Havana | The Rolling Stones unleashed two hours of shrieking, thundering rock and roll on an ecstatic crowd of hundreds of thousands of Cubans and foreign visitors, capping one of the most momentous weeks in modern Cuban history with a massive celebration of music that was once forbidden here.
The week opened with the arrival of President Barack Obama in Air Force One, accompanied by more than 1,000 employees of a government that waged a cold war against Cuba for more than 50 years. This time, US forces were armed with briefing books and press invitations, here to seal the president’s 2014 opening to Cuba with a string of expertly crafted public events that saw Obama call for democracy live on state television, then attend a Major League Baseball exhibition game with Cuban President Raul Castro.
The week ended with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts firing Jumpin’ Jack Flash ”Sympathy for the Devil and Satisfaction into a jubilant crowd from 3-story-tall high-definition television screens and thumping towers of speakers.
From tomorrow evening to late yesterday night, it felt as if the full force of the 21st century had landed with bone-rattling impact on an island that still feels mostly cut off from the modern world. Havana, Cuba, and the Rolling Stones! Jagger cried. This is amazing! It’s really good to be here! It’s good to see you guys! The Stones romped through 18 of their classics, picking up force as the crowd in the open-air Ciudad Deportiva, or Sports City, jumped and chanted Rollings! Rollings! The Rolling Stones were the biggest act to play Cuba since its 1959 revolution brought a communist government to power and isolated the island from the United States and its allies.
At its heyday, Cuba’s communist government frowned on US and British bands. Fans had to hide their Beatles and Stones albums in covers borrowed from albums of appropriately revolutionary Cuban groups. But times have changed. Former supermodel Naomi Campbell, actor Richard Gere and singer Jimmy Buffet partied in the VIP section of the concert.
Castro’s son Alejandro, one of the driving forces behind Cuba’s declaration of detente with the United States, greeted friends and relatives after the show.
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