Gronvold: Rolling Stones in Winnipeg
Speaking of 50-year anniversaries, it’s been a half century since I saw the Rolling Stones at the Winnipeg Arena on July 14, 1966. The ink on my RHS diploma had barely dried when I decided to make the 4-hour drive and take a sort of mini-vacation (or “holiday” as our neighbors to the north call it, eh?).
Trivia answer: The Beatles first set foot in Canada at the Winnipeg Airport in August of 1964 on a refueling stop from London to Los Angeles that attracted 1,000 fans to the airport when the news got out. The Fab Four never played “the Peg,” but they did do a doubleheader in the Twin Cities in ’64 and ’65
The ’66 Winnipeg gig was the Stones’ first appearance in Western Canada. I didn’t know what to expect because I had never been to a big-time rock concert before, not counting the two Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars events that I had attended in Minot. My parents had taken me to see Louis Armstrong and Liberace in Minneapolis when I was a kid, but this would be my first solo experience.
The Rolling Stones burst onto the music scene in 1962 on the heels of the Beatles in what would be known as the “British Invasion”. Whereas the Fab Four’s image was that of neatly-coiffed teddy bears, the five-man Rolling Stones were the anti-Beatles in dress, musical style and lyrics. Although the Beatles had a head start on the U.S. record charts, the Stones soon followed with minor hits that were “covers” of songs that had been performed by mostly R&B artists. Their first No. 1 hit in the UK was a cover of Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” in early 1964, but it only made it to #26 in the US. Later that year “Time Is on My Side” charted No. 6 over here but couldn’t crack the British charts. Then came Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster”, which went to the top of the pops in Britain but was ignored over here. A cover of the Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk” hit No. 1 in Australia, but failed to chart anywhere else in the world. Go figure.
Finally, in May 1965 the iconic “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” went to No. 1 in the world and the rest is musical history. It established the Rolling Stones as a rock dynasty and Keith Richards and Mick Jagger as one of music’s all-time songwriting teams. When the Stones played Winnipeg in the summer of ’66, they had added more hits at or near No. 1 in America, including “Get Off My Cloud”, “As Tears Go By”, “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Paint It Black”, all penned by Jagger/Richards.
I arrived at Winnipeg Arena that Thursday night in mid-July, 50 years ago, expecting to sit down for a two-hour concert. Man, was I in for a shock.
Winnipeg Arena was a big-time venue that hosted music and sports events, including Winnipeg Jets hockey. It had a large floor surrounded by a long horseshoe-shaped seating area and upper deck. There was a stage at one end with a big dark blue curtain which had been pulled back for the Stones’ performance.
Concert organizers had built a 7-foot high platform extending from the stage onto the floor of the arena and had roped off an area as large as that used by Billy Graham for the invitation time in one of his crusades. There were a few dozen policemen scattered about, but the main security consisted of beefy civilian guards dressed in long white aprons and white hats whose attire resembled that of a British greengrocer.
I sat in the balcony about 20 yards from the stage. An entire seating section to my right was left empty to provide further security. I had no idea why this would be necessary, because the audience on my two visits to Minot to see Dick Clark’s acts had been polite and reserved.
When Jagger, Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were introduced, the large crowd went absolutely bonkers. As the first notes of the first number began, young people began trying to break through the barrier of linked arms down on the arena floor to try to get to the group. Then more kids stormed into the vacant seating area to my right and some actually climbed down on the curtain to the stage where, as their fellow floor-based fans had been, they were roughly tackled and led away, some by the hair. I spent about 40% of the time just watching the floor show.
The Stones played at a sold-out Orlando Citrus Bowl in June of 2015. The Orlando Sentinel remarked that Stones fans had aged over the years. I met a middle-aged fellow a few months later who had attended the concert and I asked him how the crowd behaved. “Polite and reserved,” he replied. I recalled my 1966 experience and marveled that the Stones are still rolling as we speak.
Gronvold has had the satisfaction of penning memories in this column on a regular basis, and this won’t be the last time. The Stones were often featured when he deejayed RHS sock hops 50 years ago.