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

Mick Jagger Rolling Stones
Baron Wolman
Mick Jagger on the cover of Rolling Stone
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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."

Chip Monck, the production wizard who stage managed the Monterey and Woodstock festivals (not to mention the Stones' tour itself) immersed himself in phone calls to airlines, to lumber yards, to friends who could help, especially to the people who'd helped him set up Woodstock.

"The only trouble is," Monck said, "that time is so short. At minimum, this is a 15-day trip, to have the time to get it all together. This is going to be like a little Woodstock, you know?"

With that, he plunged back into the telephone, trying to find enough of the right plywood to build a stage, enough of the right people – and especially enough time. They'd have three days to set up, and that would mean working around the clock, three straight shifts a day, straight through until it began, day and night.

The most promising site they had located by Tuesday (four days before the concert was to be held) was the 1000-acre Sears Point Raceway, a 50-minute freeway drive north of San Francisco, at the top of San Francisco Bay, in the hinterlands between Sonoma and Vallejo.

But there was a problem with it. Sam Cutler found it "esthetically unpleasing." By some small miracle, they had found a thousand serviceable acres – complete with access roads, parking, water, and facilities for medical aid-free for the week-end – and Cutler was concerned over esthetics.

Tuesday night, a meeting was held at the Novato ranch of the Grateful Dead, to determine what was to happen, how, why, and all that. It was, some of the less confrontation-oriented of the organizers noted, to be a "political" meeting – everybody would argue and shout about the Revolution. So the non-politicals stayed home. They could find out what had (and hadn't) happened the next morning, they said, but fucked if they'd get involved in that madness.

"Can't wear yourself out with all that shouting," said Monck, "when there's gonna be so much work to do."

When it was suggested that busting up a free event of this magnitude might be a spiffy political move for somebody like Governor Ronald Reagan to attempt, the organizers turned coolly silent, and one said: "We don't need to hear that. We don't want those kind of vibes to be injected onto this trip." Given that response, it seemed fruitless to point out that the sheriff of Marin County is, reputedly, a hard right-winger of Reaganesque coloration.

The Wild West and the Moratorium had given the Park and Recreation Department at least two months notice for use of Golden Gate Park. The Stones and their friends were trying to get it together in three weeks. A further obstacle was that a temporary cessation on rock events in the park had been ordered by the Park Department because of reported incidents of violence and firearms. What's more, no rock concert at the park had ever had an audience over 30,000. And the Stones people remained hopeful, to the end, that they'd get Golden Gate Park.

There were innumerable false starts and miscues. A meeting with the Mayor was announced. It did not materialize. Late one afternoon, the organizers put themselves on the Park Department agenda to ask for Golden Gate Park. The next morning they phoned to drop the request. No reasons given.

One question had an easy answer, though. Beyond doubt, the Stones could afford to give the free concert. Their tour had been an unqualified financial success.

The office of Stones manager Allen Klein was estimating that the tour had grossed $2 million, after 20 appearances. $286,542 of this came from three Madison Square Garden shows, and it was reliably estimated that the Stones' share of this came to $160,000. Assuming this proportion held true nation-wide, the Stones' share from the whole tour comes to about $1,120,000, before taxes and before paying a small battalion of sound men, recording engineers, stage hands and so on.

There were no announced figures for total attendance but if the $2 million gross estimate has any validity, it means the Stones played to something like 350,000 paying customers.

The new Stones album, Let It Bleed, had been released for optimum sales effect, to coincide with the tour. The strategy had worked. Reported London Records national sales manager Herb Goldfarb: "I think advance orders on Let It Bleed were close to the million mark before the tour began, but when it started and got all the publicity, sales turned phenomenal." At this point, he says, sales exceed one million already, and it looked like one of the Stones' biggest ever.

Of 14 Stones LPs to date, 12 are gold. This includes Let It Bleed, which was certified a million-seller before it was even released. It was, according to Goldfarb, "the fastest-selling record in London's history."

The Stones brought their recording people along, and hope to be able to put out a live album, perhaps to two-record set, of the whole Stones show, with B. B. King, Ike and Tina Turner, and Terry Reid included. Legal matters, such as the fact that they're all signed to different labels, are for the moment complicating this enterprise.

It was in New York that the Stones received their most tumultous response.

Outside Madison Square Garden, guards found one scalper selling pairs of $3.50 tickets (the cheapest) for $40 a pair. There were not too many scalpers, though, evidently because most ticket purchasers really did want to see the Stones.

The day tickets went on sale, November 6th (24 days in advance of the concert) the box office opened two hours early to accommodate the crowd of 6,000 that had already assembled. In eleven hours and 45 minutes, the two scheduled shows were virtually sold out, with 30,936 tickets gone. A matinee performance, added the following week, came within a couple of hundred seats of selling out as well.

In New York, the Stones did pretty much the same set they'd done everyplace else. Like they were supposed to, the crowd rushed the stage. No one seated on the main floor of the Garden could see through the crowds that jammed the aisles, unless they stood on their chairs. It was like that from the first number. For those who could see him, Jagger was the perfect, prancing, mincing advertisement for unisex.

The band got better and better the more they performed. That was clear to everyone who heard them on the West Coast, in San Francisco or Los Angeles, and then, later, in New York or West Palm Beach. It was clear to Mick, who noted: "Compared to the way we sounded later along, we were terrible in San Francisco. Ragged. By the time we got to Detroit, I'd say, it was like a one hundred per cent improvement.

