Tonight, the Rolling Stones are set to make history by becoming first major international rock stars to play Cuba since its 1959 revolution. The Stones will play a free show at the Ciudad Deportiva, or Sports City, in a concert scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. (0030 GMT). Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend the show. One Cuban fan of the band said, “I’ve waited my whole life for this. The Stones are the greatest.”
The band arrived Thursday evening in the Cuban capital of Havana where the concert will be held. The band’s private plane carried the four British rockers, family members, and about 60 technical workers, along with a huge amount of gear, including seven huge screens and 2,866 pounds of sound equipment. In a statement released before their arrival, the band said, “We have performed in many special places during our long career, but this show in Havana will be a milestone for us, and, we hope, for all our friends in Cuba, too.”
Fans started gathering more than 12 hours ahead of time, with some sleeping outside of the complex where a massive stage has been built for the band’s performance. Barriers kept them from the football and baseball fields reserved for the performance and security personnel stated that they would begin letting people into the site about 2 p.m. The fans attending the concert were dressed casually for the most part, wearing jeans and Rolling Stones tee-shirts. In a notable departure from the band’s concerts in other parts of the world, there were no vendors outside hawking the band’s merchandise.
The concert comes just two days after the historic visit to the country by U.S. President Barack Obama. Obama re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba last year. It was the first trip to Cuba by a U.S. president in nearly 90 years. During his visit, Obama said called for the two countries to move toward full normalization in order to end the legacy of the Cold War.
The Communist government of Cuba previously banned the Stones and other rock music as a “ideological deviation.” Rock fans had to to listen to their favorite music behind closed doors, passing their albums from hand to hand hidden in covers borrowed from albums of appropriately revolutionary Cuban groups. Though never a law, the taboo did not ease completely until the 1980s. Many are hopeful that the show, which would be the biggest rock concert of its kind ever on the island, would encourage other groups of similar stature to also come and perform.