But, there was no Canadian date on the tour. No problem. I’ll fly to the U.S. As the countdown to ticket sales began, I decided to buy tickets for the Seattle show and save money by seeing my son Brett while I was there. I sat on Ticketmaster at 9:30am waiting for the sale to start at 10am. Once I got in, it said, “there are 1,000 people ahead of you.” Oh crap. I waited ten mintues and got to the front of the line.
Fifth row was available! I clicked on the seats. “Sorry someone else bought these before you.” I tried a different selection. Again. Three times. Then I got kicked out. “Sorry, you’ll have to get back in line.” Oh!
The next time I got row 15! I found two tickets! $800! “Janice I can get row 15, $800, ok?” I don’t know why I was even asking. She said, “$800? That’s for the pair, right?” Uh, no. Without thinking any further, I clicked “yes buy them!” Ahhhh...now Janice and I would see the Stones up close in Seattle - May 22, 2019!
Two weeks later, the Stones posted a tease to a Toronto show with a billboard in the Toronto Eatons Centre for June 29, 2019. Oh boy! That last show on the tour would be Toronto! That made sense!
Then, one morning I got a text from Mike Poirier in our news room. “Can you believe that?” he asked? Believe what? As I wiped the sleep from my eyes, it dawned on me - there was a Stones announcement and whatever it was, it was good news!
ORO STATION/BURL’S CREEK
They were coming to Burl’s Creek! Holy smokes! Not Toronto! Not even Barrie! But Burl’s Creek - like three miles from my house! It is the largest outdoor venue in the country and would be probably the shortest distance I would ever travel to a show - the biggest show of them all!
It sounded like a joke. The Rolling Stones were coming to Oro Station! Population 1,700. I had nicknamed our town “The Oro Station Super City Centre” and later sarcastically added “Casino and Resort.” Now I could add “The Home Of The Rolling Stones” and not be joking!
The announcement was the date for tickets going on sale. February 12.
That day I was in the Regina airport catching a flight home and I didn’t want to buy a ticket on Ticketmaster using my phone for fear of internet trouble and losing the ticket or getting charged for something I didn’t want.
Todd Gale was off the air and did me the favour of sitting on Ticketmaster and ordering me a ticket. He texted me a play by play all morning. He was almost as excited as I was.
“Ok, I’m at the front of the line! How much do you want to spend?” Sigh....$1,000. That was my limit. That was more than enough. “The ticket is $1,200. What do you want to do?" he asked me. “Buy it!”
The next day, at the side of Highway 11 at the 8th line on the lawn of Burl’s Creek was a digital marquee of the Stones tongue and on the fence was a 12-foot Stones banner. Both stayed there from March til June. I passed by that sign on the way to work every morning and every afternoon. It was like they were saying hi to me, in my city, and in my neighbourhood - everyday! If I was in a bad mood, the sign lit me up!
The morning after my ticket purchase, there was a receipt in my email. I printed it and left it on the dining room table for Janice to file away with our Visa statement. It sat there for three days - she hadn’t looked at it. One night as we ate dinner, she nearly choked - “Did you spend $1,200 on one Rolling Stones ticket?!” She was freaked out. I said - “No. Actually, I spent $1,400 because there was tax.” Dinner was quiet but the shock passed. My daily fanatical chatter and speculation on various part of the show took our minds off the expenditure.
One day in April the Stones announced that Mick was having serious health issues and the entire tour would be rescheduled. What’s wrong? Is it fatal? Whatever the ailment was it must have been real bad to cancel an entire tour! For the first time, it felt like this really could be the end of the band.
A friend of mine claimed to have an inside track. He confidentially told me it was liver and kidney disease.
A week later, the Rolling Stones announced that Mick needed a heart valve replacement. My friend’s info was wrong. The surgery for Mick took place and soon after, Mick posted a video of himself in a dance studio working out. That was a good day!
A Facebook post by Keith confirmed that all was good with Mick and that they were hoping to hit the road by mid-June. Well, could that mean the Oro date could be saved? My July calendar wouldn’t be affected. Oro would become the first date on the tour, instead of the last? As it turned out, I was right, with the except of Chicago, which didn’t get changed other than that city became the first two dates on the tour instead of second last.
