On August 18, 1990, legendary English band the Rolling Stones held a historic concert in the Strahov Stadium in Prague, the first major rock concert organised in then Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism.
Sympathy for the Devil: the Stones come to Prague
After lengthy negotiations spearheaded by Luboš Schmidtmajer, the head of the underground club Na Chmelnici, and his production company MARS, the Czech organisers met with the Rolling Stones in June 1990 in Munich, and the contract was eventually signed during the band’s stop in Vienna in late July.
A Czech television team was sent to interview Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and the former even wrote to former dissident turned President of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel to share his enthusiasm to come to Prague.
Advertised with the catchy slogan of “Tanks are rolling out, the Stones rolling in” with tickets going at 250-280 Kc, the concert was a last-minute addition to the band’s Urban Jungle tour, held between previous gigs in Germany and the two final dates in London’s Wembley Stadium.
Arriving in Prague on a government-supplied Tupolev Tu-154 plane on August 17, band members stayed at the Hotel Palace, a stone throw away from Wenceslas Square, and later had dinner at the invitation of Havel’s wife Olga Havlová in the restaurant Na Rybárně (which doesn’t exist today). The evening continued with a visit to the renowned Jazz Club Reduta and a party in their hotel suite.
On the following day, August 18, the Stones visited Prague Castle and met once again with Havel, exchanging gifts with the former playwright.
“A milestone in history”
In the evening, more than 100,000 fans gathered in the Strahov Stadium, set up with impressive stage effects, to listen to the iconic British rock band known, until then, mainly through illegal and bootleg cassettes. After the opening act by Czech band Etc… led by singer Vladimír Mišík, the Stones would go on to play more than 20 of their songs, including some of their biggest hits, to the delight of the Czechoslovak audience gathered on this historic night.
“This was a confirmation that we are entering the world of free market, democracy, and free speech, and that we will see it with our own eyes. And that’s exactly what happened,” explained Czech journalist and musician Ondřej Hejma, who attended the concert and met with band members.
“The [Rolling Stones] concert at Strahov was a social event, a philosophical event and something like a milestone in history,” he reminisced. “After that, I went to other concerts of course. But this one was really very special.”
Less than a year after the Velvet Revolution that toppled the communist leadership in November 1989, the Strahov concert quickly became a symbol of the country’s newfound freedom after more than four decades of communist rule and cultural and artistic censorship.
Czechoslovakia’s love for the rock band was only further cemented by their decision to waive their fees, with all proceeds of the concert going to charity to help disabled children.
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