Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mexico City, Miami and Cuba


Some three weeks or so before we were to play our original date in Havana, President Obama announced that he was going to come there on the same date. So the Cuban Government came to the band to ask to move our date from March 20 to March 25th to give time for him to do his thing and depart the country. The band agreed, and so on March 18 we flew to Miami to “way lay” for a week before flying to Havana on March 24. We stayed at..a nice spot in Miami Beach. Faena Hotel in Miami.  We were all up for a few days off and some sun...unfortunately, it did’t quite work out that way. The weather was awful. Rainy, windy and cold.
Sunning by the Pool
We managed to get a little sun time in when the clouds would break now and again, but not much. I spent time in the gym and Rosie and I went shopping some in the area, but basically we killed most of the time up in our room, which was a nice suite. I had a Yamaha digital piano sent there so I could work some on the David Gilmour songs I needed to learn for his tour I would be on in June and July.
We had a couple of nice meals here and there, watched tv and got out when the weather permitted.
Finally, on March 24 we all packed up and flew out of Miami to Havana. A short flight, but we had to go through a rigorous immigration process. We were all very excited about playing had been a long time in the works and would be one of the most historic shows we’ve ever done. I had arranged an interview on show day, the 25th, with CCTV, the Chinese equivalent to CNN. My pal Sean Calebs would do the interview. We’ve known each other a long time, meeting when he was with CNN and we’ve done several interviews together. But for now, we were just concerned with getting into the country and to our hotel. After finally clearing immigration, we checked into the Malia Habana Hotel. It turned out to be quite nice....we didn’t quite know what to expect, and I’d say it was better than I thought it might be. Rosie and I went down to one of the restaurants....La Bella. Not a very memorable meal, but it filled the bill for the moment.
Mick had arranged for all of us to go to a musical event that a place called La Casa de la Musica. The performers would be Osain del Monte and star percussionist Pedrito Martinez. That proved to be a fantastic experience. The music was all percussion and other musical instruments. There were probably a dozen or more musicians/singers that swapped around playing the various percussion instruments and traded off as lead singers. We had a fabulous time there, staying fairly late.
We had a bit of a time getting back to the solid arrangements were made for us to have vans, and we waited quite a while, finally deciding to hire a taxi. Everyone has heard about all the old cars from the 50’s and early 60s that are there, and our cab was an old ‘57 Chevy. Nice.
The next day we had precious little time, and I vowed to make the very best of it. I dressed up and Sean picked me up to go do the interview, which went well and it was great to hook back up with him. The Bureau Chief was a really nice English gent named Michael Voss. After doing the interview and taking some pictures, Michael asked me what I was doing next. “Going back to the hotel, I suppose”, I answered. He asked “Well, would you like to take a quick tour?”. YESSS! Michael has been there for almost 10 years and knows the city (and country) inside out. He was an excellent tour guide...taking me as quickly as possible through the main sights like Revolutionary Square, where Castro would give his famous five hour speeches...and through Old Havana and other highlights of the city. He was a wealth of information on the history, and I learned quite a lot from him. It was a wonderful “accident”. He also took me to a couple of places where some of the most beautiful old cars were so I could take some pictures of them. A truly great afternoon.
Soon it was time to get back to the hotel and leave with the band for sound check. The venue was, well, sort of a huge field that had maybe a dozen baseball fields within it. The crew had set up our big stage in the middle of it...and we got an earful of stories from many of them about how difficult it had been to make it happen. But thanks to their expertise and persistence, they got it done.
We went through sound check and then I worked on the set list. Met with Mick to finalize, then had a little down time. The catering was...not that great. It was in a tent not far from our backstage tents...and they had cooked a couple of whole hogs and some corn... but hey...I’ve had lots better back home in Georgia! Plus there was a plethora of flies all around, and it was very hot, making it not the most pleasant of situations. But it was food, and we ate it.
An hour or so before the show, someone told me that my friend Jimmy Buffett was there. I went to find him, and low and behold, there he was. We had a fun time catching up. He’s a sweetheart of a guy...wish I could play in his band at some point! There were other celebrities there in attendance...Naomi Campbell, Richard Gere, for a couple...and there were lots of Cuban celebrities there as well....actors, writers, musicians.
As show time approached, the crowd kept growing in numbers...and while it was impossible to get an accurate count, the best estimates given was “well over half a million”...and perhaps as many as 750,000. Whatever the number was, it was just an amazing night. The band rocked hard, the Cubans and all in attendance were joyous and you could just sense the feeling of freedom all around. It reminded me some of when we played in Prague back in 1990 after the Wall fell in ‘89. There was a similar feeling in the air and with the people. Back then, the posters read: Tanks Roll Out....Stones Roll In!
Rose Lane and Sasha Allen
Back at the hotel some of us celebrated in the bar...talking about how well the whole tour had gone, and what a beautiful way to cap it off by playing that show. It will certainly go down in history...and I hope so much that I get to go back there again...and stay longer. And maybe play music there again.

That capped off one of the most memorable tours yet with the Stones. Now time to get back home and prepare for the David Gilmour Tour!!