Personal look at the Rolling Stones' historic Cuba concert

AP News
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Posted: Mar 26, 2016 2:43 AM
Personal look at the Rolling Stones' historic Cuba concert

HAVANA (AP) — After more than 50 years in the music business, the Rolling Stones can still break new ground.

On Friday, it was by playing a free concert in Cuba. A concert I just couldn't miss.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Associated Press Deputy International Sports Editor Chris Lehourites is a lifelong Rolling Stones fan who traveled from London to Havana for four days to see the band's historic concert in Havana. He told the story of his trip to an AP colleague in Havana.

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As a lifelong Stones fan, I had seen them in concert 29 times already. Starting in Los Angeles in 1989, through Athens, Greece, in 1998 and up to Montevideo, Uruguay, last month. I have seen them in huge stadiums, in smaller arenas, and in massive open areas.

For me, every show is great. Every show has its special surprises or memorable moments. Because of the history surrounding it, Friday's show was right up there with the best.

From the opening riff on "Jumpin' Jack Flash" right through to final iconic notes of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," the Rolling Stones were rocking and rolling like never before.

They may be old — grandads and even a great-grandad — but Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood can still put on a fantastic show. And they can still draw a crowd, too, more than 200,000 worth, according to some estimates.

The rumors about the Stones playing in Cuba started in October, when Jagger made a trip to the island and posted pictures of his visit on the Internet. The rumors weren't verified until a few weeks ago, however, when they finally announced that they would end their Latin American "Ole" tour at the Ciudad Deportiva in Havana.

As soon as the news came, I started searching for flights. But with Easter on Sunday, travel out of Britain can get pricey because Friday and Monday are holidays.

Luckily, my girlfriend Sophia wouldn't give up, searching airlines and playing with dates until she found a flight I was just about comfortable with paying. She wouldn't be coming with me because she "hates" the Stones, but she knew I was dying to find a way.

So I did. I flew in Wednesday, spent Thursday sightseeing and every waking moment on Friday at the Ciudad Deportiva.

I had heard from fans on the iorr.org website that the area around the venue was fenced and wouldn't open until 2 p.m. But I didn't want to take any chances so I got there at about 10:30 a.m.

There were already thousands of people gathered. There were people from Cuba, of course, but loads of others from Canada, from Brazil, from the Netherlands, from everywhere. All sitting and chatting and waiting.

And waiting. And waiting.

Finally, the gates were cleared and the throngs streamed through the dozen or so openings, many of them sprinting for a good spot. I made my way up to the tip of the catwalk, where Jagger often strolls out from the main stage and into the crowd, including for the duet with Sasha Allen on "Gimme Shelter."

It was perfect ending for a historic week which started with the visit of President Barack Obama and wound up with the "Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band in the World" playing for free on an island that to casual visitors like me seems frozen in time years before the Rolling Stones ever even got together."