When the Rolling Stones Played a Free Concert in Havana, Cuba

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The Rolling Stones backstage before their concert at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Photo: Dave J Hogan

The Rolling Stones backstage before their concert at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo: Dave J Hogan; used with permission)

In 2016, the Rolling Stones toured Latin America and finished up the visit with a free concert in Cuba. Two films were released later that year—one documenting the band’s tour of LatAm and the other a concert film shot during their historic visit to Cuba. Havana Moon—The Rolling Stones Live in Cuba is a visual record of the band’s free performance at an outdoor venue for more than a million Cuban fans on March 25, 2016.

Both films were directed by Paul Dugdale—who has also worked with Elton John, Paul McCartney, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Lenny Kravitz, among many others—and answered some questions exclusively for Best Classic Bands about the challenges he faced and the Cuban audience’s reaction to the Stones.

Best Classic Bands: What kind of cultural differences of the Latin American audiences (versus U.K. and U.S.) jumped out at you?

Director Paul Dugdale

Director Paul Dugdale

Paul Dugdale: U.S. and U.K. audiences can be incredibly passionate of course but over the duration of the Ole tour, some of the Latin American audiences where honestly the best I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched a lot of shows in a lot of countries over the years. Argentina in particular was crazy. Unrivalled energy passion and enthusiasm for the full two hours. It was incredible to witness and I hope our coverage does them justice in the film.

BCB: How big was your production team?

PD: Our core team touring was just 6. It expanded to 9 when we did the stadium performance shows and of course expanded again to many more once we reached Cuba. Olé Olé Olé! was an incredibly logistically complex film to make as we were in multiple countries with multiple contributors and filming multiple gigs all back to back, so its a complete team effort to pull something off like this. The team I have are total heroes.

[Our interview continues below…]

Watch the Stones perform “Brown Sugar” in Havana

Havana Moon, whose title comes from a Chuck Berry song, includes the current lineup of the Stones running through such classic rock staples as “Brown Sugar,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Paint It Black,” “Start Me Up,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” (Full track listing below.) The title is available on DVDBlu-ray and 3-LP/DVD combo.

Watch “Paint it Black” in Havana

BCB: What challenges did you face filming in Havana that you hadn’t foreseen?

PD: Cuba is a challenging place to make a film like this but far from impossible. I’m lucky enough to work with some very talented and patient people who worked hard with local Cubans to execute the logistical and technical aspects of the production. There were many difficulties along the way of course, not only in Cuba but on the whole tour, so a job like this is like a puzzle, and I’m happy that the team at JA Digital, as well as our local cuban contacts were excellent at solving them. The biggest problem to overcome on this project was President Obama visiting Havana on the same day as the band had scheduled to play the show. That was a tricky manoeuvre and we genuinely thought they might pull the gig completely. It was very touch and go for a few days and myself and Sam Bridger the producer sweated about whether we even had an ending to our film!

BCB: What was the audience’s reaction to the Stones from your point of view?

PD: The Cuban reaction was one of wonder and passion. It felt very special to be there at that moment. I guess that’s what sets this apart from some of the other performances I’ve shot. For us it’s the capturing a moment in history rather than just another live show. I feel so lucky to do this job when you realise you have captured something so special. To help make it possible for people to be able to relive that night is such a buzz.

Havana Moon Track Listing
1) Jumpin’ Jack Flash
2) It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)
3) Out of Control
4) Angie
5) Paint It Black
6) Honky Tonk Women
7) You Got the Silver
8) Midnight Rambler
9) Gimme Shelter
10) Sympathy For The Devil
11) Brown Sugar
12) You Can’t Always Get What You Want
13) (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Watch “Out of Control” with a cast of hundreds of thousands from Havana Moon

The Havana concert, the first by a major rock band in the island nation, closed out the band’s Olé America Latina tour, the subject of Dugdale’s other film, The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America which premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.

Watch the trailer for The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America

Tickets to the Stones’ 2024 tour are available here. The historic Havana concert is available for purchase here.

Related: Our 2019 review of a “spectacular” Stones concert

Best Classic Bands Staff

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