Mick’s health was secure and almost all of the cancelled shows were rebooked.
June 29 was gonna be a big day for me. Oro. The Stones!
I speculated some more. June 29 would be my only chance to meet Mick. I mean, in Simcoe County, I am part of the local media. Anywhere else and I wouldn’t have a chance. I presented the idea to Crystal - who I’m sure felt enormous pressure of being Daddy’s best chance or only chance to be on the guest list for the biggest band in the world. One chance. I held back my enthusiasm and only asked for an update every other day for three months.
THE 8TH LINE
When I lived in Barrie, I used to ride my bike from Shanty Bay Road to the 8th Line. I said, if I was ever the leader of a rock band, I would name it the 8th Line. I actually recorded a song and for fun, credited the song to The 8th Line. Little did I know that one day, I would be living in Oro, just off the 8th Line.
And now, the Rolling Stones would be putting up their stage at the 8th Line!
The 8th Line doesn’t go through to the waterfront, so I usually take the 7th or 9th line home. But several times times over those three months, I took the 8th line, just to drive past the venue and spy on the progress.
Burl’s Creek has it’s own permanent outdoor stage used for Boots and Hearts and other events. But I guess that wasn’t good enough for the Rolling Stones - they were bringing their own stage and it would be positioned a thousand feet closer to the 8th Line. Like, I mean, the entrance to Burl’s Creek off The 8th Line went to the back of their stage.
Two weeks before the show, portable bleachers were set up on the north and south sides of the outdoor venue. The venue capacity was estimated at 70,000. This was....big.
My friend Jim Sampson and I decided to take a drive two weeks before the show, which was a couple of days before the park was going to be under lock and key and high security.
From the 7th line we entered the park and drove across the field, where we would exit at the 8th Line. We passed the bleachers which were still under construction and the stage area which was still an open space.
Hundreds of portable toilets were already in place. A fleet of 30 police cars were parked on location. My excitement grew. The manager in me forecast the exact order and timeline for the arrival and departure plans for the crew and band.
The band would fly their private plane from Chicago into the 7th line Simcoe County Airport, which was capable of landing jets. Border officials would board their plane and clear them through customs without them having to go in the actual airport building. Then, they would get in limos and drive over Highway 11 on the single lane overpass that was under construction.
But, instead of taking the 7th line, and having to meander through a field of people, they would drive on Highway 11 north, to the 8th Line, which is typically closed during concert events. Only VIP vehicles had access. Even residents would be turned away.
The backstage access was a couple hundred feet from the 8th Line. After the show, the band could jump in limos, drive north on Highway 11 up to Line 9, and turn around, south, back to the airport and fly out overnight. No hotels needed in our dinky city. That was my plan - for my favourite band. I had it all figured out. They needed me. I’m sure of it.
WANNA MEET THE PRODUCER?
Finally, it was two days before the show.
Sometime on Friday (June 28), Keith posted a selfie as he boarded the Stones jet in Chicago. “We’re on our way to Toronto”. Every Stones post took me to a higher level of excitement.
But I still had no backstage pass to meet my rock and roll hero. Crystal broke the news to me. The news I didn’t want to hear - “there is no meet and greet”. Two days before the show, I was prepared for the band news. In reality, I knew my chances were slim.
“But,” Crystal said, “There is a Production Meeting hosted by the Production Manager Dale Skjerseth and the Director of Booking For Republic Live Lisa Zechmeister. Would you want to attend that?”
Holy smokes! Man, if I couldn’t meet the Stones, my next dream would be to meet whoever knew how stuff worked. Take me on a tour of the stage, backstage and everywhere and show me what I don’t know.
Well guess what! That’s who I met. Although it didn’t go quite as planned.
All the media guests met Friday morning at the Gate K. “No other gates”. Several volunteers were at checkpoints to make sure nobody would move a foot without clearance.
We were given an email with specific instructions.
1. All journalists will need to stay in the same area, there will be no wandering freely.
2. For safety, media must stay 20 feet back from the stage and 10 feet away from towers and any construction.
3. Pictures are not permitted until verbally directed to do so. Cameras must stay in bags until then or you will not be permitted in.
