I've had lots of joyous times in my life. But I don't recall a time where I was this happy pretty much every waking moment for a week. Going to Eurovision, experiencing the entire thing live, was incredible.
First off, the shows themselves. Seeing it live is a much more intense experience than watching it over the web. And watching it from the floor right in front of the stage (1st semi-final and the final) was much more intense than watching from the stands (2nd semi-final). The impact cannot be explained, you have to experience it. At times you are owned by the song, at other times you're part of the song singing along, and sometimes it's all so amazing that you are caught up jumping and waving a flag.
And the others watching are also caught up in each song. Yes, everyone has their favorite. But they are caught up in each song, wanting it to be extraordinary, cheering for every artist. The audience is not competitive. They are not wishing that the other acts do poorly. And that makes the experience an incredibly positive one. Everyone in the audience wanting all the acts to be extraordinary, I've never seen that before. Truly wondrous.
Second are the people. I got to meet Will (Wiwi), Vebooboo, and Deban (from wiwibloggs) - all really nice people. And a blast to talk with. And I talked to a ton of other press people. All of them complete ESC fanatics. And again, while everyone had their favorites, no one wished poorly of anyone. It was a blast talking to them about past shows (I'm not the only one who thinks Pastora Soler was robbed last year). And also a lot of fun talking about this show, what we thought was working well for the acts, how we thought each would do.
I also talked to a lot of fans. Every time I rode the train to/from the arena, every time I was eating at Burger King (at 1:00am that's the only dinner option so tons of ESC people were there after the show), I would say hi to a group I sat next to. And we would talk about the show. How much we loved it, who our favorites were, why. And sometimes about their country (every Greek I talked to felt they were now on the way out of recession - which was nice to hear).
And the couple in the picture? They fly from New Zealand every year to watch in person. I thought I came a long way - their flight was 32 hours.
And seeing the fans. All the women from Finland there wearing wedding dresses. Everyone waving flags (thank you to the people who gave me flags to wave - Austria, Estonia, & Georgia). Lots of people with their countries flag painted on their cheek. Or wearing their countries colors, from a group of 4 men from The Netherlands dressed very nicely with orange ties, to people dressed up in full body bird suits (again all orange).
People were amazed that I had come from the U.S. to see it. Apparently that is very rare. Although I met a news crew from Australia and a couple from New Zealand so they travelled even further. Everyone wanted to know if ESC was popular in the U.S. I always replied that I thought the U.S. audience was maybe 5 - 10 people. But again, made for a fun conversation.
Third, I mostly ignored work for the week. Because I was having such a good time, and because of the time difference, I checked email twice a day and only responded to items that absolutely could not wait, ignoring everything else for the week. That was gigantic.
Fourth, being press at ESC is a backstage pass. It was interesting to see what goes into the rehearsals. Listening to the artists at the press conferences, and getting to ask an occasional question was really interesting. Standing on the side of the red carpet seeing how the artists worked the press was fascinating. And best of all, seeing up close how thrilled the artists were to be there. Yes they wanted to win, but it was clear that all of them took great pride in getting to the contest. And they should, being one of the best is an amazing accomplishment.
Some of the artists were a total crack-up (I mean this in a very positive way). Cezar totally believes in himself, but puts it across in a way that is positive (very rare to see). Krista is an energizer bunny 100% of the time. Aliona is a total class act. Roberto was clearly just amazed to be there (it was sweet). The list goes on.
And then there were the parties. At a lot of them, while put on by one country, acts from other countries would show up and perform too. It was like being at a small dance club where the live bands were 5 or 6 of the best bands in Europe. And they were performing for fun, which infects the audience. So you had everyone jumoing, dancing, screaming.
Between the shows, the press events, the parties, the discussions in the press room, it never stopped. The few times it did, there was Malmo and Copenhagen to go explore. Both are wonderful places to visit.
I'm 57 years old. My days tend to be the same. I'm a programmer and I love creating software, but it's the same world I've been in for decades. I'm involved in politics but that is a conflict riven environment, and again the same thing I've been in for decades. In those worlds I am with my people. Fellow programmers. Fellow political junkies.
But at Eurovision I found another place where I am with my people. Finding something new, a new tribe, a new experience - wow. At my age it never occurred to me that such a thing could happen again. So to find a new place where I am with others that all share the love of an event, that made it even better.
Thank you to everyone at Eurovision - you made the week wonderful for me. I will be back.
* top photo by Sander Hesterman/EBU. Used with permission. middle photo taken by me and used with my permission.