Happy 2020!

The first day of a New Year is here and it is time to look back on the year that just ended. 2019 has been good to me. I could carry on by writing about all the cool concerts that I’ve attended, the amazing tennis matches that I’ve seen, the people that crossed my path, the cats that peacefully slept in my lap but I think I already wrote about all these things in my posts throughout the year. I am grateful and happy to look back and say that I did this or that thing last year, however small or big the thing actually was. 2019 didn’t feel like riding a motorcycle on the highway as its predecessor felt, it was more like riding a bicycle… uphill…downhill… and running into a bush every now and then.

Again, no resolutions, I don’t think the New Year is a new beginning, just a continuation of a lot of things that have started at various moments in the past. I will see what 2020 brings one day at a time, but I can already say that I have a long list of concerts that I have tickets for, some more on the waiting list, and a few outlines for some tennis trips. So nothing out of the ordinary here. Other that that, I wish us all peace, love, health and happiness. Happy New Year!

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Intrum Stockholm Open 2019

The tennis week is by far the best week of the year. It’s that period of time that you wait for a whole year, work towards for months and it’s gone in just a few days. And absolutely nothing beats seeing your favourites play live and working together with your team mates to take care of the players and well, almost everybody who needs taking care of.

This was my 7th Stockholm Open. I started back in 2013 when I was given the chance to work with the players for the first time and I kept coming back. Every year I come back to so much work and such good times that I would do this again and again and again. I love what I am doing. And above all I love tennis. And the people I work with. This year’s tournament came after months of planning, throwing ideas and discussing possibilities.

Home-made treats

Days before the action starts on court things already take shape behind the curtains, players arrive from Asia early during the week and the mechanism of Stockholm Open has to be in place for them. Going through the work that is put into this would mean going through an endless list of details that need to be in place all the time, just as any regular job. Just that this one is all about tennis. It’s about taking care of the players, about making sure there is an answer for all of their questions,  about taking care of the team that you work with, about eliminating problems even before they occur and solve them professionally if they do, it’s about enjoying working in the company of passionate people and world renowned athletes and about tennis. And the list can go on. A day starts around 8 am and ends most of the times well after midnight. There is always an open door and a solution, always a smile, a sandwich, a cup of coffee, a ginger shot, some chocolate balls or a freshly baked pie. There are breakfasts with the view of the centre court and cups of coffee sipped to the sound of the rackets hitting the tennis balls from one side of the net to the other. There are also suppers eaten in record time and espressos drunk to boost the energy level for long evenings. There are spectacular points, tiebreaks, long matches, fast and exciting doubles action and there are emotions.

Tecău/Rojer vs Pavic/Soares

I am a doubles fan so I will always pick watching the doubles matches. They are quick-paced, thrilling with incredible points and the score can change in the blink of an eye. And this year I was lucky enough to see Horia Tecău play in Stockholm, alongside his partner, Jean-Julien Rojer. Horia is Romanian and I am not going to go into details about how much I like watching him live. Though I’d always like to see him play on central courts, one great detail about his matches, and about doubles matches in general, is that they are most of the time played on secondary courts where I can sit and watch from the first rows and follow not only the match but also the players’ reactions, the way they communicate, their focus. It’s a whole little world that unfolds there. By far this has been the highlight of this year’s tournament, I hope I see them live again soon. Then of course there’s always Robert Lindstedt, a bit of a tennis legend and an exciting player to watch. Horia’s former partner teamed up with Moldova’s Radu Albot, another player that I like to follow year-round in his singles journey.

Seeing Janko Tipsarevic’s last match on the ATP tour was a bit emotional.  It was a long match and the Serbian player fell to Yuichi Sugita 2-6, 6-4, 6-7 after a fierce fight. But that was also a long night for us, the ones working until the last player has left the building. Of course, watching Denis Shapovalov winning his first ever ATP title in Stockholm was a treat. Part of the new generation of talented and hard working tennis players, Denis has all eyes on him when he is on court. He has a beautiful game, discipline and hopefully plenty of years ahead to delight the audience with his style. He is one to closely follow.

I would write more about tennis but other games that I saw were scattered between running around with errands, make sure nobody works on an empty stomach, taking breaks on the roof and keeping everybody happy, me included. And that’s easy to do as long as I have coffee and tennis. And when at the end of the week people say thank you, notice your work and say that they want to come back, after little sleep, long days and great matches, you feel that you want to do this again starting the next day (if only), then it means that it was a great week for tennis and everything that comes with it. Game, set, match: Denis Shapovalov and Kontinen/Roger-Vasselin.

