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Rolling Stones play free Good Friday concert in Cuba

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The Stones at a Milwaukee gig, 2015. File photo c/o Wikipedia.

The Rolling Stones on Friday played an historic gig at the Ciudad Deportiva stadium in Havana, entertaining tens of thousands of fans in Cuba’s capital, and marking their first appearance in the country in 54 years as a band. This free concert came just a few days after President Barack Obama made his own landmark visit to the island-nation.

For the most part, Western rock music had been taboo in Cuba, and many of the people in attendance at the Good Friday concert were longtime Stones fans who had to keep a low profile when it came to their admiration of foreign rock bands. Until the dawn of the 21st century, communist leaders had banned most foreign rock and pop songs, due to their alleged potential to incite rebellion and decadence among Cuba’s citizens.

The veteran rockers played 18 songs over two hours, starting off with their 1968 hit “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and also including classics such as “Satisfaction” (as one of two encores), “Gimme Shelter,” and “Sympathy for the Devil.”

“(We had) the visit from Obama (earlier this week), and now (we have) the Rolling Stones,” one fan told the BBC. “It’s just unique and historic. So, yeah, (it’s) nice to be here.”

One die-hard fan, 66-year-old Ulrich Schroder from Germany, made the trip to Cuba for his 181st Stones show. “It’s so very special that Obama makes the border open for the economic, for the political thing, and Mick Jagger and his friends, they open it maybe for the music,” he told Billboard. “So it’s a very important week here in Cuba.”

Although all went smoothly on Friday, the concert went through some close calls, according to a report from British publication The Mirror. Due to the solemnity of the Lent season, Pope Francis requested that the concert be postponed, with Vatican officials suggesting it begin at midnight. But, as a “tour insider” said to the publication, the event went through as scheduled as they “had a contract to play (on Good Friday).”

The Rolling Stones themselves released their own video statement, echoing a widely-felt sentiment – the concert represents how much Cuba has changed in recent years, and is now far more welcoming to Western culture. “Time changes everything. So we’re very pleased to be here,” said Stones frontman Mick Jagger. “It would have been surprising for this to happen 10 years ago.”

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