4. Anyone arriving after 10:50am, will not be allowed to participate.
5. Live remote broadcast cannot be done inside the venue.
From Gate K, our quite casual group of 30 were ushered in the venue where a hundred roadies were still constructing lighting towers and video screens.
For anyone who had never been to a big show, it would be overwhelming. I’ve been to hundreds of shows and I was still overwhelmed at the size of everything. I wondered “how many people are getting paid to do all of this!”
There were 30 of us meeting with Dale - that’s it. I’m not sure why he bothered when tickets were already sold. There was really no benefit to meeting us. Surely he had better things to do than meet with journalists and wannabees.
For safety reasons, we weren’t allowed to wander or go anywhere near the stage. We stayed in a huddle, like a pack of new born birds in a nest, waiting to be fed.
CTV sent their Toronto superstar Austin Delaney who insisted he get the first question. I had a few questions about how stuff worked. I wondered what a regular media guy would ask.
Here it is. “What’s it like....(pause)...being on the road with the Rolling Stones.” What a stupid question! Of all the questions you could ask the guy who runs the entire production, and that was it?
The production guy Dale, rolled his eyes, paused, then smiled and said, “It’s awesome!”
Any more questions? I waited for the stupid questions to run out, then it was my turn.
“How does the leap-frogging work?” Dale the production guy seemed to like the question.
“Everything made out of steel is duplicated, so while Burl’s Creek is being assembled, another complete set is being shipped by truck to the next city.” Everything? Audio, lighting? Video? I tried to differentiate what was steel and what wasn’t. Turns out that audio and lights are not made of steel.
Next question. “With four bands on stage before the Stones, when do the Stones do a soundcheck?” Dale answered - there is no soundcheck. I said, “No soundcheck? How do you know everything works?” Dale answered “It works”. He had a cocky smile. He wasn’t going to tell me how it worked.
Next question. “I’ve noticed by Keith and Ronnie don’t have a pedal board for their guitars. How does that work?” Dale answered - “They don’t need them. They’re so good, they just plug into their amps.”
Now, I’m not a guitarist but I know enough that the not every song sounds the same. He wasn’t going to answer that either.
Dale didn’t like my questions, and there was no further explanation. I never found out the answers to either question. It was cool to be invited to a Production Meeting and meet the guy who oversees the entire show. It was lousy that I didn’t learn anything. Other than, they were using a million watts. In the middle of a field. Using a generator! Gosh, a million watts.
I met the personnel coordinator and asked how many people travel by plane. 85. Holy smokes!
Here’s the other information they provided by email.
STRUCTURE AND DESIGN
The 4 monolithic towers of LED screens, each standing 22m tall above the stage, give the set its clean and unique silhouette.
A massive 12m cantilever clear span roof encases hundreds of moving lights in each of its structural fingers, providing a spectacular light show for the stage below.
A central catwalk and B stage shaped takes the action deep into the audience and complements the minimalist approach of the tour's set design.
No Filter is the name of the tour, and despite the extraordinary scale of the design, the show is as simple and direct as any they have made in the past 50 years."
Stage dimensions -200 feet wide
170 feet deep (end of runway to back stage deck edge) 75 feet high
Runway 85 feet long
Stage deck area 1,600 square meters
Towers 4 @ 22 meters high
Roof with 12 meter cantilever
PA frames with 6 meter cantilever
Video 36,000kg of LED screens
19.7m high x 11.6m wide
936 pixels wide
1,584 pixels high
Total LED screen area 915sqm
Total LED screen pixels 5,930,496
Sound 15,000kg of audio
200 flown speaker cabinets
282 moving lights
? stationary lights
Steel 2 (leap frogging) systems & crews
Trucks & buses 70
Stage build: Day 1 site coordinator & local promoter in
Day 2 steel load-in
Day 3 steel build
Day 4 steel build
Day 5 production load-in, lighting focus
Day 6 sound & line checks; show, production load-out, steel load-out Day 7 all personnel out
Power - Tour carries its own power
2 generator semi-trailers
Thanks to that digital sign on Highway 11, there wasn’t a soul in Central Ontario who didn’t know the Rolling Stones were coming to town. All of my friends who knew my love for the band were as excited as me - for me! A few other friends asked me, “So are you going to the show?” And, another friend asked, “Are you going to stay home and listen from your patio?” Several witty comments rushed through my mind.
