This story does not need an introduction.
To be able to see the Rolling Stones perform live sounds like an unfathomable dream to me – one that my brain is totally incapable of comprehending. But when the legendary rock icons played a free show in Cuba last week, Melodi was there (I repeat. SHE WAS THERE) to witness it. Lucky for us, she photographed the infamous night and is sharing it with us today.
Music has a wonderful ability to take us back in time: flash back to a wild night with friends, a solo dinner on the living room floor, childhood car rides with dad, or any other memory we can possibly think of. If music was present, we have the ability to transport ourselves by simply turning on the record player. I, on the other hand, was taken back to a time I had never experienced before. When I arrived in Cuba, the air was warm and thick with the smell of cigars and the ocean. The night was dark. A few street lights were left to guide the way, leaving the imagination to run wild. Surrounded by cars from the ’50s and Spanish architecture of the 1900s, I realized that time had truly stopped here. I woke the next morning to the sound of men cutting down coconuts outside of my window. When I went to shower, there was no running water – only a bucket upon request. No internet. No cell service. No distractions. I was living for the moment in front of me and in the simplest of ways. I grabbed a taxi to a nearby café for an espresso and began to write of my adventure. I couldn’t grasp that I was actually in Cuba, much less the fact that The Rolling Stones were playing a free show that evening.
I headed to the show early out of fear I wouldn’t get a good spot after hearing that 500,000 people were rumored to be attending. Roads were shut down miles away from the outdoor stage in the middle of the city. Walking in a sea of people, I began to feel the energy of my surroundings and my excitement began to grow. The Stones were playing over the speakers while we piled through the gate entrance; people had been camping there since the night before to ensure their front row spots. We formed a single line and began to hop over people to make our way front and center. What seemed almost impossible soon became possible as we saw a break in the crowd and snatched our pocket of green grass. As I looked around, I noticed the community of friends and strangers. No one was on his or her cell phone, no one was buying anything because there was nothing to be bought, and we began to make new friends. This was no fashion show, no element of social status, and no shrug attitude. This was all about the music.
The Rolling Stones were to come on at 8:00pm but they kept us waiting as most rock musicians do. There were ebbs and flows of the roaring crowd as the sun began to set and anticipation grew! I’ll never forget watching the sun go down behind the Cuban flag at my first Stones show. Life was nothing short of a dream in that moment. As they took the stage, we could feel the ground beneath us move from the people jumping. Thousands of hands rose in the air and screams of pure ecstasy consumed me. I thought to myself that this is the closest I’ll ever get to Woodstock. I was seeing rock ‘n roll for the first and what felt like the last time of my life. Mick Jagger moved across the stage as if he was still 20 years old, shaking his hips in ways I’ve never seen. Keith Richards had a kindness in his smile that made me think even he couldn’t believe he was there. Rod glided across the stage hitting strings that hit me right at my core. Between Keith and Mick, we saw about 20 different outfit changes throughout the show. It wasn’t until about the fourth song, “Midnight Rambler”, that I broke through. I closed my eyes and felt as if the music was moving and pulling every piece of my body. Flashes of some of my favorite musicians flew through my mind, my moves mimicking theirs, and in that second I understood the power that existed in rock ‘n roll. These men had tapped into something greater than them over 40 years ago and were able to harness it and share it with millions of people. This wave, this connection of energy, was the most freedom I have ever felt in my life. At one point I honestly wanted to throw my shirt off just so I could groove. With a 22-minute version of “Midnight Rambler,” I was taken back to a period of time when people really believed in the music. Still I’m not sure if these were clips I had seen of the past from books, or if I really went there, but the music sure did take me there. Once the show ended we walked the streets with people singing all around, dancing their way home under the full moon of Cuba. This was one for the books.
Photographs and words by Melodi Meadows.
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