Cuba is a long way from becoming the next red-hot touring market, but when The Rolling Stones bring their massive production into Havana on March 25, it will mark a major milestone in the cultural emergence of this Caribbean — and Communist — frontier. Billed as the “first open air concert in the country by a British rock band,” the show has a chance to be something much more: A symbolic opening of a new era, ushered in by a group that for decades was considered the epitome of Western decadence.
The political and physical logistics of staging a show on such a scale in such relatively virgin territory cannot be underestimated. On March 6, Diplo’s group Major Lazer played a free outdoor show in Havana that drew an estimated 450,000 people. “You can’t just fill up a shipping crate and ship from Miami because of the embargo,” says the group’s agent, Sam Hunt of The Windish Agency. “Relations have warmed, but there are still a tremendous number of restrictions in place.”
While the Stones show’s free status simplified some matters — neither the band, which has grossed around $400 million in touring since 2012, nor AEG is taking a profit — the issue remained of how to pay for it. The group will be bringing 61 sea containers and a 747 freighter full of gear, as well as a 350-strong crew. “We have to bring in literally everything,” says Concerts West co-president John Meglen.