 

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Rammstein @ Stadion, Stockholm

Concert day, final big event of the Summer, not final concert though. Rammstein again after quite a few years since I last saw them. It was a bit of a struggle to get a ticket because initially the show sold out in a matter of minutes and I had to pay extra attention to possible ticket releases – which I did. And for the first time I was going to see them perform with the full pyro gear.

I was excited to finally attend an event on Stockholm Olympic Stadium which opened in 1912, I’ve only seen the venue as a tourist. But I guess I was more excited to see Rammstein. I will always remember the first time I saw them and I have to say that I recognised some of their stage performance acts. I can’t wait to see them again as soon as I have the chance to do that. This time I knew it was going to be special but I didn’t know in what direction that special would lead.

The organisation of the concert was quite smooth and it was easy to get in, buy a drink and listen to the opening act Duo Jatekok play piano covers of Rammstein from the Klavier album. The break between the opening act and Rammstein was quite short and at 20:30 the band went on stage but not before a plea to enjoy the concert and not film it. I listened to that advice, took some snaps here and there and in other moments I just left my phone in my pocket. This show was to be seen with my own eyes, not through a telephone screen.

The set-up of the stage was imposing, big turbine-like-decorations, industrial towers, plenty of loudspeakers. Interesting and scary to watch. Well, imagine that the moment the concert started and the lights went on, all impressions and perceptions increased incredibly much. It was going to be a mind-blowing performance and an one-of-a-kind experience and you didn’t need too much to realise it. Rammstein are loud. And besides their music being loud their shows are visual, from the way they enter the stage and scrutinise the audience to literally going out with a bang. The atmosphere they created was industrial, a bit apocalyptical even, given the clouds of black smoke that their pyro equipment was shooting to the sky. The August Stockholm sky helped too, as the filtered light of the sunset met some really dark clouds somewhere above us all. The dark setting was several times replaced with light, just to go back to a frightening hazy frame on the screen on top of the stage. Close-ups with the members of the band in their stage costumes made me feel like we were being watched, the band’s logo was ruling on top of the stage as a coat of arms. But there were no brainwashed zombies watching the screens and pledging their legions. There were a lot of people with smiles on their faces, dancing, head banging, singing along, raising their fist and jumping off their seats whenever a favourite song started (though I cannot imagine how people actually sit at a Rammstein concert, I think I annoyed at least a few of those sitting behind me because at a certain moment I just got up). And if you think that there was only anger around think again: at their sing-along piano version of Engel featuring Duo Jatekok we actually grabbed each other by the shoulders and started swaying to the music. That changed soon though because right after a few moments the encore started and that was even louder. It is really hard to put in words how I got to live that concert. It was not just about the music. If I listen to Rammstein, even some of their live recordings, the experience of that is not even half of the one of seeing them live. Their gigs are not for the faint-hearted. The ones who want to have a full-on-ride through Rammstein-land or just put themselves in an amazingly cool circumstance a concert with the full pyro gear is the thing to see/be at/watch/listen/breathe. You’d understand what I mean by that when you see the flames go up to the beat of Du Hast.

The crowd got crazy when hearing the hits included in the encore and Ich Will was a fiery closing of an already intense performance: from loud sounds, black smoke, cauldrons, the Flake-Till tandem, an electro remix of Deutschland with 4 of the guys dancing in glow-in-the-dark costumes to the band kneeling in front of the audience and taking the elevator up to the burning wings on top of the stage, waving to us from up there and disappearing in a loud explosion just so everything could fade away on the piano version of Sonne. Every single moment, every single detail were perfectly planned for an ultimate experience. A different king of concert, a different kind of performance and one of the best and coolest things I’ve ever seen.

