Antony Blinken Rocks Out During Surprise Performance at Kyiv Basement Bar

Brendan Smialowksi/AFP via Getty Images
Brendan Smialowksi/AFP via Getty Images
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a message for the audience Tuesday as he joined a local band in a Kyiv bar during his surprise trip to the Ukrainian capital.

“Your soldiers, your citizens–particularly in the northeast, in Kharkiv–are suffering tremendously. But they need to know, you need to know, the United States is with you, so much of the world is with you and they’re fighting not just for a free Ukraine, but for the free world. And the free world is with you, too,” Blinken said, according to Reuters, before he grabbed a red guitar and performed a rendition of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” at the local basement bar, called Barman Diktat.

Blinken played the guitar and sang the chorus of the song alongside a band called 19.99, whose frontman Dmitry Temnyi told Reuters that he “played well.” The 62-year-old reportedly had watched the band’s set before he was introduced on stage as a “great friend of Ukraine.”

The bar confirmed Blinken’s appearance with The Kyiv Independent, but would not provide further details, citing security concerns.

The song is an interesting choice—it was released in 1989 by Young just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and after a planned concert in the Soviet Union, struggling with protests, was cancelled. Guitarist Frank ‘Poncho' Sampedro told Rolling Stone in 2013 that he coined the phrase while on tour with Young in Feb. 1989 after finding out that a cultural exchange program had been canned.

“There was a lot of ‘Hate America’ demonstrations and we were supposed to do this exchange,” Sempedro explained. “We were going to Russia for the first time. It was a cultural exchange. They were getting us in exchange for the Russian Ballet. [Laughs] And it just fell through. Neil was like, ‘Damn, I really wanted to go.’ I said, ‘Me too. I guess we’ll have to keep on rockin’ in the free world.’ He was like, ‘Wow, that’s a cool line.’ Then I said it again later and he said, ‘That’s a really good phrase. I wanna use it.’”

Blinken arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday as Russia ramps up attacks against the war-weary country. Blinken has pledged U.S. support during his appearance, despite huge roadblocks by Republicans to pass a $61 billion military aid bill to help aid in the fight against Putin, who is clawing his way back to an advantage on the battlefield. Blinken’s appearance is the first by a U.S. official since the bill was passed by Congress last month.

Blinken’s passion for music is no secret. In 2021 he told Rolling Stone that “the thread that runs throughout my life is probably music.”

In Oct. 2023, at a State Department “music diplomacy” initiative event, he joined a band for a rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

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