13 Mar 2009 - Rod's Diary - Caracas, Bogota and 'Riots'

As dictated on March 9th. 

And so to show day in Venezuela -- Caracas.  The airport is at sea level near the harbour, Venezuela's a big oil exporter as you probably all know, so it seemed pretty busy around there. We drove up into the mountains for about 45 minutes or an hour and when we got to the hotel we were at quite some altitude, and when we went on to the show that involved climbing even further. So although you'd think of Caracas as being at sea level when you look on a map, it's actually not -- the city centre is quite high up. The trip up was spectacular in parts, and in others there were houses built on top of each other clinging desperately to the slopes of the quite sheer lower mountains.

Work all day then off to the show with Bruce. The traffic was just unbelievable -- it was a good thing we had a police escort as they had to carve through two lanes of traffic for about an hour or so. Then all of a sudden we were off the beaten track and onto a very quiet, very bumpy country road in the pitch dark, with our police outriders... it's easy to get a bit paranoid in these places and think you're being kidnapped and taken off to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, cos it sure as hell didn't look like we were going towards the show! But eventually we got there and I was immediately pulled aside by Ian Day because there had been some problems earlier on with the barriers. At most shows now when the shows have a large flat area you'll have the barrier in front of the stage and then another barrier further back which is to ease the pressure on the front. This is so you don't have everyone bearing down on the front barrier, which can obviously be dangerous as well as making for a hell of a crush for the fans - we certainly don't want any of our fans hurt. But what had happened was that the fans who came to the back barrier were jumping over it or pushing through it, and the security guys couldn't hold it. There were about 50 of them but it was quite a wide area to look after, so those 50 guys went to the front barrier, which of course was the right thing to do in these circumstances.

 When we came to show time I watched the first few numbers from the side of the stage, and I have to say that it was pretty wild ! The crowd was over 20,000  all on the ground in this venue- great as we haven't been there since '92. We remembered from last time that it was a pretty wild audience of real fans who knew every word and were obviously really into it. But watching this crowd for the first few numbers I could see it was swaying massively -- 20 yards this way, 20 yards the other .It was all a bit frantic and with the pressure from the back it wasn't necessarily the best situation for the kids at the front. So after three songs Bruce had a chat with the audience, surprisingly most of whom seemed to understand what he was saying, and with English and a bit of sign language he explained to the kids 'please don't push, please give everyone some space, enjoy the show and let's look after one another'. From that point on we lost that huge amount of sway and people pretty much kept to their place while still going as nuts as ever, so it ended up all being fine.

The gig was really good, great audience. Afterwards we went back to the hotel for a few beers and the next day we were off to  Colombia which is always  an unknown quantity, as it was to prove to be again this time!

Flew in the next day -- it was a day off but I really wanted to catch up, I'd had so many IT problems. Besides the server being down, on the previous Tuesday there had been  powercut and our whole street in London went down taking the server with it, so that lost another day. The Blackberry still wasn't working so there was a lot to catch up with, for the movie and everything, so it was a pretty boring day of tapping away on keyboards. In the evening the band and I had a private meeting and dinner to go through future plans and other issues we discuss from time to time and l have to say it was pleasant just the few of us for an evening  for a change.


Most of the following day was the same, catching up on emails and sending out instructions to our team,  but wonderfully I managed to catch up by the end of Saturday -- the day of the show. I was going to go down to the venue with Bruce as usual a couple of hours before the show, but he got bored in the hotel (as I've said before it's pretty hard to get out of the hotel s here cos of the number of people surrounding them!) so he went earlier and I went down with Davey, Janick, Nicko and Adrian a bit closer to the show time.

We played in the same park as last year -- Simon Bolivar - and again there were tents up for days along the roads outside, kids camping so they could get in first and get a good position. Again it was a wonderful audience. The difference, compared to last time, was that the audience seemed to be even louder singing the songs. It was as if following the concert last year they'd all gone away and learnt the lyrics even more and came back to belt them out at the top of their voices -- quite amazing. Phantom Of The Opera in particular went down an absolute storm and they were singing every word to it.

You may have seen on the news since that there was  some trouble outside, although from what I hear "riots" is a bit of an exaggeration.  When we drove down to the show there were lots of people outside and again a big military presence, policemen on horseback, riot shields -- a really heavy security presence all the way round the park which is standard here for shows here apparently due to the large perimeter of the park. We thought the people were there just to hear the music from outside, but they had other ideas, or at least some had as they tried to crash the fencing around the park.  So clashes with security ensued which were widely reported worldwide on news channels and led to my comments on the Maiden news section on our website.

No-one inside the park was at all aware of any of this. The show, the band the audience were totally unaffected  -- everyone was having fun, enjoying the concert, everyone was secure.

I didn't even know about the external events until well after we got back to the hotel and the next day was surprised by the extensive coverage on major news internationally which appears to have been started off by reports of "riots" by the media in Colombia. Security in Bogota is quite draconian and they don't treat the fans at all well generally, as you will see in Flight 666. The military is certainly more pronounced at a show than other places we have seen South America and beyond, at this park venue at least. When something like this happens it is sad as it gives the military a reason and an excuse to continue in this manner rather than treating the fans better. It is very much the case of a small minority causing problems indirectly for the huge majority of real fans who are not there to cause problems, just to enjoy the show and hear the music.

From what I saw  the coverage was rather unbalanced and when local media in a country put out this sort of exaggerated version of events it really can't do the image of their country internationally a lot of good, especially when picked up by a lot of the World's major news channels as this was. Some of the footage I saw used wasn't even from this concert, and it appears to all have been provided by local media. It was from last year when the same thing happened but some actually made it into the park but this was not even reported. Must have been a quiet news day last sunday

We certainly wish to return to Colombia to play for these magnificent fans and I doubt if the authorities will ban Maiden or Metal as has been intimated at in some media. The Police even announced that this was not a major disturbance so hopefully the matter will not arise outside the media. It would be a shame not to come back here as the fans are terrific and everyone very friendly.

Afterwards... back to the hotel, still unaware of all this. We had Anthrax playing with us as special guests on this show which was good, and they all came back to the hotel and we had a good chat, a catch up and a few beers. Then it was off to bed to get ready for going to Quito in Ecuador the next day. I'm very excited about that, I've always wanted to go to Quito, along with Cuzco it's the original capital of the Inca Empire. It's at an even higher altitude than Bogota -- again in Bogota the band needed to use some oxygen although Nicko didn't this time and Bruce in principle wouldn't do something like that, he tends to run around even more to see if he can handle it at the altitude! Bogota's about 200m higher which isn't a great deal, plus we'll have been at altitude for a few days by now. Mexico City's quite high, we dropped down to Costa Rica for a couple of days and that's much lower. Venezuela was a few thousand feet, where the show and the hotel were anyway, and then through Bogota... so Quito in a few days shouldn't pose any real problem as we'll all be fairly well acclimatised. The one thing about altitude that I found out when doing the bike ride in Peru was that when you're acclimatising for altitude the thing you're trying to do is build up the red corpuscles in your blood. Alcohol destroys these -- some of the band didn't help themselves for the altitude!

Everyone seems to be surviving so we'll pick up the story from Quito shortly. And judging by the reception at the airport and hotel, the show promises to be memorable as so many are in Latin America.

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