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Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters @ Gröna Lund

One foggy Summer evening that reminded me more of London than of Stockholm, under a very light but constant drizzle I found myself standing, again, in Gröna Lund. This time I was there to see Robert Plant. I find the next thing I am going to say completely unnecessary but I will say it anyway: he’s the singer of Led Zeppelin. I got to the concert site quite late, so late that I was a bit nervous about actually being able to go in but once there I found that there were so few people in that I could comfortably chose the perfect spot to watch the show. By the time the concert started the park got pretty full but not full enough when you think who was about to play. I guess the drizzle scared a lot of the people who would have been there otherwise. Either that or the thunderstorm that unleashed itself over the city earlier in the day. The people around me were of all ages, from the ones that danced their youth on Led Zeppelin chords, to the ones that got acquainted with Plant & his former band through their parents, to the little baby, just a few months old, who probably just saw her first concert from atop her daddy’s shoulders. And what a concert it was! By their side stood the man’s teenage daughter. A few meters in front of me was another teenage kid who was singing his heart out with his little brother on his shoulders. Some happy lads had too much to drink and were desperately looking for a way out of the crowd mid-show. A few ladies made me think of what I’ll be like in about 30 years, if still around. I wonder if years from now I might get the chance to see live artists that marked my teenage years still rocking it on the stage as Robert Plant did last evening together with The Sensational Space Shifters. I honestly doubt it.

He stepped on stage together with his band mates, he was wearing black jeans and a black t-shirt, his once wild golden locks all gray and tamed. He talked to the audience, shared memories and made fun of the people screaming in rollercoasters throughout the show. But the moment he started singing everything was mind-blowing. The guy’s voice is still there, years after. I was born too late and in a place too far away from where Led Zeppelin wildly sung and partied, I missed Robert Plant’s concert from Bucharest in 2007, I missed his show in Stockholm in 2015 but I didn’t miss it now. I like music, going to concerts, I can make some sense of it all, I appreciate a good show but it’s been so long since I could say that I’ve listened to such beautiful music. Blues, rock, folk, new songs, old songs, Led Zeppelin anthems, “Going to California” and a “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” that drove the crowd wild. It was a dream. I really don’t know what more I could say.

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Bon Jovi @ Tele2 Arena

29 years and counting. 29 years since I’ve started this passion for Bon Jovi. 8 years since i last saw them in Bucharest. The band itself is just one year older than me but everything seems like it’s been lasting since forever.

Last evening I saw them live for the second time in my life. I’ve bought the ticket months ago and I’ve been waiting for their concert like crazy. If anybody ever asks what my favourite band ever is I would answer without any doubt: Bon Jovi. Their album “New Jersey” marked my childhood, I’ve learnt their songs by heart even before I could speak proper English, I followed them closely throughout the years. The sticker with the band that we had at home on the bedroom bookshelf is a photo that I will never forget. 29 years later its colours faded but it is still there. It is surprising how they managed to make an impact on so many generations.

Last evening’s concert was a huge desire to hear those songs again, to dance and sing along, to jump and clap. Their latest album “This House Is Not for Sale” toned down their rock’n’roll style and their live performance was toned down as well. Jon’s voice is far from what it used to be, though certain songs still bring it back. However, his abilities of being an extraordinary frontman to one of the greatest bands ever are still there. And so is his amazing smile. They didn’t play “(You Want to) Make a Memory”, again! But the setlist included so many songs that are dear to me, four of which come from the “New Jersey” album. Each song reminds me of a certain period in my life, from being 6 and trying to make a sense of “Born to Be My Baby” to being 9 and watching “Keep the Faith” on MTV to being 16 and rocking to “It’s My Life” at high school parties to current years when “This House Is Not for Sale”, “Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning” and “Labour of Love” are fairly new additions to my Spotify playlists. They didn’t play the last two songs yesterday but even so, was it worth it? Yes! Do I want to see them again? Yes, please!

I liked the people around me, from dear friends to complete strangers of all ages, to a dad that came to the show with his two sons, the youngest being somewhere around 10 and holding his fist in a tight grip on his chest during “Wanted Dead or Alive”. The organisers managed the long queues in an efficient way and they provided water points, cups included, inside the arena. And when I finally managed to get my brain out of my critical-view-on-concerts approach everything turned to pure joy. Hearing “Bed of Roses” and seeing all the lights lit around the venue during it was blissful. Getting to hear my favourite Bon Jovi song ever at the encore was incredible, just when I thought the setlist couldn’t get any better. Watch it below! Singing along to “Living on A Prayer” was heartbreaking because I knew that the concert was seconds from being over. And I just glued myself to the concert hall’s floor to the last moment when the band joined up on stage and bowed goodbye. I wish they never said goodbye but maybe after almost two hours and a half it was about time they did.

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