"STONES TOUR '99"
Official 1999 Tour Report
by Jeri Reitz
It began as an opportunity to see England, spend some time with an old friend and most importantly see some Beatles sights. Yes, we would see the Stones twice at Wembley, dine at Sticky Fingers Cafe, and visit some other Stones sights, but these activities were just to be a small part of my much larger experience....
Wow, was I in for a surprise! From the moment of arrival at JFK - to the last good bye to my newfound fellow Stones fans - Stones Tour ‘99 was truly non-stop fun and excitement!
Confessions of a Stones convert? You bet! While there are so many amazing occurrences begging to be recounted, and so many more better left to the memory bank, I have attempted to capture some of the highlights of the "Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Tour of All Time" in this report. There was so much to do and so little time. And so it began..........
Day One: Arrival at Kennedy Airport in NY. My first new Stones friends are "Bouncing Ball" Dave from Phoenix and "Trolling Stones" Jeff from Alaska. I am quite impressed that they had traveled overnight with no sleep in almost 24 hours. Dave soon attracts other new arrivals with his (bouncing ball) Rolling Stones sign (or was it a cardboard drumhead?) and distinct personality. I reluctantly admit that I have seen no Stones concerts, am not a die-hard fan and really prefer the Beatles. Dave and Jeff exchange incredulous looks and assure me that seeing the Stones would change my life. "Yeah right," I think as I wonder how I am ever going to survive a week with these zealots. Shortly thereafter my good friend Angie shows up and is so excited she can hardly contain herself. I have to admit her enthusiasm is contagious, and despite my skepticism I soon find myself becoming caught up in the anticipation of one great adventure. We are cheerfully greeted by Charles F. Rosenay!!! and his partner Danny Levine of International Tours & Events, who distribute the plane tickets and make everyone feel very welcome. Danny stayed in the states to care of business, while Charles takes care of our tour-group.
The adventure begins before we even depart American soil. Fortunately, most of the Stones group is seated together on British Airways so the bonding process begins immediately. While there is a wide range of ages, occupations and personality types among us, the common link of Stones fanaticism knows no boundaries, and before long all but a few of us become fast friends. In fact, our in-flight exuberance reaches such levels of excitement and loudness that British Airways considers throwing us out of the plane -- while in the air! There's an early sign that the rock n roll gods are with us… the in-flight British Airways magazine features the Stones as the cover story, and we all grab souvenirs.
With the arrival in Manchester, England, our group boards the bus for our transfer to Liverpool. Though most of us are dead tired, spirits soar as we make our way across the lush English countryside. The bus trip allows us to get to know one another better, exchange Stones trivia and discuss potential plans for the next week.
Upon disembarking at the Gladstone Hotel we quickly check in and hit the pavement to begin exploration of Liverpool, a necessary stop on any rock `n roll travel vacation. The first order of business is lunch and a quest for the traditional Bangers and Mash meal. Fortunately we do not have to look far as Wetherspoons accommodates us quite nicely. Heading back to the hotel to catch a few hours of sleep we spot members of our group inquiring about the location of vintage record shops. Now this sounds like a bit a fun, so as would become the norm on the trip, we dodge the sleep monster and proceed full steam ahead in pursuit of those hard to find Stones collectibles. Fortunately Joe D. (our record storeowner from New Jersey) is by our side to put his stamp of approval on each proclaimed collectable and to ensure that we are not being taken for a ride.
Back at the hotel, after a few hours sleep we reunite with our group and our illustrious tour leader, Charles, for a brief introduction/orientation. The bonding of our group is obvious at this gathering. We review our itinerary, ask some questions, and follow Charles en masse to Mathew Street. We arrive at the world-famous Cavern Club for our own exclusive VIP dance party with our very own DJ Charles spinning the tunes for the evening. Although we may have known each other for less than a few days, we party like the best of friends. Led by Ginny, Dave, Suzanne and Elyse we sing and dance the night away. Some of us even buy some Cavern Club t-shirts, if for no other reason than both The Beatles and The Stones share top billing! Just when we thought the night was over there is more fun ahead as many of us head out for parties of our own both at other establishments and at the hotel.Back at the hotel, there are postcards for sale. At the front of the rack is a souvenir Cavern Club post card, with both The Beatles and The Stones on top. Perfect. The trip is off to a great start. We’re live from Liverpool! Life is grand!
