It’s Only Rock & Roll: The Rolling Stones Revisit Jacksonville, Florida

By James Calemine

July 19, 2019…

The Rolling Stones are in town. When they left New Orleans Monday (after bumping the show up a night due to a tropical storm), they flew into my hometown of Brunswick, Georgia, left their plane at the airport and drove to Sea Island. The Stones staying on our own idyllic, coastal Georgia island with their families proved heart-felt. They visited for the privacy…

Sea Island, a very secluded place, counts as one of the 13 barrier islands off the Georgia coast–and close striking distance to Jacksonville. The Stones haven’t played Jacksonville since 1989 on the Steel Wheels tour, which I attended. I grew up on St. Simons Island. I remember hearing “Miss You” on the radio in the backseat of Shane Morton’s mother’s car for the first time in 1978. And when I heard Mick sing, “What’s the matter wit chu, boy?”I thought, holy hell, I never heard anything like that before. I was ten years-old, and I was hooked…

July 21…

Heather Rene and I caught an Uber to the show. We stayed at the Club Continental on the St. John’s River. It was nice. I think the place was built in 1925. I loved the stucco roofs and the medeterranean architecture that is often seen in Florida. The weather announcers on the local TV channels spoke with a gleam in their eye because rarely do they get to discuss the Rolling Stones in the weather report. 

This Jacksonville show was scheduled for April, but since Mick Jagger had heart trouble the Stones postponed the show until now. Which, is amazing in itself, but we’ll get to ol’ Mick in a bit. I’m 51. Since I’ve been alive the Rolling Stones have been stars. They recorded Beggar’s Banquet the year I was born. They are the greatest rock & roll band in the world. I mean, c’mon. The songwriting team of Jagger/Richards proves undeniable.

We caught a bit of the opening show, a band called the Revivalists, but we were distracted by the Stones. They would hit the stage by 9:15, and we wanted to make sure we had time to eat something, have a beer or two and get to our seats. T-shirts were $50, and Bud Lite (which I do not drink) were $15. High dollar, rock & roll here…

It was amazing to see thousands, mostly older people, dressed in Stones garb. However, there were plenty of young folk in attendance. I even saw a one legged-woman in a wheelchair saying she was ready to see the Stones. 

I’d say I’m a pretty big Stones fan, and if anyone has read any of my books they could verify this fact. Their music played a significant part of my life. But, they’ve played a big part of everyone’s life. Their music is the soundtrack to our lives. We go to them in all sorts of moods, situations and phases of life. All these people–in every city–spend their hard-earned money to go see the legendary Rolling Stones. The band stands as a global phenomenon–like it or not.

A few months back, we watched the Stones documentary Ole Ole Ole: A Trip Across Latin America. It’s a beautiful film in every cinematic sense with the landscapes, architecture, food, culture and the Stones mojo in every country they visit. And to see how everyone loves them is pretty amazing. In the documentary one gets a real sense of how appreciative the Stones were towards the fans. They waved from cars, and genuinely did everything they could to show their appreciation.

Images of the Stones from, say 1972, epitomize that classic fuck-all, mayhem-at-it’s-finest rock and roll. And the Stones ain’t always been friendly. They don’t take any shit, and some could argue they are highly intelligent gangsters. That’s why they’re still around. But, the music always spoke for itself. And they love to play. But in Ole Ole Ole they seemed grateful grandfathers (which they all are) to still be playing music, and their gratitude to the fans appeared palpable.

About 930, the Stones hit the TIAA Bank Field stage. The place went ape shit when they hit the opening chords of “Street Fighting Man”. The adrenaline was high, and then they kicked right into “It’s Only Rock And Roll”. It’s always a great feeling to hear an entire stadium singing along to these songs.

I think after the second song, Mick said, “Hey Jacksonville! We love it here. We remember the Gator Bowl!” The Jacksonville mayor proclaimed July 19, 2019, Rolling Stones day. Throughout the evening Mick made local references, and engaged the crowd. I mean, this guy just had heart surgery, he’s 27 years older than I am and he’s in better shape! He’s a force. The ultimate Rock & Roll front man.  Clearly, Mick was happy to be alive, and happy to be in Jacksonville.

They rolled into “Tumblin’ Dice” next. Then, Mick announced this was part of the show where the fans voted for a song they wanted to hear, which flashed on “these very expensive screens”, and Mick informed us “Monkey Man” won out this evening. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” of course brought the house down.

They walked out to the small stage and played acoustic versions of “Play With Fire” and “Sweet Virginia”. Then dark red lights and mysterious smoke appeared, and you heard the opening rhythms of “Sympathy For The Devil”. And man, at that point I realized this was probably the last time I’d see the Rolling Stones. It was sort of a bummer. Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood and Georgia-boy Chuck Leavell all played at the highest level as well as bassist Darryl Jones. 

My mind began to wander. How many hours had I spent in the last forty years listening to their music? We all take them for granted, and they won’t be around forever–no one is around forever.

I watched Keith during “Honky Tonk Women”. He was locked in the whole night. He seemed more serious than I’d seen in footage recently. He had the look of a man who knew better than anyone the price the Stones paid to make it to the top of the mountain. Keith sang “Slipping Away” and “Before They Make Me Run” as Mick took his usual two song break. But even Keith had to watch some folks rush to the restroom during his two songs.  This is something non-artists would never understand.

“Gimme Shelter” kept the vintage Stones vibe going, but I knew we were moving towards the end of the show. “Start Me Up” kept the energy level high–the Stones have their setlists down to a science. “Jumpin’ Jack  Flash” served as the last song of the set. 

For the Jacksonville encore, they rendered brilliant versions of “Brown Sugar” and “Satisfaction”.

In some ways, I felt a little melancholy watching those fireworks at the end of the show knowing I’d probably not see the Stones live again.  But, I take my hat off to those guys. Well, done gentlemen…

Anyone with tickets to these upcoming shows, you’ll get a real spoonful of rock & roll. A strong dose…

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(Photo credit by News4Jax)