(Editor‘s note: This article was originally published on Oct. 23, 2006, the day after the Rolling Stones’ first-ever appearance in Austin. The band will play its second concert here on May 24 at Circuit of the Americas.)
By Michael Corcoran
"What a fantastic night!" Mick Jagger said early in the Rolling Stones set at Zilker Park Sunday night. "It's our first time in your fair city. We're virgins of Austin!"
That condition was rectified with a truly magical show that had 42,000 fans on their feet throughout, chanting "I can't get no!" during "Satisfaction" and singing the middle of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" so loud that they must've heard it all the way to Ben White Boulevard. Meanwhile, pockets of Barton Springs Road, where the massive main video screen could be seen between trees, were packed with fans not wanting to let the chance to hear true rock ’n’ roll legends in their hometown pass them by.
"The Rolling Stones in Austin!" one young freeloader exclaimed, hugging strangers.
This was a concert for all of Austin, not just those who paid to see it.
Forty-two years after their first U.S. tour, "the world's greatest rock ’n’ roll band" seemed on a mission as it came to a music Mecca. But first the Stones made Austinites wait even longer, with a torturous one-hour-and-20-minute set break after support act Los Lonely Boys left the stage.
Maybe they were working up Waylon Jennings' "Bob Wills Is Still the King," which Jagger introduced as "a song we've never played in front of anybody before." When Jagger sang "It's the home of Willie Nelson, the home of Western swing/It don't matter who's in Austin, Bob Wills is still the king," the crowd hooted and hollered with titanic Texas pride.
Backstage before the show, band members mixed with Austin's elite. "We've just met Lance Armstrong and Andy Roddick," the uncharacteristically chatty Jagger said at one point. "Not as a couple, mind you." They also mentioned meeting Mayor Will Wynn, who looked his hippest in a lime green shirt. Maybe they were just buttering up the authorities so they could go over the 10 p.m. park curfew.
"This is such a big deal for the city, to host the ultimate rock band," Wynn said backstage. "The economic impact is like a Longhorns home football game — about $25 million — and we're also getting $300,000 (from the Stones) for our parks department. But perhaps best of all is seeing so many people having a great time here in Austin."
There have been concerts in town with larger crowds, from the 1974 ZZ Top show that drew nearly 80,000 to Memorial Stadium to last month's Austin City Limits Music Festival, which played to audiences of 65,000 each day. In terms of lasting influence, there's never been a more notable local concert than 1973's Dripping Springs Reunion, a mix of Nashville superstars and outlaw country upstarts that begat Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic.
There have also certainly been tougher tickets — $95 general admission tickets didn't sell out and were going for as low as $30 online.
Once inside, however, to see the scale of production and to know that later in the evening the Rolling Stones would be on that skyline-dwarfing stage, fans could sense that they were about to become part of something more than the live DVD recorded of the event. They can now say that they were at the most significant concert in Austin history — and not just because at about $4 million in ticket sales, it was easily the highest-grossing local concert. There was something special in the air. There's never been a louder, more blissed-out crowd at a local show.
On this "Bigger Bang" tour, the Stones have been playing mostly football stadiums. Zilker is the only city park on the itinerary, but for many Stones fans in their 40s, 50s and 60s, such a bucolic setting was not optimal, especially because general admission ticket holders had to stand or sit on the ground. Many fans, such as Alice Spencer, 45, of Austin, considered selling their tickets after learning that folding chairs were not allowed. But when Sunday came around, Spencer's attitude changed. "We've decided to just tough it out," she said. "I've never seen the Stones before, and this could be my last chance."
Laura Figueroa, 37, wasn't planning to attend the concert until two hours before showtime. "It just seemed like an odd venue for the Stones," she said. "But the day was so beautiful that I couldn't stay away."
Wynn was clearly overwhelmed. "I've now two-stepped in Austin to Mick Jagger covering a Waylon Jennings song about Bob Wills. I can die now," he said.