For 10 years, the Tbilisi Open Air in the small country of Georgia has been the biggest open air music festival in the Caucasus region. With a motto of “music breaks free”, the mission of the fest is to promote freedom and equality with three days of electronic and rock music.
Day #24 of 100: Festival #4 of 15
I arrived in the capital of Georgia to a backdrop of political unrest, with protests in the city center brought on by Russian provocation. Despite the gatherings in Liberty Square, Tbilisi Open Air remained a calm oasis of music and and a welcome introduction to my first time in the the country.
Running the Numbers
Tbilisi Open Air Stats:
Dates: June 21-23, 2019
MFW Beer Index: €1.24
MFW French Fry Index: €1.85
Highest/Lowest Temperature: 34C/20C (93F/64F)
Reusable Cups? No
Free Water Stations? No
100 Nights of Summer Stats:
Days on the Road: 24
Countries Visited: 6
Festivals Attended: 4
Festival Days: 11
Festival Days w/rain: 0
Days Camping: 5
100 Nights of Summer Festival #4 2015: Hurricane
100 Nights of Summer Festival #4 2016: Down the Rabbit Hole
100 Nights of Summer Festival #4 2017: Tinderbox
100 Nights of Summer Festival #4 2018: Maifeld Derby
The Venue: Lisi Wonderland
According to my cab driver, this is not a real place. “Would you call it unreal?” I asked, and for an answer, he dropped me off two kilometers away on the shores of Lisi Lake. I am here to tell you that Lisi Wonderland does exist, if only for the three days of the festival, as a tree lined field surrounded by meadows high above the noise and chaos of Tbilisi.
The Crowd: Tbilisi is the New Berlin
As I was told by the numerous expats and travelers from around Europe that I met: “Tbilisi is the new Berlin.” I assume this has something to with the hard techno scene boom around the city, but Tbilisi Open Air is an all ages event with families, teenagers, and everyone in between. Past midnight, when the music turns to the electronic side of life, it skews towards a younger crowd, and it’s not uncommon to stay until deep into the next morning.
The Music: Rock at Night, Electronic in the Morning
The main stage at Tbilisi Open Air is where most of the rock, pop, and international acts performed with sets from early in the evening to about one in the morning. After that, they psychedelic stage and the techno dome kept the party going long past they point where you could still stand.
A vintage clothing shop, a start up market, and old school video games were just a few of the things that I happened across over my three days in the fields. There’s some beautiful pieces of art stretched around the venue and when you wanted to relax, hammocks were strung up in a lighted area of trees with views of the main stage.
Acts I Caught and the Unofficial Order in Which I Enjoyed Them
- Franz Ferdinand
- The Subways
- Bedford Falls
- Michelle Gurevich
- David August
Festival All-Star: Franz Ferdinand
I’ve seen Franz Ferdinand before, but I’ve never seen them perform with this much energy. Like most of the artists from the west, they seemed chuffed to be playing this Georgian festival. I’m still not sure if their rousing hit “Take This City” was either inspirational or a bad idea to play in city suffering from riots, but the crowd really leaned into it.
Wildest Set: Enforcement
While the Eye Stage typically featured electronic artists, the first act of the first night was the metal heavy Enforcement who skipped a formal stage and just played straight in the crowd.
Favorite Set: Mogwai
Even if they never let me take photos, I still dig these Scottish indie rockers who like to clear up any visual distractions by playing in the near dark. During one of their harder songs, the skies opened up for a brief cleansing downpour. Here’s my favorite Mogwai musical moment that’s totally related to the performance.
Most Theatrical: Michelle Gurevich
The artist formerly known as Chinawoman, became so overcome with ennui during Vacation From Love that she had to sit down with her face in her hands while she sang: My phone is off/I’m morning drunk/The place is a mess/I’m doing whatever I want. Or as I call it — Monday.
Shirt of the Weekend
You know what? Life is indeed a party. Also, instead of sleeping in a boiling tent, I’m staying at an air-condtioned hostel which is making my attitude much more positive than in Austria.
Employee of the Weekend
I saw this dancing pita dude working it all three nights convincing people to follow to him to a kebab stand at the far back of the venue. And if every once in a while, he ended up front and center during a set bumping along in a pita suit, he deserves every moment of that break.
Photo of the Weekend
I’m not sure what this guy is recording, but it’s going to be epic on Instagram.
Summer of Selfies
Because if there’s not a photo of you at the festival, then it never happened.
Peace, Love, and Activism
While I’m finishing this recap, our president in the United States is joking with Putin that we should get rid of the media, clearly with no idea in his dumb fucking head that criticism of Putin has led to the death of 26 journalists.
Word of the Week: Zeg
There was a storytelling festival happening in Tbilisi this weekend called Zeg Festival. In Georgian, zeg means the “day after tomorrow”, which is exactly how far ahead I plan the 100 Nights of Summer Tour.
What’s the Prime Hours for Music? I’m back in the East, which means music doesn’t start until the evening and doesn’t end until the festival ends. The main stage acts happened from 7:00 pm to just after midnight. This festival is busy all the time, with the biggest gate lines as I was walking out at 3:00 am on Sunday morning.
What’s the Weather Like? An epic heat wave is blasting hot air across Europe, but since this festival mainly takes place at night, I barely noticed and actually needed a light hoodie at night. There was only a smattering of rain on Sunday night.
How to Get There? Lisi Wonderland is just barely inside the city limits and takes about 25 minutes to reach by car. I took a cab every day for about $2.80 USD to get there and $7.00 USD to get back to the city center. There’s also a bus, but it looked like a terrible way to get back and forth.
Where Do I Sleep? The best spot in town is Fabrika Hostel, which has air-conditioning along with a top-notch staff and a courtyard filled with restaurants and bars. There is a small camping area at Lisi Wonderland if you want to spend the weekend at the festival.
Gathering a group of people in a field to listen to artists from around the world play rock music was unheard of under communist rule, so it’s inspirational to see a music festival as an act of freedom. After the events of the past week, Russian implemented a crippling travel ban on Georgia, so if you’re looking to help out a young democracy this summer, consider a trip to this beautiful country.