The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s small ensemble Potomac Fever had a public performance on the outdoor main stage of the America Days Festival today. In addition to us, there were jazz instrumentalists and vocalists featured at the festival in Lviv’s Opera House square.
After a lazy morning of sleeping in, we arrived at the stage to meet our new security detail. The square was filled with vendors selling food, coffee, honey-flavored vodka (a new favorite of mine,) and traditional clothes. There were fully costumed animal characters à la New York’s Times Square, and an impressive presentation of U.S. Army troops showing off one of their hummers. Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe, came right up to us for a photo opp. He is as personable as he is decorated. The Army is currently training Ukrainian troops in Yavoriv, just outside of Lviv. This is one of the many factors contributing to the positive reception of Americans in Ukraine. For as much as we may have to go back in the closet for a bit in the more public performances in Ukraine, our American identity makes us welcome almost anywhere we go.
While we were meeting by the stage pre-show, we were awkwardly asked by our security to move over to a holding tent. There were lots of people in uniform around the stage, and I later learned that some of them weren’t actual soldiers, but rather right wing paramilitary extremists. The kind that wouldn’t like a gay chorus being there if they knew who we were. I’m glad there were more of our uniforms than theirs.
Today’s performance at the America Days festival was very public, which means it was one of the performances where we used the title Potomac Fever, and made no mention of gay. There were surely people who knew the full story if they bothered to Google search the group. Leading up to the tour, many allies have been informed through liberal social channels. The U.S. Embassy has worked hard to get the word out to the right people and keep it from the wrong people. So far, so good. On the tail end of the tour, there will be a lot of local media to get the word out that a gay chorus toured Ukraine. Those TV and radio spots are already lined up, and we’ll be safely en route home.
The performance today had a bit of a rock concert element to it. We chose some of our more popular songs (“Teenage Dream” anyone?) and had the audience dancing and singing along. Afterwards, a bunch of teen girls wanted pictures with the group.
Another fun thing happened at the festival. The America House in Ukraine organized an effort to break the Guinness World Record for the largest English Lesson (currently held by Germany.) Hundreds of people in the square participated, and there were about 100 other locations doing the same thing simultaneously around the country. We don’t know yet it the record was broken, but the goal was 6,000 people participating.
After the festival, we all boarded a bus to go to the Ukrainian Catholic University Campus for a performance hosted by the U.S. Embassy in honor of Memorial Day. You heard that right — we sang at the Catholic University of an orthodox country. That experience deserves its own post, so I’ll cover that another time.
Chase Maggiano is the executive director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. He is posting periodic posts from Ukraine on his blog ChasingTheArt that he is allowing the Washington Blade to repost.