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The Rolling Stones Rock Cuba

Mick Jagger performs at Ciudad Deportiva in Havana.
Yamil Lage
AFP/Getty Images
Mick Jagger performs at Ciudad Deportiva in Havana.

Historians hailed U.S. President Obama's visit to Cuba as the beginning of a new relationship between the two countries. But for hundreds of thousands of Cubans, the real thrill this week was the visit of some prominent Brits: The Rolling Stones.

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts took the stage Friday before a packed crowd gathered in the 450,000-person capacity Ciudad Deportiva, or Sports City, an open-air venue. The band played 18 songs in two hours, starting things off with the hit "Jumpin' Jack Flash," reports the BBC.

The Rolling Stones play their first show in Havana.
Yamil Lage / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
The Rolling Stones play their first show in Havana.

"This is amazing! It's really good to be here! It's good to see you guys!" frontman Mick Jagger told the crowd, The Associated Press reported.

"After today I can die," Joaquin Ortiz, 62, told the AP. "This is like my last wish, seeing The Rolling Stones."

It's the first time The Rolling Stones have played on the island; they're the biggest act to play since Fidel Castro's communist government took power in 1959. In the 1960s, as Cuba became isolated from the U.S. and other Western governments during the Cold War, the Stones were just beginning to reach worldwide popularity. In 1965 they released perhaps their best-known hit, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," which quickly was certified gold.

But most Western music was banned in Cuba — and rock 'n' roll was seen as subversive.

Rolling Stones fans wait for the start of Friday's free concert.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Getty Images
Rolling Stones fans wait for the start of Friday's free concert.

"We know that years back it was hard to hear our music in Cuba, but here we are playing. I also think the times are changing," Jagger told the crowd in Spanish, per Reuters.

The show capped off a landmark week for Cuba that began with Obama's visit, the first by a sitting U.S. president in 88 years.

Cubans from all over the island, and even foreigners, traveled to witness the historic free concert. Reuters notes that fans started arriving a full 18 hours before the band took the stage. Their ages ranged from young to old.

"This is the biggest moment in my life," Ferrer Castillo told The Guardian. He said he traveled more than 100 miles to see the show.

Here's the setlist, from the BBC:

Jumpin' Jack Flash

It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)

Tumbling Dice

Out of Control

All Down the Line


Paint It Black

Honky Tonk Women

You Got the Silver

Before They Make Me Run

Midnight Rambler

Miss You

Gimme Shelter

Start Me Up

Sympathy for the Devil

Brown Sugar

Encores: You Can't Always Get What You Want. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

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James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.
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