That screeching sound coming from Georgia isn’t feedback from a guitar amp. It is, apparently, the sound of the brakes being applied to an MTV-sponsored blockbuster rock festival.
Word of the concert spread in Tbilisi last December. As the first MTV-sponsored event in the former Soviet Union, Georgian officials hoped the rock festival would put their country on the global hipster tourist map. At a cost of $2.5 million -- the first payment in a three-year, three-concert contract between MTV Networks Europe and the Georgian government -- the 2011 concert was supposed to include worldwide promotion, one to two international pop stars and private-sector sponsors.
Six months later, MTV has yet to acknowledge the event publicly. Despite repeated attempts by EurasiaNet.org to discuss concert plans with MTV, the network has provided no confirmation that the concert will even take place as planned in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi in “early summer 2011.” On May 4, a spokesperson for MTV’s parent company, Viacom, told EurasiaNet.org that the network’s policy does not allow it to comment on events that have not been “announced.”
The Georgian government, however, has already announced it. A brief press statement issued by Georgia’s Ministry of Culture last December is, to date, the sole official media communication about the concert. Since then, the government has been uncharacteristically reticent about what was initially billed as an opportunity “to bring massive, international attention to Georgia.”
Prime Minister Nika Gilauri’s spokesperson, Nikoloz Mchedlishvili, told EurasiaNet.org that the concert -- now scheduled for July – is, indeed, still on, and that MTV plans to make an announcement later this month.
But in Batumi, a remodeled Black Sea resort town of 121,800 people, there is no sign of preparation for the impending arrival of thousands of young music fans amid peak tourist season. Local government officials in April gave EurasiaNet.org a range of possible concert dates, spanning from June to August, depending on the government agency asked. Batumi hoteliers, nightclub owners and Tbilisi-based tour operators had no information about the expected concert.
As initially described, the event, modeled on the network’s annual Isle of MTV music festival in Malta, is not one for which planning could be left to the last minute. Achara, the region where Batumi is located, boasts a mere 7,000 hotel rooms and a limited number of cafes and restaurants – scant facilities for a crowd that, based on the Malta numbers, could reach into the tens of thousands.
The 202-room Sheraton Batumi Hotel, the town’s largest hotel, did not respond to requests for information about its own preparation for the MTV concert.
Plans for handling traffic flow to and from Batumi, located some 365 kilometers to the west of Tbilisi, are also undefined. Ongoing construction and street repairs make part of the city impassable, although the local government claimed the roads would be in good shape before the tourism season begins in late June.
MTV’s event isn’t the only international act that is expected this summer in Batumi – 1980s pop legend Sting and American trumpeter Chris Botti are scheduled to hold a concert in the town’s Piazza Square on July 3, a few weeks before its international jazz festival kicks off. Promotion for both events has already begun.
That leaves the lack of visible preparation and promotion for MTV’s Batumi event all the more obvious. By contrast, the network scheduled and started promotion in February for Malta’s Isle of MTV festival this June, the event’s fifth anniversary.
Vaja Diasanidze, the acting head of Achara’s Tourism Department, told EurasiaNet.org that he could not comment on the date of the MTV concert or on preparations for the event because the central government in Tbilisi is handling the affair. EurasiaNet.org, he added, is not the only one asking for information. “I am also waiting,” Diasanidze said.
Molly Corso is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi.