.
It wouldn’t be a problem months ahead of time. But today is Friday, and the show is in one week! It is close to impossible to get all the necessary papers done for the application for the visas within a day, and even if we do our super-duper best and succeed in it, we have Saturday and Sunday coming up, and the consulate is closed on the weekends, so that leaves us with FOUR days to get our papers ready. That means that the process would start no earlier than Monday. Considering that we have to be in Moscow at least one day before the show, which is next Friday, our chances of pulling this off were slim to say the least! And the plane tickets, again are we taking a risk by buying them now before we even got the visas… and how long is the visa process’s gonna take? What if…. aaahhhhh crap!
A new message received from organizers:
“The band has to confirm that all members are good with visas and tickets by monday so we know you are coming”
“It is 100% confirmed we’re coming!” I replied immediately.
Are there any doubts? If anything happens we’ll figure on a way. Fuck it! Fuck it!! Fuck it!! We’re making it!
I checked the Russian embassy website. Visas took like 3-5 days. Thank you Mother Russia! – not a Schengen 15 days period bullshit. I mean, to be fair if we went to the European Schengen zone there would be almost no problem for any of our band members. The USA citizens would go with their passports, the Englandhead Anthony – no problem, Grasebo has a Spanish citizenship – no problem. The problem would have been me! Ha, thank God we’re going to Moscow.
So we got 3-5 business days. It means Monday plus 5 days, so worse case scenario: we’re fucked. Monday plus 3 days we’re good. But risky good. How to secure those 3 days?
Calls back and forth, there and there, finally I got a phone number from my brother who’s in Moscow, he knows someone in Brooklyn who knows someone who can help.
Cut to next scene!
A VISA DEALER LADY
Monday night. We’re in the car in a dark street in Brooklyn. Hector and Joe in the backseat. They’re face expressions are precious.
I am sitting next to a woman (she’s on the driver’s seat).
She’s Russian. I am Russian. We’re cool, speaking Russian, we’re doing our Russian business.
– Brought the cash, boys? – she asked without turning her head.
Hector and Joe in the back seat did bring the cash… but I saw their “What The Fuck Is Going On?” – face expression.
– You gotta give the money to this wonderful lady at some point…to finish the deal- I told them, trying to sound as convincing and nonchalant as possible.
– No worries, boys, tomorrow you’ll get the visas and tickets. I promise – said the “visa-dealer” woman with an almost “lullaby” voice.
Two pairs of VERY VERY incredulous eyes were blinkin’ silently in the backseat of the car.
– We brought James Brown to Moscow this way 10 years ago – said a “not-giving-a-fuck” visa-dealer woman.
“Whatever. Help us Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope” – I could’ve sworn Hector and Joe were simultaneously thinking this as they gave that lady the cash.
The very next day we got our visas and we got our tickets. We’re all set.
All of a sudden, our sound engineer friend, Dana, who’s been doing the sound for us at some of our local shows called.
“Hey guys! I heard you’re going to Moscow to play with Aerosmith. I’m going with you”
“You know you need a visa and a ticket?”I asked him.
“Yes, help me with that”.
I gave him the phone number of that lady
“But don’t be shocked or surprised, just bring the cash whenever she tells you. Don’t ask questions just give her money”
He did it exactly the way I said, and he was shocked and surprised but he went for it. And he got his ticket and visa. BAM!!!
We’re off to Moscow!
“Do they know we’re not what they’re waiting for?”
Few of my Russian friends believed me when I called them saying “guys I am playing at the Olympic Stadium opening for Aerosmith tomorrow if you want I got tickets!” Most of them didn’t believe me. My family did though. I bet they were surprised, and what’s more important they were proud of me.
But as a band we kept it a secret till the very last minute. We were afraid of jinxing it. Cause you never know with all those Big Rock Stars, what if they change their minds or something…
Honestly speaking even during the soundcheck I wasn’t a 100% sure we’ll be playing. Aerosmith had a long soundcheck, so we ended up left with 10 minutes to bring our gear on stage and set it up. I’m grateful to the stage crew who helped us check the sound and get off stage to get ready for the show. We were still sound checking when they opened the doors of the stadium and the first few people started rushing in.
People always ask me “were you nervous?”
I wasn’t! Believe it or not. I was embracing the moment, trying to feel it.
The only moment when I felt anxiety, was right before goin’ on stage. But Brad Whitford came to support us, shook our hands and wished us good luck.
The lights went dim. We had asked the light guy to help us with lights. He was a nice Irish guy, already a bit drunk, which obviously helped us to close the deal within a minute or two. Also Anthony used his Englishman charms and a deep understanding of the Irish thirsty soul.
I started to sing the acapella intro. I heard my voice echoing from above the stadium. And I heard the crowd screaming
I was like “do they know that we’re not Aerosmith?” why are they screaming.
I gave them a second line. They screamed for more.
It is total darkness. The light will go up in a second and they will find out that we’re not what they are waiting for and I am not Steven Tyler and they will “boo-go-fuck-yourself-get-off-the-stage” us! Fuck it anyways!
Hector and Anthony hit the first guitar chords, Joe hits the drums, light strikes. And the crowd went screaming in rock’n’roll excitement. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it.
But that was it! We’re doing this.
Then all of a sudden I saw a good friend of mine standing close to the stage in the crowd showing me thumbs up! I hadn’t seen him at all during these past 5 years, believe it or not. But he was the one who had always supported me and my music.
Yeah motherfuckers!!!! We’re here on this stage! Let’s rock!!!
We had 30 minutes to be STADIUM ROCKSTARS! A dream came true that night! 5 years before this moment I was standing here, on this same stadium, on the GA floor in the crowd watching Aerosmith playing on this very stage. I wanted to open for them with my Russian band back then. It didn’t work. “One day, I swear, one day it’s gonna happen!”
I said it like they do it in the movies. And you know life sometimes can be a good movie. Just keep going and doing what you believe in and have patience. Since there is no montage in real life, right?
And now I am here! Running around the stage, watching the crowd trying to sing along with our songs, raising their hands in the air!
Hector’s headbanging while blazing a solo, Anthony’s in his blues head bending a precious note. Grasebo doing madman dances with me as we play Gambit, and Joe hitting the drums and harmonizing with me on back vox.
Could we be any happier? The dream will always come true, you set a goal and you stubbornly go for it! Easy as it is.
All of this I declared from the stage in my native language, during the middle of our set. The crowd cheered insanely. First when I started my speech cause they realized I am Russian, which apparently super pleased them, and the second time when I finished my speech. And I embraced that moment through my skin, by my DNA. Yes, this is what rock music is for me – to inspire people! To encourage them, to make them believe in themselves…ahhh… what else? oh and to get laid with chicks of course….and free booze… Totally forgot the free booze. And chicks. Yes. Amen.
To be continued…
Below you can watch our “on the road” edition video for our single Can’t Get Over You, which I edited using videos taken from all our phones while on the road, including footage from our trip to Moscow. Enjoy!
Capt. Andrey “Rocker Child” Cheggi.