Day Two: Dawn comes much too soon, but it is the day of the Magical Mystery Tour and the moment I have been waiting for. I wake up, get out of bed, drag a comb across my head (sorry, Beatles humor) and somehow make it to the bus on time. On the Mystery Tour bus we meet Eddie ("the walrus") Porter, the most amazing tour guide, who actually has met the Beatles. He even knows Cynthia, Yoko’s "sister" (an inside joke to those of us who went on the tour). On the bus we listen to Beatles tunes over and over to really put us in the mood. We travel to Penny Lane and pass by Sgt. Peppers Restaurant. We next trek to Strawberry Field, the Salvation Army children’s home, and on to Eleanor Rigby’s grave. In between these major landmarks we visit many of the Beatles’ childhood homes and haunts. Some of the die-hard Stones fans aren't very impressed, but most admit that this IS vital music history. It is truly overwhelming! As we make our way back down Penny Lane I comment to my fellow traveler, Alex, that this is the closest thing to heaven on earth that I have seen. The funny thing is at that moment I really mean it. Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation, maybe it's the excessive celebration, but whatever it is I am totally awestruck. "Can it get any better?" I wonder.
The evening of day two finds us at the Cavern Pub, (across from the Cavern Club), where we are treated to a private dinner arranged by our very own Charles. Soon after being seated we discover that fish and chips is what it is going to be. But if you don’t like it "give your fish to me" belts out my new Stones friend, Nancy. I believe it is sung to the tune of a Stones’ song, but at this time I am not sure. In any event, I pass on the fish and get into the main event of rocking to the band. In the same flavor as the previous night, many of our friends really show their enthusiasm for the Stones. Charles even gets to enjoy several dances. At closing time, we are not ready to call it a night, so it is on to Flanagan's Pub for a few more hours of fun and excitement.
Once inside Flanagan's we find a very lively atmosphere. Wales has lost the football match and several of the Welsh nationals are out for blood, literally. Fortunately, we have a Welshman in our midst, none other than Alaska Jeff. His knowledge of traditional Welsh tunes and enthusiasm for singing them help ease the tension. After a few more hours of sheer enjoyment, reluctantly we leave our new British friends behind as we have an early departure for our next stop, LONDON!
Day Three: Remarkably we all make it onto the bus for our ride to London. The drive is tempered by the Stones memorabilia sale (the infamous "penny auction") with a grand prize of Stones high-top sneakers. Elyse deservedly outbids everyone for the tongue-emblazened Converse hi-tops (a cool promo item from the "Steel Wheels" tour), while "Ticket Broker" Tom somehow manages to out-bid everyone on the rarer records and picture sleeves. Others score magazines and other Stones paraphernalia. We also continue to get psyched for the Stones with customized tour-bus tune cassettes compliments of "Bouncing Ball" Dave.
We arrive in London, where the group splits up into smaller groups. Many are keen on adding to their collections and take off for the International Stones Convention in Brixton, with bands, guests and dealers. Mick's brother Chris Jagger does a set, as do many Stones tribute bands. One blues group featured Kinks' band-member Mick Avory on drums, who played with the Stones before Charlie Watts. The convention is definitely a must for the die-hards, and several of the tour-group stayed at the convention until well past midnight.
Other less committed souls decide to take in the local sites or take a much-needed break (translation: nap!) from the action. A few decided to go see a show on London's West End. I take the opportunity to visit Harrods with my new friend Trish. We are both delighted to have a non-Stones afternoon and find that we have much in common including our love of Bruce Springsteen. We decide that we are going to try to talk Charles into doing a "Bruce Tour" someday! An evening at the Hard Rock serves as a fine finale to our personal first evening in London and is good preparation for the days and nights to follow.
Day Four: Our first full day in London gets off to a smashing start with an intensive Stones/rock n’ roll sightseeing tour hosted by London rock & roll tour-guide extraordinaire Richard Porter. On the tour we get the privilege of visiting several of the Stones’ (and other rockers’) former residences and recording studios, including Olympic Studios. We pass many of the now-famous local sites including the former Chelsea drugstore. Though the drugstore now is the home to a McDonalds, even I get goosebumps as we cover what most of the tour members would undoubtedly consider "sacred territory." On the walking portion of the tour, we visit Jagger’s home, currently inhabited by Jerry Hall and the kids. A few members of our tour-group decide to stop at Crustys, one of the area pubs, to take in a bite prior to the first Stones concert that evening. Halfway into her meal, one of our fellow fans (Stones Nancy) realizes that the walking tour is stopping at Jagger’s home! Frantically, she grabs her purse, grabs a cab and grabs fellow fan JT to make a mad dash to Jagger’s home. As fate would have it, "Time is on Nancy’s side," as she not only sees Mick’s home, but also gets a rare opportunity to see and photograph Mick’s children. Needless to say, Nancy is elated over the close encounter. She is the envy of the group as she recounts her story on the way to the concert.