Friday, the Stones Facebook page announced a reduction in ticket prices. Huh? Was the show not sold out? Maybe the high prices scared people away? General admission was now $100. That was nuts! You could see the Stones, from the General Admission peasant area for only $100. Why would anyone NOT do that? For fun, I checked with Ticketmaster to see if there were any unsold Pit Tickets. There were! For $600! Half of what I paid. I decided to just forget about that and enjoy this once in a lifetime event that was surely worth the cost.
It was a beautiful sunny day. Not even a cloud.
The gates opened at 2pm and the first opening band hit the stage at 3pm, or so it was scheduled. I was not there. The thought of standing in a field, in the summer heat all afternoon wasn’t a good idea. None of the four support bands had starpower. I was content to have a quiet dinner by the lake and then wander over to see the Greatest Rock and Roll Band In The World.
The western breeze took the 8th Line sound over Oro. I could hear a low rumble from the subs as the afternoon bands performed. Later that night, Janice said the sound was so clear she could identify each Rolling Stones song.
Those opening bands were playing on the Rolling Stones stage! What a resume moment! Did they get paid? Did they play for free for the honour? Maybe THEY paid to play. When I managed Anthem For Today, I was able to score a gig opening for the Newsboys! But, I found out, we wouldn’t be paid. In fact, we would pay THEM $5,000. (I declined the offer.) So, to open for the Rolling Stones what would a band pay? $10,000, $50,000? And on the business side, this would be revenue for the Rolling Stones.
I had thought of biking to the venue and avoiding the chaos of 10,000 vehicles on our small country roads, but we actually drove. From Shanty Bay Road we got on Line 8 and headed north at 6pm, for the 8pm show. The traffic northbound was stopped. The traffic southbound was empty - just the odd production vehicle. Oh...and...a limo. One. Two. Three. I lost count!
Just as I expected, the band had been dropped off by limo at the backstage gate on the 8th Line around 6pm. Now their limos were whizzing past us!
Janice dropped me off at Gate K where I was Friday morning for the production meeting. We decided I would phone after the show and we would choose a rendezvous, likely on Highway 11, north, while everyone else was clogging up the country road on the 7th, 8th and 9th lines.
My ticket got me into the Right Pit. That was the section in front of the Gold Circle - closest to the stage and still capable of holding 1,000 people. When I got to the entrance, the wrist tickets were gone. I guess they didn’t print enough and they were giving us “home made” wrist straps. Kinda hokey and not much of a souvenir.
I walked the same route as Friday, past the hundred portable toilets and the really large beer tent and the massive line-up for merch. I decided I’d order my merch online and just put myself in the Pit, squeeze as close to the stage as possible and attempt to not get pushed out.
The sun was still up and the last band was still playing.
I weaseled my way over to the fence that separated the Pit crowd from the runway stage. I was literally six feet from the runway. The runway stage was eye level - so six feet high, with a wedge monitor and fan blower about every ten feet. Between the runway stage and the fence was a four foot aisle for security, photographers and Mick’s personal security guy. There was a volunteer security person every ten feet.
The floor wasn’t the natural grass field. Production laid down strong plastic interlocking floormats. The entire pit had a portable floor surrounded by a steel barricade. Everyone in the pit was over 40 - nobody was pushing anybody. It was friendly, casual. A lot of cottage chatter and memories of seeing the Stones in the 80's, or 70's.
I looked up at the stage. Four jumbo digital screens were now lit, crisp colours not even washed out by the bright sunlight. A clear plastic roof of sorts covered the backline gear from potential rain while Mick, Keith and Ronnie would be downstage and not covered.
As we waited through intermission a helicopter flew over the site. The crowd went nuts, thinking it was the Stones coming in for a backstage landing but it never did. I’m guessing it was probably CTV news. I already knew where the band was.
