President Obama traveled to Cuba last Wednesday in a historic effort to restore diplomatic relations with our communist neighbor. But Obama wasn’t the only high-profile figure to visit the island that week. On Friday, the Rolling Stones rocked some 450,000 (or 500,000 or 700,000, depending on whom you ask) people with a free concert in Havana’s Ciudad Deportivo de la Habana.
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When the British blues-rock band broke into the music scene in the early '60s, it was framed as poster boys of that era’s counterculture. Its progressivist, transgressive style, long hair, and affinity for intoxicants made the band a convenient enemy of the old guard. The Stones have since become one of the greatest – if not the greatest – rock band of all time. So it’s really no surprise that once international relations with Cuba thawed, the Stones took the opportunity to perform where their music was once blacklisted. To everyone's satisfaction, the two-hour set saw Jagger, Richards, Watts, and Wood perform hits like "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," “You Can't Always Get What You Want," “Start Me Up," and “Gimme Shelter."
The Stones aren't the first international rock act to perform in Cuba (Audioslave played the island in 2005), and three weeks ago, EDM powerhouse Major Lazer held a free concert in Havana. The government newspaper reported some 400,000 people were in attendance to watch Diplo and company do their thing. And more shows are set to follow. The first week of May will see Havana host Musicabana, a four-day festival billed as “Cuba’s coming-out party,” with acts like Ibeyi and Sean Paul.