STONES - THE FIRST NIGHT
As the group makes its way to Wembley for the first of two Stones concerts, you can cut the anticipation with a knife. Prior concert attendees (which include all but a few of us) know from past experience that they are in for an awesome night, and the idea of seeing the Stones on their home turf totally adds to the excitement. I have to admit that I am pretty excited myself at this point and am hyped for my first Stones concert.
Nothing could have prepared me for the event! I’m not sure if it is the crowd, the camaraderie or the Carlsberg, but it is pure ecstasy from beginning to end. Upon entering the stadium, the group takes their assigned reserved seats, only to realize that we must get closer. This will not do! Fortunately, alert and inquisitive members of our group land us some pretty good unreserved seats which enable us to all sit together. And the Party begins in earnest…
First, Sheryl Crow opens with many of my personal favorites. The crowd seems to enjoy Sheryl, but is anxious to see the Stones, the moment we have all been waiting for. Finally, after what is probably an hour, but what seems like an eternity, enters the Stones. THE STONES!! Mick, Keith, Charlie, Ronnie and the rest. WOW!! I now understand, I finally get it, the greatest rock and roll group ever (even better than the Beatles?) is on stage in front of me. My skin starts to tingle, my pulse quickens, I begin to scream as the music starts. I never would have thought it, but I am converted, on the spot. My friend Ang is elated…another soul is saved from a lifetime of rock `n roll mediocrity.
The concert is phenomenal. I find I know the words to many of the songs from the endless background music of the past several days, and thoroughly enjoy myself. I learn the names of the other band members I had been hearing about (and secretly wish I could be Lisa Fisher, at least for a few songs). The only disappointment of the whole evening is when the show is over. Over already? How can that be? Dazed and confused I make my way to the bus, exhausted, but extremely satisfied. My soul has been cleansed. I sleep better than I have the whole trip.
Day Five: The morning after arrives early with a knock on the door. It is Stones Will ready to head down to the Stadium to bid for the opportunity to get up close and personal with Mick and the boys. After a few seconds debate my friend Ang dashes out of the room to join the other zealots eager to camp-out for the armbands which will be their ticket to the viewing spot of preference. Thanks to the expert sleuth-work of tour member Gail, many of the group members are successful in retrieving the coveted bands and are able to meet eye to eye with Mick that night.
There is an organized sightseeing tour of traditional London locales, but a few of us not spending the day at the Stadium decide to take in some local sites on our own. We head down to the river Thames for a cruise. Thanks to "Baker" Bob we board the correct boat and our tour is conducted in English and not in Bangladeshese. The cruise is absolutely amazing as we get a breathtaking view of sights I had only dreamed of, including London Bridge, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, to name a few. Now this is LONDON, I think as I reluctantly disembark from our tour boat. At that moment, I am torn between the desire to take in more of the local flavor or attend the second Stones concert. Even though it has begun to rain, I decide that I can always come back to London, but may never be able to see the Stones again. Common sense prevails and my buddy Trish and I decide to brave the elements for the second concert.
The second night at Wembley proves to be a much different experience than the previous night. As many of our fellow tour group members have camped out for front row views, Trish and I find ourselves alone in a crowd of unknowns. What I soon realize however, is that just as with our tour group members, fellow Stones fans are not strangers, just friends you have not yet met. The rain continues to come down, we don our slickers and quickly assimilate to the atmosphere of the evening. The rain may have put a damper on the physical aspects of the performance, but spirits are definitely as high as the night before. The highlight of the evening for me is when the Stones play "Angie," one of my two most favorite Stones songs (the other being "Gimme Shelter"). What an emotional (rescue) experience! Before I know it, tears are running down my cheeks. "As tears go by," the reality of it all hits me. I am in London, at Wembley, seeing the Stones with my best pal, Angie, and they are playing "her" song. It is almost too much to absorb. I leave the stadium that evening feeling strangely different, as if I have risen to some higher spiritual plane. I also feel sad as this truly may be "the last time" I get to see the Stones and wonder how I could have let all those previous opportunities go by. I realize, however, that two nights in London with the Stones is much more than many fans could ever hope for, and I consider how fortunate I really am.
