Thursday, December 15, 2016
Photographer gathers no moss rolling with Stones

I first fell for the Rolling Stones in 1981. I was 16 years old and had already racked up an impressive list of concerts. So when the band announced its “Still Life” tour, it was a given I would be there. Unfortunately, the Stones hadn’t played in Dayton, Ohio, since 1965 so it would require some driving. Having just gotten my driver’s license, I figured my buddies and I would pile into my 1974 Caprice Classic and knock out the 250 miles to the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit. My parents had other ideas.

There was no way they were gonna let a wide-eyed 16-year-old go without some sort of chaperone. Needless to say, I was not pleased with this decision, nor was I overly excited when the only possible solution was for my father and two of his friends to come along.

Back then, most concerts were general admission, so it was decided that I would sit with my boys several rows up behind “the adults,” way out at the 50-yard line. It may not have been optimal, but it worked, and around 8:30 pm on Dec. 1, 1981, myself and 76,213 other fans had our minds blown when the lights dimmed and the Stones tore into “Under My Thumb.” At that moment, a decades-long obsession with this band had begun.

Over the next 36 years, I followed the band throughout Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida, catching shows up to four times per tour when possible. So when the rumors began to fly that the “World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band” would play in Havana, Cuba, I couldn’t believe it. I would obviously be going, but how on Earth could I get a photo or two?

The original date for the Cuba show was March 20, 2016, but there was a wrinkle. It seems a fairly famous American had planned an historic trip to the island and someone forgot to send out the “save the date” cards. There are few people who can, ahem, “Trump,” the Rolling Stones, but this time, it was President Barack Obama. I was losing my mind. The fact that Obama had decided to move forward on relations with Cuba played directly into my hand. Not only would I already be in Havana, but the timing was impeccable. With an estimated 1 million people expected to attend, I knew there would be some waiting involved. No problema. This was not my first rock ‘n’ roll rodeo and the 10 hours I waited out there in that field really wasn’t bad at all. However, had Obama not come to Cuba, things would have been incredibly different and incredibly bad. On March 20, myself and about 100 other photogs were screened and lined up on the tarmac for the president’s arrival. The moment the door opened on Air Force One, the rain began, and over the next several hours, it continued to pour down rain.

All I can say is “thank you God,” for that miraculous week. Not only did I witness the first sitting president’s visit to Cuba in nearly 90 years, but five days later, I found myself in the fourth row of a huge, dusty, and most importantly, dry field, with a big ‘ol camera in my hand. The Stones were fantastic, as always, so there’s no need to describe that, but when Keith Richards took the microphone and sang “Before They Make Me Run,” a tune they do not always play, I lost it. With tears streaming down my face, I sang (poorly) along with Keith and really did have to wonder if all of this was really happening. Was I really seeing my favorite band play my favorite Stones song in my favorite locale in the world?

Welp, there’s no doubt that it happened as the rumor of their recording the show for a possible movie and live album has come to fruition. It’s called “Havana Moon,” and consists of two music CDs and a Blu-Ray video of the show. All I can say is that come Christmas morning, I intend to blow the roof off our place. I like it, like it, yes I do.

 roneal@keysnews.com