Some bands, like a warm blanket from a childhood home, can immediately take us to a happier place. They just have that power to change our brain chemistry in a positive way.
The Rolling Stones are one of those bands.
Even if you’re not a diehard Stones fan, everybody’s got at least one Stones song that puts a smile on their face. Now, I’m sure there are technical musical reasons why the songs from Mick, Keith, and Ronnie have withstood the test of time and continued to stay relevant. Our fearless leader, Norm Winer, or one of the many expert musical minds at Noteworthy could definitely explain the Stones’ musical importance. But in addition to all their technical brilliance, in a lot of ways, the Stones’ magic is just in their vibe, man.
I mean, what other band could play Soldier Field while also inspiring Chicagoans to camp out at dive bars across the city with the hope of seeing a surprise pop-up show (that may or may not actually happen). But that’s exactly what happened during the Stones’ 1997 “Bridges to Babylon” tour.
It was September 1997. Chicago was still reveling in the fifth championship of the beloved Chicago Bulls—and gearing up for a sixth. But the true talk of the town that month was the three British rockers descending on the Windy City for two sold out shows at Soldier Field.
Now, any time the Rolling Stones are in town is exciting, but this tour was especially exciting for a number of reasons. First, it was one of the first tours to give fans a “web vote” using a newfangled thing called the internet. Fans who purchased tickets could vote online for a song they wanted to hear during the concert. The show also promised to have one of the most elaborate, explosive (literally), and large-scale set designs of any stadium concert ever.
Those things were nice and probably did a lot to help ticket sales, but what the diehard Chicago music fans were really excited about was the fact that the Stones promised to play as many small clubs and music venues as possible during the “Bridges to Babylon” tour. And for a city like Chicago, where you can walk through almost any neighborhood and find a famous hole-in-the-wall blues, jazz, or rock club, that meant a lot of potentially historic and intimate Stones shows.
Buddy Guy’s Legends, the Checkerboard Lounge, the House of Blues, Kingston Mines, Chess Records. All the clubs where Chicagoans loved to catch new bands, Chicago musical staples, or rising acts became Rolling Stones rumor mills. According to the Baltimore Sun, in the week leading up to the Stones concert, even the whisper of a private show at a music club would inspire people to line up around the block for days. L.C. Thurman, the owner of the Checkerboard Lounge on the city’s South Side (where the Stones played a private show with Muddy Waters in 1981), reportedly would poke his head out of the club’s front door each evening to announce to the crowd waiting to get in, “They called, and they’ll be here in a half-hour!” He did that every half hour until the club’s closing at 1 a.m.
At Buddy Guy’s legends in the Loop, a stockbroker drove an hour from Indiana to camp out in the club with the hope that he could see Mick and the gang up close, “Just the rumors, just the slightest possibility’s enough. I wouldn’t do this for any other band. Nobody here would. But then nobody else is the Stones.”
What club the Stones actually ended up playing at is still up for debate and depends on the rumor you choose to believe. But what’s known for a fact is how the Stones absolutely blew away everyone who saw them at Soldier Field. Even though each band member was well into their fifties, they strutted around their massive stage and played their timeless hits just like they did when they first jumped the pond in the 1960s. The Stones’ sound, their unbelievable stage presence, it all came together for a show the 100,000+ fans who were lucky enough to see it will never forget.
But if you want a real spectacle, catch them the next time they play a club—just make sure they’re going to actually be there first.