Rolling Stones' iconic tongue invades Havana

Legendary rock at Ciudad Deportiva: 'Times are changing!'

HAVANA – There were Cubans saying they camped out for a day or three before The Rolling Stones Friday night concert in Havana. Authorities expected at least 200,000, but some estimates put the spectators at over half a million.

The line to get in wrapped around for blocks. The National Revolutionary Police was out en masse supervising inside and outside of the Ciudad Deportiva, which opened its doors at 2 p.m. and has a capacity for about 450,000. 

Cell phones went dead and there wasn't a Wi-Fi signal to share the experience on social media. But the ecstatic crowd was focused on the 3-story tall high-definition screens and towers of speakers. There was arm swaying, shouting, jumping, dancing and singing.

"We know that years ago it was difficult to hear our music in Cuba" Mick Jagger said in Spanish and the crowd loved it. "I think that truly the times are changing. That's true isn't it?"

The crowd cheered in unison. The band performed an 18-song-set list -- including "Jumpin' Jack Flash,"  "Out of Control,"  "Sympathy for the Devil," "Angie," "Paint it Black" and "Satisfaction" -- with an intro in Spanish. Cubans sang in English.

The crowd adored Jagger, 72,  Charlie Watts, 74, Ronnie Wood, 68, and Keith Richards, 72. Early Saturday, the band's Twitter account shared photos: "Thank you Cuba for an incredible, unforgettable show! It was wonderful to see all of you."

There were rockers with umbrellas, water bottles, snacks, foreign and Cuban flags,  tents, blankets, cigarettes and beach towels. There were also a few rusty portable toilets, metal cabins over street drains. The human tide left plenty behind. The clean up started early Saturday morning.

One of the Saturday headlines on the cover of Granma, the Cuban government's main newspaper, read, "The Rolling Stones make history."

Amid the Friday crowd, a man wearing a colorful wig and a black T-shirt, held up a sign that said, "50 years, waiting for you." Ken Smith, 59, and Paul Herold, 65, said they sailed to Havana from Key West.

"This has been one of my life-long dreams, to come to Cuba on my sailboat," Herold said. "We've just been taken for a ride in a '57 Pontiac. It doesn't get any better than that."

Residents of nearby properties profited from their high terraces, as they were selling spots with a view for $20 to $50, El Pais' reporter Pablo de Llano Neira learned. As time passed, the neighborhood's rooftops got crowded. 

This isn't the first time Cuba has had a concert with a large crowd. Some 1.15 million attended The Paz Sin Fronteras concert, headlining Juanes and a long list of Latin American stars at the Plaza de la Revolución in 2009. 

But this year, the airport in Havana has had some distinguished guests. The concert comes a few days after President Barack Obama's historic visit to Havana and less than a year after the country bend over backwards to welcome Pope Francis across the country. 

"I think it [the concert] is going to be historic because they [Cubans] haven't had any big shows before and it would have been surprising ten years ago for this to happen," Jagger said, after their Boeing 474 landed at José Martí International Airport Thursday. "And anyone who has been here a long time knows that."

The Ciudad Deportiva's grass proved comfortable for the only free Rolling Stones concert and the last one of the iconic's band América Latina Olé Tour performances.  

British Ambassador in Cuba Tim Cole hosted  a reception Thursday night to welcome Jagger, Richards, Wood and Watts. They traveled with 60 technical workers, seven huge screens and about 2,900 pounds of equipment.

"This is history," said Raul Podio, a 22-year-old employee of a state security firm, who was joined by a group of young friends. "I would like to see more groups, for there to be more variety, for more artists to come, because that would mean we are less isolated."

The Rolling Stones released their first album in 1964, the same year that Fidel Castro's sister Juanita, who had been plotting against him with U.S. intelligence, defected to Mexico. The U.S. embargo was in place, nuclear destruction loomed and authorities viewed rock 'n' roll as ideological divergence.  

"We didn't get to see Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, The Beatles or Amy Winehouse live," Journalist Yoani Sanchez said in a tweet.  "But #StonesCuba have arrived." 

Night watchman Joaquin Ortiz said that as a teenager he used to have to hide his Rolling Stones' albums in covers from albums of revolutionary Cuban groups. 

"After today I can die," Ortiz, 62, said in Spanish. "This is like my last wish, seeing the Rolling Stones."

 Although there has been change, Cuban musicians -- such as punk rocker Gorki Águila and rapper Angel "El Critico" Yunier  -- say they are still getting harassed over their political views. 

"Those of us who always liked rock -- even though they used to call us ideologically diverged -- have won," a man named Pedro said during an interview with 14yMedio. He pointed to a little boy and said, "That one is going to be able to listen to what ever he wants."


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