Thursday, October 06, 2005

Like a Rolling Stone

The Rolling Stones, the world's most successful sexegenarian rock band, appeared in Charlottesville tonight, bringing international attention to our sleepy college town in the most unanticipated fashion.

I did not attend the concert myself. I saw the Stones live at RFK Stadium in Washington about 10 years ago, taken by my British friend, Adam Morris, who was interning at the Heritage Foundation that summer. (Gay conservatives and libertarians always seem to find each other, even when separated by an ocean; the nexus is invariably Nigel Ashford.) In my life I have only seen two stadium concerts -- that one by the Stones and another by Paul McCartney, both at RFK -- and one indoor arena concert, by Madonna at MCI Arena about 5 years ago. (I don't think the 9:30 Club, where I saw The Moffatts perform in June 1999, counts as an arena, and neither does Meriwether Post Pavilion, where I saw Jackson Browne in concert more years ago than I care to remember.)

What I remember most about that concert is not so much the music but the audience. One of three concerts, the stadium was not full -- perhaps only two-thirds of the seats were taken. But the make-up of the audience is what struck me: mostly early teenagers and people who appeared to be their grandparents. Not many people in their 20s and 30s, but plenty aged 13-15 and 55-65. It was odd. Odder still was seeing the geezers passing joints to each other and to their grandkids.

At about 9:10, I decided to take a walk toward Scott Stadium to see how things were going. I could faintly hear the music from my front lawn -- a bit more than a mile from Stadium Road -- and the sound grew more audible with each step I took. Faint as it was, I could clearly hear "Ruby Tuesday" as I trekked up the hill toward Shamrock Road.

I arrived outside the stadium about 9:30. (The Stones had been scheduled to take the stage at 8:30; I don't know if they began on time.) Just as I reached my destination with plans to listen for a while, everything went quiet. I figured the band was taking a break between sets, so I looped around and came home.

When I turned on the 11:00 news on Channel 16, however, I learned that the concert had been halted for almost an hour due to a bomb threat. (Is there something ironic about a bomb scare at a concert designed to promote a new CD recording called "A Bigger Bang"?) Fortunately, no explosive devices were found and no one was injured, just inconvenienced.

As the Irish Examiner reported:

The Rolling Stones interrupted their show at the University of Virginia’s Scott Stadium early today, as police officers and three bomb-sniffing dogs searched the stage.

The show resumed after about a 30-minute break last night. University, state and city police did not immediately return phone calls about the incident in Charlottesville and no announcements were made to the audience about the reason for the break.

About eight songs into the show, frontman Mick Jagger announced that authorities had told the band to take a 10-minute break. The stage and about the first 20 rows of spectators were cleared until police finished their work.
According to Melissa Ruggieri, the reviewer in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Stones (not to mention the police and some 50,000 fans) handled the interruption with aplomb:
Give the Stones credit for handling the night's unexpected snafus with the type of effortless grace and experience that can only come from four decades of performing. Their set-closing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was as exuberant and tight as "Start Me Up" a long three hours earlier, with even [Keith] Richards windmilling and stomping across the stage like a kid on his playground.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the work of genuine legends.
That kind of professionalism stands in contrast to the reporting team at WVIR-TV, the most popular broadcast news outlet in the Charlottesville media market. The on-air correspondents were falling all over each other for several days in trying to outdo each other by working in references to Rolling Stones' songs into their copy. The efforts reached a head to day, with four to five song references insinuated into a 45-second report, often with the poorest connection to what was actually being said. Really, they gave us some of the saddest puns you've ever heard.

All in all, it was a good night not to be driving near Charlottesville.

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