With the Rolling Stones, Time Was Not on My Side

With the Rolling Stones, Time Was Not on My Side

I have been to a few concerts in my life, but for some reason something always went wrong. I once stood on a ledge outside the mezzanine section in Madison Square Garden to watch Bob Seger. I hovered there, my right arm locked around the railing, as I listened to the music and tried very hard not to fall to my death into the crowd below. I ended up in that position because I had lost my ticket stub and could not prove to the usher that the person sitting in my seat was not me. Before the concert even started, all I wanted to do was sell my ticket and stay at Beefsteak Charlie’s where they served unlimited beer with dinner (we had some very long dinners there).

Another time, I was arrested at an Ian Hunter concert (twice) and to save myself from being trampled to death, I threw bodies back into a mosh pit at a Violent Femmes/Pogues concert. Maybe I should have heeded the warning from one of my first concert experiences and just stayed home and listened to the live albums instead.

In 1978, my friends and I bought tickets to the see The Rolling Stones — they were playing with Peter Tosh and Foreigner at JFK stadium in Philadelphia. General admission tickets, it was first-come-first-serve when it came to seating. The day before the concert, we headed to the stadium. Once there, and with food and alcohol in tow, we staked out a spot on the cement and settled in for the long night before us.

Well into the night, and the alcohol, I shoved a makeshift pillow under my head and fell asleep (passed out). About 3 a.m. I woke up from an incredibly unsound sleep and found my face stuck to the sidewalk. At one point in the night, someone stumbled by and knocked over my fifth of Southern Comfort; it poured like a sweet, sticky river down the right side of my body.

Without a change of clothes, and the complete lack of comfort on the sidewalk, I grabbed my friend Rob’s keys and went back to his car to find some much needed sleep. I told myself I would get up early, find my way back to my friends, and go into the concert as planned. As I tried to sleep in the luxury of his two-door red Toyota Celica I could still hear the thousands of people that filled the parking lot around me.

When I woke in the morning, I knew there weren’t crickets chirping, but there might as well have been — the parking lot was empty. The gates had opened early, the throng had entered the stadium, and I was alone.

To this day I don’t know how I found my friends, maybe it helps to be tall, but I did. On the field, around the 50-yard-line, I found a small group of them. Some others had gone up into the stands looking for a place to sit — others wandered off in search of bathrooms and possibly food. As I settled in and waited for the first act I noticed a sign at the very back of this open-air arena. A large hand-painted white sheet rose above the top of the stadium, higher even than the initials that stamped the facade. It had just two words — ‘OLD BRIDGE’ (my home town). At that moment I felt like we owned the place.

I couldn’t tell you much about Peter Tosh, or even Foreigner for that matter. We were there to see The Stones. At some point in the afternoon, after they had cleared off the opening acts equipment, and set-up the drum kit with that famous logo on its face, a helicopter appeared in the sky. The cheers were deafening as it hovered for a bit and then disappeared behind the stadium wall into the parking lot. The wait was palpable, but I knew it would be worth it. The Southern Comfort bath, the neck and leg pains from wedging my six-foot-two frame into a four-foot-wide back seat to get some sleep, even the constant pushing and shoving of the crowd would be meaningless once The Stones began to play.

Then, if you blinked, you would have missed it.

They came out with all the energy you would expect of The Stones. Jagger pranced on stage; we shouted our throats raw. After forty-five minutes of pure musical insanity they left the stage. It was a great first set, and we knew this would be a concert we would never forget.

And we never did, but not for the reasons you’d think.

The cheers stopped as the sound and sight of The Rolling Stones’ helicopter lifted into space and disappeared into the clouds.

We were dumbstruck — that was it? At that moment the Southern Comfort bath and the leg-and-neck pains from wedging my six-foot-two frame into a four-foot-wide seat was most definitely not worth it.

And then on cue, as if members of the audience were handed a script and they all found the stage directions at the same time, a barrage of bottles rained down from the sky. In a relatively short time, the drum kit was destroyed. The roadies stayed safely backstage as the bottles flew. Some projectiles did not reach their target so those closest to the stage suddenly found themselves in the middle of a war zone.

We stood safely at the fifty-yard-line and watched as the thunderstorm of bottles turned to a drizzle, and then eventually stopped. Shattered pieces of glass littered the stage and parts of the field. The crowd lost its energy and began to wander toward the exits. The smell of my sticky t-shirt sautéed in Southern Comfort and sweat was making me nauseous; I just wanted to go home and take a shower. Eventually, my friends gathered together as they staggered in from each part of the stadium and in no time,  we headed home.

As I think about it now, maybe nothing did go wrong at these concerts; it’s almost forty years later and I’m still talking about it. I mean, I was hanging in the air over the crowd at Madison Square Garden, trying not to die and still shouted until I couldn’t talk. I was arrested at an Ian Hunter concert, not just once, but twice (who does that?). And in all honesty, throwing those bodies back into that mosh pit while the Pogues played wasn’t just to protect myself, it was fun. In fact, it was more than fun — it was fucking awesome.

Click link: Photos by photographer Joseph Szabo, Rolling Stones, JFK, Philadelphia - 1978

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