Rolling Stones rock an estimated half-million fans at free Cuba concert
HAVANA, Cuba, Monday, March 28, 2016 – An estimated 500,000 Cuban fans flocked to the Rolling Stones’ free open-air concert at Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana, a massive sports complex that hosts baseball, football, and other events, on Friday night.
Fans starting streaming toward the sports complex in the morning to jockey for good positions. By the afternoon, a river of cars had caused a traffic jam near the stadium, an unusual sight in a country with relatively few vehicles, thanks in part to the trade embargo.
Once the concert got underway a festival atmosphere prevailed, with some people kicking off their shoes, stripping off layers of clothing and lying down on blankets.
Many fans scaled fences or crowded onto nearby rooftops to get a better view of legendary rocker Mick Jagger, guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood, drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Darryl Jones belting out hits like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Satisfaction,” “Paint it Black” and “Honky Tonk Women.”
The Stones played on a stage as long as a city block with an elaborate setup featuring video screens larger than some apartment buildings. All had been shipped to Cuba from Europe, along with a battalion of portable toilets.
Billboard reports that the concert appeared to be like any other outdoor music festival, except security was more lax — people strolled, didn’t run or jostle into the grounds. Concert-goers opened umbrellas to shield the sun rays and drank alcohol they brought themselves. But there were no food concession stands and no merchandise.
Few bands are thought to have been as successful as the Rolling Stones at turning their art into a hugely profitable commercial enterprise, making it remarkable that at Friday’s show, tickets were free and there was no official Stones merchandise for sale.
But with most Cubans earning around US$25 to $35 a month from the government, few of them were likely to have been able to afford it.
There were, however, multiple video cameras and a small drone shooting footage for a future concert documentary.
There was also the glitter and glamour of high-profile stars, including model Naomi Campbell and actor Richard Gere, who had come for the spectacle.
As the concert progressed, it was reportedly hard to miss the significance of Jagger persuading the crowd of hundreds of thousands of Cubans to sing along to “You can’t always get what you want.”
Under Cuba’s Communist government, the people can’t get what they want, although now they can have cell phones and are able to own “casa particular” and small businesses, and even property, Billboard noted.
Other changes include President Raul Castro allowing the Stones to perform in Cuba for the first time in the rock band’s 54-year career. Although the group’s members have long been vacationing in Cuba, the Rolling Stones’ music had previously been deemed “ideological deviation.”
Although Cuba has played host to other major concerts in recent years, including a recent outdoor electronic music party featuring Diplo and Major Lazer, Friday’s show was especially significant because of the era of music the Stones represent.
There was no place for rock ‘n’ roll in Fidel Castro’s communist revolution, which distrusted bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones as irreverent and anti-authoritarian at best and agents of cultural imperialism at worst.
Cuban musician Silvio Rodriguez lost his TV show in the late 1960s after he defended the Beatles on air. Rock records were hard to find, and while some musicians experimented with the medium in underground venues, anything too public or flamboyant risked government reprisals.
But on Friday, the Rolling Stones’ famous frontman, his pink sequined jacket glittering under the stage lights, looked out at the roaring Havana crowd and gave voice to a long-awaited wish.
“We know in the past it wasn’t easy to hear our music in Cuba,” Jagger said. “But here we are, playing for you. I think that finally the times are changing.”
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