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The Rolling Stones A Smash at Nicaragua Benefit

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Santana had also been planning to do a benefit in San Francisco, and in Los Angeles, they were talking with Cheech & Chong, who wanted to organize, with Ode Records president Lou Adler, a "Latinos for Latinos" benefit, with Malo as a third act. But when Adler called to secure the Forum, he learned of Graham's plans. "Then," said Graham, "they all wanted a unity thing."

The original projected gross for the benefit, with a capacity of 18,000, was $516,810. That, too, was a joint idea, said Graham. "It seemed like a good figure to shoot for." To do this, ticket prices were scaled at $10, $15, and $100 with 1975 seats at the top price.

All Access: The Rock & Roll Photography of Ken Regan

By the day of the concert, a townful of people had swarmed out to the Forum, as soon as Graham's official announcement hit L.A. radio waves Monday evening, joining dozens who'd been camping out since the previous Wednesday, when word of the Stones' "desire" to do a benefit first leaked. Chits were handed out to the first 9000 people in line (Graham had announced a maximum of two tickets per customer). Chits were distributed by 9 PM, and the box office opened at the rock & roll hour of 1 AM. A sellout announcement went out by noon. Only there wasn't a sellout. There remained, all the way through the day of the concert, hundreds of tickets left, priced at $100.

Said Graham, "I may have overestimated the heart of the music industry. I didn't expect to hit the kids with the $100 price; I'm just a little disappointed with the record companies."

At 4:30 PM the day of the concert, 500 $100 tickets remained – that's $50,000 worth, or ten percent of the original gross. They were finally sold off at $25, turning the floor section into a tossed mix of the very well-heeled and dedicated Stones' fans.

No final net proceeds figure was available for days after the show, but Graham said costs were made minimal by the Forum, which called the benefit "business as usual" and spread their usual numbers of security guards and ushers costumed in sheen-green Roman togas around the auditorium – provided to Graham and Fey at cut costs. At any rate, said Graham, "it'll be the largest net of this type." (The 1971 concert for Bangladesh netted over $250,000.)

* * *

"It seems like the only time you put out monumental albums or events is when you have a natural disaster." Richard "Cheech" Marin said at the offices of their (and the Stones') publicists, Gibson & Stromberg, headquarters of the gathering madness that surrounds any Stones event. "No," writer Jacoba Atlas said, "there's only been two big concerts for great disasters – unless you count McGovern."

Tommy Chong also had a statement: "We're doing this benefit," he said, "so if we have an earthquake, Nicaragua will help us."

 

Managua, Nicaragua! In that city so quaint –
You live like you're a millionaire, though that's what you ain't
You hardly would believe how much a peso can buy
One thin slice of tasty coconut pie.

– "Managua, Nicaragua," by Gamse-Fields, circa 1946 by Encore Music Publications

 

Jose "Chepito" Areas, born and raised in Nicaragua with a family of 19 children, left his hometown of Leon (an hour's drive, for the few who have cars there, from Managua) in 1966. He has not returned to Nicaragua since the quake, but he had brought his mother and many of his brothers and sisters (several have died in recent years) to Hawaii for the Christmas holidays. They learned, there, that one of his sisters, who lived in the capital city, had lost her house.

Areas hopes to return to Managua after Santana's next tour. "Over there it's terrible," he said. "No hospital, no medicine – it's a poor country. I wanted to help, so I'm happy to do this benefit."

* * *

The house is 70 seats short of sold out at 8:30 when Graham steps on stage and asks for a minute of meditation for the earthquake victims. The blue flag of Nicaragua is lowered from the ceiling over the stage, it is greeted, of course, with hippie whoops, and police whistles – everything but shouts for "more." Then it is Santana, opening the show, spotlight on Chepito, then on Carlos Santana, who leads the group into a tight, chrome-and-red-steel set, the group holding off on its Miles Davis/Mahavishnu directions and feeding the crowd a nonstop demonstration of the sound and rhythms of speed, Rich Kermode and Tom Coster absolutely shining on keyboards. At exactly 9:30, they've finished an encore and are off.

Cheech & Chong, the hard rock comics, quickly surpassed Santana in hitting the lowest common denominator, as they dealt out an act dominated by references to the male sex organ, feminine hygiene products, dog pee and ca-ca, and a gross of other excesses.

As the crowd responded with a unanimous roar like low thunder when the comedy team asked how many in the overflowing arena were smoking dope there that night, it seemed that not a thought – and not a word from stage – was about the arrival at Los Angeles International Airport just five hours earlier of Dr. Timothy Leary, in handcuffs and footchains, where he was thrown into a heavily guarded police van headed for a lifetime in a federal penitentiary.

As always, Cheech & Chong poked at the dopers ("The downer freaks are here," noted Tommy Chong. "They're the ones that're facing the wrong way."), displayed some fine acting, and, as always, walked off to a standing hard rock ovation.

A 45-minute delay followed while STP's muscle set up for the Stones. In the first aid station, only one bed was occupied. At the doors surrounding the massive circular ampitheater arena, guards reported only incidental gatecrashing – maybe three dozen successful ones all evening. Business as usual. Over the PA comes a program of preparatory rock: the Cyrkle's "Turn Down Day," Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," Fleetwood Mac's "Spare Me a Little," and, perhaps for Dr. Arthur Janov, he of the primal scream, in the $100 audience, John Lennon's "Oh Yoko."

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