THE SHOW BEGINS
As the sun disappeared behind the park trees, the stage, facing southwest, began to light up. Giant fans blew smoke across the front of the stage and the spotlights were absorbed like a rainbow. The intro track and video played - and it was just for us. An electrified version of “O Canada” played and animated red maple leafs melted down the giant video screens. As the final few bars of “O Canada” rang out, Keith popped up at the back of the stage. I was already smiling!
“Street Fighting Man” opened the show and then...there he was! He was...right there!
I mean, Mick was standing 50 feet away from me and getting closer with each song.
He danced out to the runway but as usual, stopped at the lip of it. With each song he would come out a little further, teasing our cameras. I was positioned closer than halfway to the stage from each end of the runway.
As Mick danced out to where I stood, he was in total “Mick Jagger character.” It was impossible to take a bad photo because he was “on”. He was...right there! (I’m crying right now as I write this, feeling the emotion of the closeness to my rock and roll hero.)
The lights from the field tower lit up the entire stage. White runway lights were staggered between the runway wedge monitors, lighting up whoever was walking out.
As Mick danced along the runway, a man in black walked beside Mick, below, in the shadowy aisle. He was about 40 years old, probably a lethal weapon and likely packing a firearm. I knew about this guy from having watched the concert videos. I realized I should not make eye contact with this guy or I’d be bounced out before I knew it.
Mick ran the runway countless times. Keith and Ronnie once or twice. And all four of them walked past me to the end of the runway, where they performed on the “alternate stage” without the back-up singers and other musicians. After the stripped down versions of “Angie” and “Dead Flowers” they casually skipped and giggled along the runway back to their key positions on the main stage.
At the junction of where the runway and the stage met, in the T to the right, I could see a video teleprompter for the lyrics and messages from roadies - kinda like an Instant Message - and prepared bits, like the one Mick said about Premiere Doug Ford. I could see Mick looking down at the monitor as he localized his thoughts for the 70,000 fans who got a chuckle out of Mick’s interest in Ontario politics.
I got a text from a friend - where are you? And another. They sent me a photo of their view - which was far, far, far back. I was embarrassed to respond with my ridiculously close view, but the embarrassment went away as quickly as I hit send.
A man my age, his wife and their daughter stood next to me. The had enjoyed their $11 plastic cup of beer. Then, the 40 year old daughter suddenly disappeared. Where’d she go? I looked down and she was crouched on the floor in the darkness. I assume she was peeing.
One thing I didn’t find out, and I’d like to, is if the Stones use enhancement tracks. I don’t think they do as they seem to feel out the ending of many songs.
Joining Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie are a back-up band that has served them on many tours. Darryl Jones – bass; Chuck Leavell – keyboards, backing vocals; Sasha Allen – backing vocals; Karl Denson – saxophone; Bernard Fowler – backing vocals, percussion; Tim Ries – saxophone, keyboards and Matt Clifford – keyboards, percussion, French horn and show introduction voice. I found myself studying Matt Clifford play various shakers when I wasn’t mesmerized by Mick.
This was, without question, the biggest stage production I have ever seen. The manager in me wondered - how many roadies are there back there? How many security people do I NOT see? What’s the payroll for one show? Do they really transport a dressing room of lamps, carpets, chairs and everything in the same place for each show? As much as I know about putting on a show, I felt like a kindergardener trying to figure out the blueprint for this portable city.
Then, it was Keith’s time. He sang “Slippin’ Away” and “Before They Make Me Run”. As the crowd roared, Keith bent down on one knee, the body of the guitar pointing up and he smiled. And smile some more. And then appeared to give thanks.
The sound in the Pit was perfect. The follow-spots from the 75-foot towers kept the area basked in bright light. Mick, Ronnie and Keith were wearing brightly coloured blazers that they later took off. Keith never stopped smiling with his new teeth. Ronnie was as playful as in the music videos, but I noticed, he was playful all night. He never slowed down. Mick, the ultimate rock star, stayed in character, teasing the crowd with hand gestures for the entire show, stripping down to a white Stones tongue t-shirt, that I later bought online. Yes, it’s ok for the band to wear their own merch.