"The band got better. The sound system improved, and we got better accustomed to performing again. It's really a matter of confidence. It takes awhile to get that up."

It makes a difference, having Mick Taylor in Brian Jones' place. "It's more of a band now," Jagger said enthusiastically. "It's definitely a different band. It's fucking incredibly hard now. I mean, we haven't got a lot of the things Brian could do. Like none of us play dulcimer and those things. I guess we could" – the feeling here was that this was Brian's contribution, and somehow it would be false for another Stone to take on Brian's role – "but we don't. I mean, I like to play autoharp, but I wouldn't do it onstage. At home, yes; you know? But not onstage. Those were things Brian did that we don't have now.

"But we're so hard now as a band . . . And, with Mick – Mick's really good – and it means Keith can sort of lay out and tune up in the middle of a tune. There's more time to think. And sometimes they'll get to tossing solos back and forth between the guitars. like on 'Sympathy for the Devil,' and it's just great! It's beautiful to hear, and it's something we've never gotten into just that way before."

Leonard Bernstein came backstage to talk with the band in New York. He seemed thrilled by everything they did, digging one set onstage, hunched down behind the amplifiers. Jimi Hendrix did the same at another show.

Their farewell to New York came in a shower of some 5,000 rose petals loosed from the ceiling. They fluttered down in a pink cloud, fragrant and ethereal.

Their press conference, held in the swank Rainbow Grill, 65 stories high above Manhattan, was an event featuring non-stop booze, and, once the questioning began, towering silliness.

"What are your impressions of the U.S.?"

Jagger: "It's great. It changes."

"What are your views on the war in Vietnam?"

Jagger [letting out a long groan]: "Just leave and get it over with as soon as you can."

"What about Ed Sullivan blocking some of your vocals out?"

Jagger: "It doesn't matter. It's all a joke . . . "

"How do you feel about a press conference like this?"

Jagger: "It's like being in the front row of a concert in Philadelphia."

"What do you think about the worldwide revolutionary movement of young people?"

Jagger [smiling]: "How long do I have? You can't ask a question like that at a thing like this."

"You sang you couldn't get 'no satisfaction'. Are you any more satisfied now?"

Jagger: "How do you mean, sexually or other? Sexually satisfied. Financially satisfied. Philosophically trying."

"Why don't you do a free concert in New York?"

Jagger: "New York is too cold. You can't do it outside. San Francisco is into that sort of thing."

"How did you like your Hyde Park concert this summer?"

Jagger: "It was very weird. We never played to that many people before."

"What do you think about Lennon returning the MBE?"

Jagger: "At last, he should have done it sooner."

"Would you have done it?"

Jagger: "We would never have gotten it in the first place."

"What do you think about the new sexual morality as reflected in all the sex newspapers? Is it catching up with you?"

Jagger: "No."

Twenty-five minutes of this and then Jagger: "Thank you gentlemen and God bless you all." Exit single file, as suddenly as they came in.

Curiously, while the Stones concert was the only topic of conversation (among our people) for days beforehand, there was precious little about it in the news media. Except, of course, for the Stones press conference, it was almost like a publicity blackout.

Mick did manage to find time to pose for Cecil Beaton for a Vogue magazine cover photo.

"When we think back about the tour," Mick said, "well, it's all happened so quickly, you know? It's all like one big blur and it's hard to distinguish one place from another." It some ways it had been a lot like their 1966 tour – in terms of the American audience's response – and in some ways quite different. "Like in Chicago, it was just like last time: a lot of screamers, a lot of young girls, really young, like 12 or 14. And other places there were some who don't listen to the music at all; it's just a fantasy experience for them. Like in Boston, that crowd had almost an identical response to what they gave us last time.

"But on the Coast, and a lot of other places, there was a very large cross section of people, all kinds of people, and they listened. A lot of them did. That was new in some ways."

Most of all, the Stones seemed surprised at the reception they'd received in the South, in places like Texas and Tennessee and Alabama. They'd halfway expected Easy Rider hassles, vaguely feared violence. Instead, all was friendliness and courtesy.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Jagger was upset because three chicks had ridden on the top of his limousine. When their reporter tried to lead Jagger into a rap about groupies, Mick said fuck the stupid questions: "I'm an artist, ask me about my music." He didn't. So Mick wound up assuring him that "I'm not making this trip to go to bed with all those chicks."

It was 5 AM before the Stones performed at the West Palm Beach festival, in Florida, and plenty cold. In honor of the event – their last scheduled concert – and despite the chill – Keith stripped to the waist.

The Stones are presently laying plans for a tour of Europe, starting in March, Jagger said. And then on to the Middle East, and to India (where Jagger hoped to play for free), and on to Japan, where the tour would end in May. They've already been invited to appear in Poland and Russia. The way Mick sees it now, they'd play the first dates on this global swing in Germany, then France, and then onward.

Jagger was not certain just how soon he will feel like touring the United States again. Sometime after the world tour ends he intends to come back to the country to have a look around "in less hurried circumstances."

"The thing about it is," he explained, "touring's alright, but there's so many other things to do in life; do you know what I mean? In my life, I don't have to go onstage to get that buzz, that ego fulfillment. To tour and to perform, you have to get your ego way up there, where it's, like, look, this is me, you know? All ego.

"And I don't need that all the time. I'd like to sort of lose that now – all that ego that's built up. Just, um, do something else, sit home, maybe, travel about, for something like six months, before I start to think about any more tours."

This story is from the December 27, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 49: December 27, 1969
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