When we left our merry band of musicians, Raggalution were getting flashlights pointed at their assholes in Beograd. Thankfully, there were no drugs lurking inside, so no issues with the police. Police are generally our friends, it’s customs officers that suck the life out of you on the Balkan trail. Unfortunately, getting a full on police raid at our show wasn’t the end of our problems with the authorities.
For the final part of our tour we had to go play in Osijek (Croatia) and drive to Sombor (Serbia) after the show, to sleep there (it only takes an hour to get from Osijek to Sombor). We stopped in Sombor on the way out of Serbia and were really psyched to see that we’ll be sleeping and playing in a really beautiful place the next day. But first: entering Croatia.
As soon as we pulled up to the Croatian border, we could sense something was wrong. They told us to pull over and searched our van. We had never gotten searched before, even though this was already our fourth Balkan tour. No worries though, we didn’t have anything illegal on us. Or so we thought. As it turns out, you can’t legally transport band merchandise (shirts and CDs) over international borders without declaring it at customs (and paying for it!). We had no idea that there was anything wrong with a band transporting some shirts for them so sell on tour… which is why we took all the shirts we had with us. And now we have none.
After a long and stressful process at the border, the Croatian authorities confiscated all of our shirts and gave us a hefty fine that we had to pay right there, on the spot. Bitches. We asked them what we should have done to transport the shirts legally, but didn’t really get an answer. Later, the police officer at the border (different from customs officers!) came to chat with us a bit and told us that it’s common practice at that border to search bands with papers for their instruments. Because once you show them the proper papers for your instruments they already know you also have some merchandise with you. Ring the bell, it’s profit hour! Within minutes of taking our stuff, the motherfuckers were already checking the shirt sizes to see what they’ll be taking home. Right there for us to see! 90 shirts printed over 4 years, gone.
We got to Osijek, played our show, ate our pizza, drank our beer. Business as usual. Really small crowd as usual. Then we went back to Serbia to finally get some sleep. If only it could be that easy. The same border guards that took our stuff just hours before refused to let us through to Serbia. Apparently, there were some problems with our ATA Carnet papers (for instruments). They told us that if they let us through now, they will confiscate all our instruments on the way back. Major, colossal assholes.
This was at 4am, we hardly slept all week, and desperation was setting in. There were even some ideas coming up that we should just cancel the show in Sombor and go home. That’s when we realised we were really, really tired. And that’s no state of mind for making rash decisions. So we calmed down, gathered all our border-crossing knowledge, and came up with a plan. There’s a thing called an Oral Declaration (usmena deklaracija), where you can legally take personal instruments over the border by just declaring what you have at the border. Each person can only take one instrument and you can’t take any stage equipment. To be fully legal, you can actually only take acoustic instruments, but we can’t transform our guitars and keyboards into acoustic versions, so fuck it, it’ll have to do.
So we drove back to the club in Osijek and left all our amps, outboard gear, microphones, and even cables there. Cause you can’t even take cables with you. They specifically warned us about that. Then we wrote a basic list of instruments on a piece of paper and passed the border with that. I flashed my good boy smile at the customs officers, explained the situation using my most pathetic voice, and they let us through. Great success!
At this point I would like to add a note for all bands travelling from Croatia to Vojvodina (that’s the northern part of Serbia): THE ONLY BORDER CROSSING YOU SHOULD EVER USE IS BATINA. DO NOT CROSS THE BORDER AT ANY OTHER CROSSING!!! Batina is a different, much smaller border crossing, where the officers are actually human.
It’s really ironic that we had so many border problems this year, as it was the first time we actually had our papers in order. The other 3 times we just sort of improvised our way through the Balkans using the usmena deklaracija. We always had some issues at borders, but got through every time, without losing any more than a few CDs for “gifts”.
ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE
Thankfully, that was the end of our problems on tour. The authorities really did everything they could to demotivate us, but we endured. The remaining two shows were awesome. We got to our house in Sombor at around 11am, slept for a few hours, got the first really substantial meal of our tour (thank you mr. Boss man in Café de Sol!) and had lots of fun hanging out with our friends. We met lots of people on our tours, but the crew in Sombor are by far our best friends from abroad. This was the 6th time we were doing an event with them and we look forward to many more. Marko, Darijo, and Darez, you our boys! They were excellent hosts and by the time we stepped on stage, all our problems were almost forgotten.
Other than in Prizren, all our shows this tour had really small crowds. Partly because it was in the middle of the week, partly because it was raining every day. But in Sombor, the sun was shining, the location was crazy beautiful, and the turnout was good. Café de Sol is really a classy establishment. We played outdoor, facing a terrace in 3 levels, right next to the Great Canal running past Sombor (it looks like a river, but it’s actually a canal with water from the Danube). The day was beautiful, the frogs were having a loud chat in the canal, we bought some grade A rakija, and over 200 people showed up to our gig.
The next day we started for Slovenija at 9am, in order to get to soundcheck on time. This time we crossed the border at Batina without any problems. Our gear was safely waiting in Osijek and we even got to our soundcheck slightly early. Our final show was at a really nice event called Reggae Garden in Griže. We were the only band, but Ziggi Mastah was rocking the mixer and the location is so beautiful it would be worth coming even without any music. We got free local IPA beers, smoothies, and vegetable stew. Above all, tour life as an underground band teaches you humility and gratefulness. Getting a smoothie after the week we had feels like getting kissed by the holy mother herself.
The only problem with Reggae Garden is that the venue is huge. It’s a stone amphitheatre that could easily hold over a thousand people. So while the turnout of about 200 that we had isn’t bad, the place felt a little empty and the organizers lamented that they were hoping for more people. Story of our lives 😀
The gig was once again great, even though Bedene’s vocal cords were barely functional at this point. He managed to squeeze out enough for one last performance and that’s all we needed. We stayed until the end of the event around 1am and finally went home. These last two shows were really the antidote we needed for all the nasty shit that went down during our journey. So even though we barely made enough money for a round of beers, we still had a nice adventure on tour and definitely upgraded the band’s performance one more time. After all this, Raggalution is ready to play any stage in any conditions and kill it 🙂
Next up: Czech Republic and Poland in a couple of weeks. Raggablog will be back.