Back at the hotel, our group gathers around to swap stories and party on with the long awaited sing-a-long led by "Bouncing Ball" Dave. As it would happen, there are many other Stones fans at our hotel including fans from Germany, Sweden, Ireland and, of course, England. We sing and sing and sing until dawn, going on sheer adrenaline and perhaps just a few bottles of fine wine.
Day Six: As I had stayed up the previous night long enough to greet the new day, I decide to forgo the scheduled Stones walking tour and sleep in a bit. Though I have a strong desire to visit Abbey Road, the mind is willing, but the flesh is weak. Later in the morning some other fellow all-night sing-a-thon participants meet in the lobby. I decide to take in some more local sites and head to Piccadilly Circus. Though I did not know what to expect, I am taken aback by the volume of activity in the area. We meet at Planet Hollywood and board an open-air double-decker bus. London has so much history and culture it is truly impossible to even scratch the surface in a short bus trip. I find myself getting dizzy trying to capture good shots while balancing myself on the rail of the bus and at the same time trying to recount the previous nights events to my friend Ang. While I thoroughly enjoy the ride, I am grateful to be off the bus and onto the pavement once again. I had gotten to see Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar square among other things, and feel that for a few short days in London, I had seen quite a lot.
Our last night in London proves to be just as interesting as all the rest. We all assembled at former Stone Bill Wyman’s restaurant "Sticky Fingers" for a delectable meal. Not only is the food very good, the company of Stones fans from far and wide make the dining experience truly enjoyable. Picture more than fifty Stones fans feasting in the ultimate Stones-theme eatery, surrounded by original Stones posters and memorabilia, and sharing the joys of the week. This is nirvana. Following the meal our motley group oops, wrong band) gathers for the purchase of souvenirs and final group photos with "Sticky Fingers" as the backdrop.
Back at the hotel, the realization hits that this IS the LAST NIGHT IN LONDON!! "How can that be," I think? It had gone by so fast. Can it really be coming to an end? I decide to make the most of my last night with my new found friends. Again, we sing and sing until we can sing no more and crawl to bed exhausted, but still not ready to leave it all behind.
Day Seven: The day of our departure begins with the overwhelming chore of packing our belongings which have somehow multiplied several times during our short week in England. Some tour members take the opportunity to do some last-minute shopping while most of us summon what little strength is left in our bodies to get ourselves checked out and onto the bus. The official tour awards are presented on the coach by Charles. "Boston" Bob wins a travel certificate for being the Stones trivia contest champion, in the tour competition conducted by "Professor" Rob. Rob was one of the modest celebrities on our travel vacation - he actually teaches a course on the Rolling Stones and their music in his local university. The biggest and best honor is bestowed upon Dave, voted tour MVP. The infamous "Bouncing Ball" (which mysteriously disappeared during the week) is returned to Dave, the rightful and proud owner, no questions asked. Many of us mill about savoring the last few moments of this tremendous adventure. Too soon it is time to begin descendance back to "real life." However, most of us keep the spirit alive until the very end, partying and belting out Stones tunes on the bus, on the plane, all the way back to NYC.
So, there you have it. Well, actually you have just a small part of the story, because with over fifty of us on the tour, I am sure to have left out many, many significant events. Each of us has our own personal stories and experiences. Then again, this is my story, and "I’m sticking to it."
As I finish writing this piece, I have a wide range of emotions. From one, that I can cross this off of my to-do list and have Charles, our tour leader, off my back (smile), to another of melancholy that I experienced such an incredible adventure and that it had to come to an end. Although we are scattered all across North America, I believe I will stay in touch with my fellow Stones groupies for a long, long time, especially with the wonders of modern technology, and with the promise of reunions. When I feel lonely I just get out my photos, or hit the e-mail, and the memories come flooding back. What a trip!
One final note I need to share comes from our very own Dave, tour MVP, owner of the Bouncing Ball. It will stay with me forever. For no particular reason, on one of our last nights in London, sitting in the bar of our hotel, Dave turned to me and said, "You know, music is always your friend. Think about it, you’re born and there is music, there is music at your wedding and music at your funeral. No matter what happens, music is always your friend." The impact of that statement has intensified over the weeks since the trip. As I have returned to my work-a-day life and somewhat subdued lifestyle, all that I need to change my perspective is "just a shot away." Thanks, Dave!
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