My body is still recovering from the weekend’s festivities as I write this. I have truly waken up to a different Riyadh today. One where I had just experienced a full blown concert by international artists amidst a cool and vibrant group of Saudis, both young and not-so-young (wink). It’s all thanks to the 2018 Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix kickoff that was historically staged here in Riyadh’s Ad Diriyah district, a nod to what could figuratively suggest to be a merging of the old and new Saudi Arabia. FIA Formula E is the racing championship using electric-powered cars and the event runs through a total of 12 cities. It was organized by the General Sports Authority and was also the first time that international tourists were welcomed into KSA using the Sharek International Events Visa.
We bought our tickets two weeks before the scheduled event. The dates were 13-15 December but we only secured tickets for the last day because it was the actual day of the race and my girlfriend Machelle and I were fans of David Guetta and my husband Ronnell was a fan of One Republic – the main acts of the last day. International music stars Jason Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, Amr Diab and Black Eyed Peas performed for Days 1 and 2, consecutively. Heading to the event was a mix of swift and not so swift. Riding the buses going to Diriyah were easy but once there, it was about a 15 minute walk heading all the way to the grandstands where we were supposed to be seated for the race. It also included a scaffolding of sorts — two flights high — that we had to pass through which was very limiting to a big crowd of people, not to mention slighlty scary because of how dark it was inside. We didn’t actually understand that need for the thoroughfare but perhaps the organizers had their reasons.
Once we reached Grandstand 1, which was what our ticket said we were assigned to, for some reason, the volunteers no longer allowed us to enter the seating space and referred us to Grandstand 2, which didn’t give as good of a view as Grandstand 1 would. I just didn’t want to stress out by arguing with the volunteer so we went ahead to find some place to seat and luckily, the race was just about to start! Now admittedly, I do not follow the racing world and I was only following the race that day by the numbers of the cars. Hardly a minute into the race, Car #48 hit one of the corners abruptly stirring a little drama off the bat. Because of that, the crowd kept cheering him on at every lap even though he was the last car of the group. Felix Da Costa (Car #28) was constantly in the lead and ended up winning the race after almost an hour of laps. Congratulations to him!
After the race, it was another long walk back to the main event area, the Allianz E-Village where several activities from FIA Formula E and their event sponsors were ongoing. The food stalls and food trucks all around the area were packed and the lines looked like it was going to take hours before we could eat so we ended up just getting drinks so that we could make it on time for the concert area and score a good view. There simply wasn”t enough time for us to really explore even up to The Gathering area because walking from one point to another already took so much time. Plus we wanted to be one of the early birds for the concert, which was our main goal for the night.
It was a standing-only event and if I recall, we were standing (and dancing and jumping and “whoo-hooing”) for a total of possibly 6 to 7 hours total. That includes the long walk back that we also had to endure for the bus ride back to the parking lot. The opening acts for DJs EJ and Sir Ashley were met with enthusiasm and lots of Snapchat worthy pre-show shots that had the crowd going. There were some long breaks in between that sort of left me hanging but once One Republic took the stage, the excitement rushed back in. Ryan Tedder, the lead vocalist of One Republic took his time to talk to the crowd in between songs and he really came across as a humble and sincere musician — with the talent to back it up (his rendition of “Halo” was amazing). He serenaded us with their band’s hits and it was an awesome feeling to hear the crowd around me singing along to the lyrics. It was a magical manifestation of how music can truly bring people together in unison. “Apologize” and “Counting Stars” were the last songs from the band and it left the audience on a happy, contented note.
Drumroll to the main and final event of the night, Electronic Dance Music (EDM) demigod, Mr. David Guetta arrives with a boombastic opening set that has everyone out with their phones and pumping off the ground to his beats. The lights extravaganza was like an assault to the senses that I wished I had sunglasses on to keep me from squinting. Nonetheless, the music has got us all turnt up and it was in that moment that I knew that my Riyadh life was never going to be the same again. I mean, YAY of course for women driving this year too but this was a musical concert of an international superstar that was held in the middle of Riyadh (not in some offshore location) and it was a mixed crowd. And when I say mixed, I don’t just mean like a regular mix of say, oranges and apples in a fruit stand in a grocery. No, this was canned-goods-fruit-cocktail kind of mix. And David Guetta was the sugar syrup. We were all packed shoulder to shoulder, hands up in the air, together: man, woman, covered woman, man in a thobe, girl in an abaya, girl without hijab, Saudi, non-Saudi, tourists and expats alike. That night, we were all simply human beings enjoying ourselves and living our lives, celebrating through music and dance. That is what made this entire event EPIC in my opinion. In the middle of his performance, David Guetta gives the audience a surprise by saying that he had prepared a special remix just for this event and wowed them with his mashup of popular Arabic songs with his electronica stylings. Three numbers later, he reverted to his popular mixes including a spin on Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”. For videos, check out our Facebook and Instagram archives.
As we made our way out of the crowd during the performances and I saw the madding crowd from a fair distance, I felt happy seeing that the new generation of Saudi Arabia is unfolding. I mean, I know the country’s development is not going to be determined by this one, huge weekend shindig. But having grown up here since the 90s, you’ve got to admit this is a big difference to what has been experienced in this country in the past, especially around people my age. Knowing that the new generation will have more options and more opportunities can only mean more chances to grow and flourish.
Meanwhile, I’m going to let this body heal from the muscle pain and strained throat. While the event was a success, it reminded me that I am no longer 23 years old. 😛 I need my survivor pack of warm tea, fluffy pillows and some Deep Heat as body lotion. LOL. Until the next the event, RIYADH!