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The Rolling Stones' Grand Finale to Their 1969 U.S. Tour

In response to slams about high ticket prices, the Stones offer a free concert in California

December 27, 1969
Mick Jagger Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger on the cover of Rolling Stone
Baron Wolman

SAN FRANCISCO—All that remained for the Rolling Stones was the big free concert they had vaguely promised since they arrived in this county – vaguely at first, and then, as the tour progressed, city by city, more definitely, until finally Mick Jagger told a New York press conference that it was going to happen for certain: in San Francisco, at Golden Gate Park (or a nearby park somewhere) on December 6th.

The only trouble with the scheme was that by then they were too late to get permission to use Golden Gate Park or any San Francisco Park. Their representatives – most prominently Sam Cutler, Mick's friend who had manager their tour, and Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully – had been trying to make arrangements for nearly a month.

But, with just one week to go, nothing was firmed up – except near-univeisal agreement that if the thing could happen, it would attract a minimum of 200,000. It would be a Little Woodstock, and,even more exciting, it would be an instant Woodstock. But they still had no idea where it was going to be held.

With site-hunting and planning reaching a fever pitch in San Francisco, Jagger phoned to inquire how it was going. He was in Alabama with the rest of the Stones, he said. They were, in his words,"fishing." Were they catching anything? "Mostly grass," he answered.

The Stones were eager to do the concert, Jagger reported, but he sounded somewhat pessimistic. "It depends on whether we can get a place. There are so many obstacles put in front of us.It's gotten so fucking complicated."

Mick thought it would be great to do a sort of all-day thing – "not just play one set and then go, but make a day of it." What did he mean by that, exactly? He wasn't sure. But it would come to more than just playing for an hour.

Asked at what point during the tour they'd decided to do a free event, Jagger said: "It was when we first fucking got to Los Angeles, the first stop. We decided right then to do it after the tour was over. We wanted to do Los Angeles, because the weather's better. But there's no place to do it there, and we were assured we could do it much more easily in San Francisco."

Why did they think it was worth doing – considering that it might cost them as much as $50,000 to $100,000?

"Well," said Jagger mock-serious, "I wanted to do the whole tour for free, because, you know, I'm richer than the other fellas, and I can afford it." Quickly, he added: "I'm just joking." He never did directly respond to the question.

The week before Thanksgiving, the Los Angeles Free Press had first broken the news about the free concert under the headline "Come Celebrate." (In fact, it had been known some two weeks previous, but nothing was published in respect to the organizers' feeling that to do so might fuck it up.)

The earliest news had it that the Band would appear, plus Ali Akbar Khan. Later it developed both had prior commitments. Since Grateful Dead functionaries have been involved in the planning, it seems safe to assume the Dead will perform, as promised.

Word appeared in Ralph Gleason's column in the San Francisco Chronicle that the radical San Francisco Mime Troupe would appear along with other theatrical groups, elsewhere in the park, and that proceeds from the film of the event would go to "groups that do things free." At this point, nobody had even made application for permits to Golden Gate Park (as it turned out, nobody ever did, formally).

But nonetheless, the Mime Troupe weighed in with a telegram to all the media, Gleason in particular, said that they couldn't make the gig because of heavy Movement commitments, "unless TV, record, movie residuals go to Weathermen defense fund."

There was talk of Haskell Wexler, who directed Medium Cool, coming out to film the free affair. But it developed that he was busy with something. So the Stones happily settled for the Maysles brothers, who are responsible for the remarkable neo-documentary called The Salesmen.

Once the Stones' full advance contingent got to town – stage manager Chip Monck and right-hand lady to Jo Bergman – the business of finding a concert site got into full gear. Monck, Cutler and Miss Bergman seemed to be on phones almost continually, radiating confidence, even if they were not entirely sure suitable land could be found.

"It's going to happen," said Jo. "Don't worry. We've always done everything at the end, at the last minute, and it works."

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