The Black Sea Jazz Festival 2018


Plenty of stories have been written about this summer’s Jazz festival already – and a major reason for it is the never-dwindling army of fans that Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin boast in Georgia (deservedly, mind you). Some outlets were especially generous with lavish praise, one going as far as to call it “the festival that wrote history.” Was that the case? Well, let’s find out. But before we do, let me tell you about my journey to Batumi – considering the lion’s share of people that are attending the Batumi Jazz festival are not from there, I think it could be a valuable piece of information. Regular tickets for trains are usually sold out a week before, so there were only 100 GEL ones left at the time when I decided to embark on this journey. Minibuses, if you value your health, time and are past your hitch-hiking years, are a solution best sneered at. So, in a carefree move befitting a queen, I went for the Lux option and got a plane ticket from Tbilisi to Batumi for 125 GEL. The flight's usually at 10 in the morning and lasts about one hour. All cozy and comfortable. If it’s not your first time in Georgia, you probably know this already, but still: beware the taxi drivers at the airport. They charge triple at best. The ones you encounter on the road aren’t much better – basically if anybody tells you to pay 20 GEL to get from the airport to the center, they’re ripping you off. It’s best to call a cab office and order one. Also, you might want to remember that the usual opening venue for the Batumi Jazz fest – the Black Sea Arena isn’t in fact in Batumi, but in Shekvetili resort – so you’ll have to pay another 30-35 GEL to get there. It’s well worth it though, as the Black Sea Arena is rightfully considered the best concert venue in the Caucasus. The equipment, acoustic, logistics are all top-notch.

Day One

Robert Plant was, of course, late. The show started at about 10:30pm, by which time the arena was fully packed with people of every age and kind here – from die-hard Led zeppelin fans to children and of course, those who thought this was “the cool thing to do”. These, however, were in minority and Plant, 69 and still going strong, enjoyed an ecstatic, exultant crowd as he dished out a wonderful, age-belying performance. There was never a dull moment; people applauding, chanting, singing along, dancing. The seats were empty as everyone thought to partake into this wonderful magic the old wizard was weaving in front of their eyes. And, truth be told, if you were a Led Zeppelin fan (something I am not), this probably was the night that wrote history for you. For about two hours, Plant rocked, singing 12 songs and then, after the initial showdown and applause, he returned once more to sing Whole Lotta Love, much to everyone’s delight.

Day Two

This was a day that might have written history, albeit for all the wrong reasons. The main attraction was Erykah Badu, and although the name isn’t as big as that of Plant, she still has no shortage of fans in Georgia and many of them headed to Batumi just for her. The day was opened by Trombone Shorty who were… competent. But not what those hundreds of people were waiting there for. Erykah was nowhere to found, still. After some more time, Trombone Shorty returned without any of the audience asking them to. And so they played and played and played again, as Badu seemed in no hurry to show up. I have nothing against trombones, mind you, nor against shorties of any kind, but it seemed that they’d have better fitted the Tbilisi Jazz Festival than Batumi. It was way too high-brow and you’d need to be a real trombone fanatic to spend two hours on your feet, unable to dance, amid noise and still enjoy it. So the valiant efforts of Trombone Shorty to entertain the crowd afore Badu’s arrival were sadly thwarted.

Now firmly in Waiting for Godot mood, and receiving only confused shrugs from the organizers, the audience began to disperse. Clever as I am, I gave the friendly security person my number to call me on Badu’s arrival and left too. At about 01:40, my phone rang and I hastened back to the venue. After all this wait, one would expect the performer would try to redeem herself and put on a fascinating show. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Sub-par would be a generous assessment and one could see she wasn’t really putting much effort into it. A major disappointment, really, considering once again how many fans, enticed by her records, went to Batumi (plenty of foreigners too!) to finally see her perform live. And if you think I went into a bit of a rant here, I’d suggest you don’t read the comments that some of the less-amused fans have left on social media regarding this performance.

Day Three

This was a day of redemption. A day that really wrote history for me, you might say. Add some more high-strung expletives and you’ll still not come close to what we feasted on that day, courtesy of Wyclef Jean, who started at exactly 21:00. Unheard of!

His second act of awesomeness was a joke or two about Erykah Badu and her being sleepy. Amen to that, brother!

Next awesome act– he put his all into it. Soul, body, emotions, energy. One could not shake the feeling that this guy was singing for friends. Perhaps his close friendship with Bera (who was also present and provided a solid performance on his own) explains it, but this was certainly a man with boundless charisma, a man who finds supreme joy in what he is doing and is more than happy to connect it all to the listener. A major, major performance and definitely one of the best showmen to ever grace Georgia. Halfway through the show, after getting about half the attending children on stage and dancing and singing with them (I swear I saw the wide-eyed kid almost faint as she was handed the microphone), he was up to new antics – proposing to swap shirts with somebody from the audience. I could not find the image of Wyclef Jean sporting a China-manufactured Adibas shirt online, but trust me, it happened and it was lovely. In short, he entertained us for three hours, and I saw some of my friends, who literally never dance, unable to help themselves to a wiggle or two.

Day Four

And on day four, it rained. Free raincoats were soon claimed and I had to pay 5 GEL for one. The injustice! Some people came with umbrellas. The nerve! Well, in short, the rain dampened everything quite a bit. A symbolic image: a young black man, with long dreads on the stage, clad in a Chokha. With a face dismayed at nature’s whims, he uttered for everyone to hear: f**k this rain! Amen to that. That man was Wayne Snow, a Berlin based singer and songwriter, who seamlessly blends a multitude of genres to produce music that is both intricate, soulful and at the same time, very modern. You could see Snow was quite pumped up for the show and inspired by the previous night’s magic, and we soon forgot the rain. The music was sublime and the performers certainly spared no effort, but this was a performance better enjoyed while sitting, listening to every note and hushing anybody foolish enough to produce as much as a squeak. This, once again, would have been better served in the Tbilisi Concert Hall and you could hear some bewildered (and inebriated) audience members voicing their displeasure about the repertoire. This band definitely deserved more – more applause, more love, more appreciation of what they do. Another lesson for the future, perhaps?


So, what’s there to say? Did this festival write history? Sort of, for both good and bad reasons. Plant and Wyclef Jean both put in milestone performances that will be difficult to surpass, while Badu’s faux pass was equally embarrassing. But the most important thing is that the Batumi Jazz Festival has become imprinted into public conscience, both in Georgia and abroad, as a purveyor and provider of quality music every summer.

P.s. Compared to last year, the number of sponsors of the festival must have tripled. Brand stands were abound:, Heineken, Sobranie, Geocell, you name it, every kind of beast present. Oh, there was also a small yet vastly popular stand by Nikora, selling hotdogs. Good thinking, that.

By Inga Mumladze

26 July 2018 18:39