I had the setlist in my phone, but only the first two opening and last two closing songs stayed the same, while the rest of the tunes varied as they swapped songs and included “a B-song request” at each show.
I am admittedly, a bit tired of the classics. “Satisfaction”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Midnight Rambler”. They are far from my favourites. So, I fantasized an alternate setlist - the songs I wanted to hear, programmed by tempo as any radio guy would do, and I posted it on Facebook, telling the world to get my setlist to Mick, in case he was tired of the standard catalogue. It was a great setlist, if I do say so myself.
- If You Can't Rock Me
- Driving Too Fast
- Waiting On A Friend
- Memory Motel
- Hot Stuff
- Hand of Fate
- Out Of Control
- One More Shot
- Lonely At The Top
- Before They Make Me Run
- Doom and Gloom
- Beast Of Burden
- Silver Train
- Tumblin' Dice
- Plundered My Soul
June 29th, none of the songs were more exciting than the next. They were all performed bigger than life except maybe “Tumblin’ Dice.” That’s a still a favourite and more so now, having seen Mick perform it from 8 feet away.
Ten years ago, we would smuggle in our expensive 35mm cameras but now, all you need is an iphone and you still get great photos. Click. Click. I was gobbling up one great photo after another. I mean, I was so close I couldn’t zoom in! It was too good to be true but all those photos (and videos) captured this once in a lifetime memory as I flip through the files right now.
About 10:30 or so, the “Satisfaction” encore played. It is my very least favourite Stones song, but when you’re that close to the Rolling Stones, surrounded by a million watts of power and 70,000 people, “Satisfaction” becomes the best song in the world! It ended, as usual, with a mighty fireworks display from the back of the stage, which I couldn’t see, because...well.... haha ....I was so close.
After the final chord, all the musicians came out for the curtain call. Back-up singers, percussionists, keyboardists, the bassist, the horn section - everyone in a line, with the four original Stones in the middle. On Mick’s cue they took a giant bow, and very slowly dispersed to the stage wings. All that was left with Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie.
The four boys waited as the audience continue to cheer and then took one last bow. Charlie, the quietest personality, grabbed his jacket and the sleeves were twisted and he couldn’t get it on and Keith helped him straighten it out. The guy beside me commented on the funny scuffle.
Mick and Keith waved to the crowd, in giant gestures so even people at the back, somewhere near the 7th Line could still see. Well not really, but you get the idea. They were not in a hurry to leave and neither were we. Eventually, while the cheers continued, they disappeared behind the drum kit. That left Ronnie. Still in his early 70's, he skips around like a teenager in skinny black jeans and sneakers. He was the last to leave, like a kid who doesn’t want to go bed.
CARS AND PLANES
The lights went out and the park lights came on. While fans debriefed with each other, I’m guessing the band was probably already on the 8th Line before I was even out of the pit.
The audience now had to find their car and wanted to beat the other guy to the highway. As everyone else walked a mile or more in the dark to find their car in a field, I walked without problem to Highway 11. Portable lights lit my path and in ten minutes I was at the rendezvous location on the side of the non-busy highway. That’s right - there was no traffic on the highway.
Janice picked me up and as I settled into the passenger seat, replaying the best night of my life, she excitedly said - “They’re at the airport! We’re going to the airport!”
We pulled up to the 7th Line airport and there was a convoy of black limos of all different types - stretch, SUV, cars and vans. On the runway, was a First Air jet, already idling, waiting for take-off. I stood at the fence and watched. Three other middle-aged fans did the same. I didn’t see any police or security. Just several limo drivers calmly chatting. I assumed that the band and crew were already on board.
After about 10 minutes, the plane taxied to the runway off into the west, I’m guessing to Toronto where they would stay overnight and then board their own plane in the morning. I could be wrong.
It was a very surreal day, knowing as much as I do about the Stones and some of what it takes to put on a show - then being the only one to watch my rock and roll heroes jet into the sky...it was magical. It was like a fairy tale ending as they flew into the stratosphere.
Mick and Keith live a life that my imagination will never know.
I paid $1,400 for one ticket to see them from 8 feet away. It was worth - every dollar.