Getting Satisfaction

You've already waited 36 years, what's another six months? The Rolling Stones are finally coming back to Baltimore in February.

August 23, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Fans of the Rolling Stones sometimes do get what they want. Almost 36 years after the group last played in Baltimore, Mick Jagger and his aging band mates announced yesterday that they will bring their signature brand of fast, angry and bluesy rock to the 1st Mariner Arena in February.

It will be the British rockers' first Baltimore appearance since 1969 -- when Jagger was a mere 26 years old -- and officials at the 1st Mariner Arena say it signals that Baltimore is emerging from the shadow of Washington as a premier concert destination in its own right.

"We've proven over the years that this is a good market for concerts, and it's catching on," said Hank Abate, regional vice president for SMG, a Philadelphia-based company that has managed the arena since 1999 and brought in acts like U2 and the Eagles.

Tickets for the Feb. 1 Rolling Stones show at the 12,000-capacity 1st Mariner Arena will go on sale Saturday through Ticketmaster. Prices range from $62 to $162 a seat. The band is also playing Washington's MCI Center in October; that show is sold out.

The Stones played Baltimore three times in the '60s, but the fact they have not been back since testifies to the prominence Washington has taken in concert bookings. With larger facilities, such as the 20,000-capacity MCI Center, and a bigger population base, the nation's capital has been the preferred venue for most large touring acts.

Although Baltimore has recently played host to such major acts as Usher and Toby Keith, it was bypassed by others like Destiny's Child and Dave Matthews in recent years. That's unlikely to change, said Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of I.M.P., a top concert promoter in the region.

"It's just really hard to sell tickets in Baltimore," Hurwitz said. "The fact of the matter is that Baltimore [ticket] sales are generally about half of D.C., and everyone knows it. If you're a band and you want to sell the most tickets you can, you play the market that gives you a chance for that."

He said the Rolling Stones could have returned for a second show in Washington but will be able to create more excitement by coming to Baltimore a few months after their D.C. show.

"The Stones are very, very smart about keeping the magic, and if they had announced another D.C. date, the reaction would have been, `They were just here,'" Hurwitz said. "This is a great way to come back and play the general area again. And it's a great boon for Baltimore. But I don't think it's anything significant."

The biggest recent test of Baltimore's appetite for concerts is Rams Head Live, an 1,800-capacity club that opened downtown in December. Hurwitz said bands that play the club only sell half as many tickets as they do in D.C., but the club's owners say they're pleased with business.

"Everything's going great," said Erin Brunst, vice president for Rams Head. "We continue to announce strong musical acts, and we continue to get rave reviews from patrons and from the musicians themselves."

She said the club has had several sellouts, including last week's show by Bob Weir, a founding member of the Grateful Dead. "The crowds have been showing up," Brunst said.

There's no doubt crowds will greet the Stones' return to Baltimore. Dave Hill, program director for 98 Rock, said many of his station's listeners went through a Stones phase and have a soft spot in their heart for the band. He only wonders why the group took so long to come back.

"It's a huge thing for Baltimore," Hill said. "We don't get a lot of larger acts through here because we end up playing second fiddle to Washington, and a lot of bands just assume that if they play Washington, they're taking care of Baltimore. But that's not really the case. We're our own city, and we're happy the Stones decided to come to town."

The Rolling Stones' last Baltimore show was Nov. 26, 1969, when 13,000 showed up at what was then the Baltimore Civic Center. The Sun reported that some fans clashed with police, and 20 were arrested on charges ranging from assaulting a police officer to marijuana possession.

But, the paper said, "The crowd of youngsters was, for the most part, orderly, although one teen-aged miss leaped into the orchestra pit and nearly climbed up onto the stage before two burly guards carried her bodily to the sidelines."

The Washington Post, in a review of the show, described Jagger as "dressed in black bell-bottomed pants set with metal studs down the outside seam, long-sleeved black T-shirt and a long, red scarf draped across his neck." The paper also called him "the closest thing to an incarnation of evil that rock music has."

The Stones are touring in support of a new record, A Bigger Bang, which is due out Sept. 6 and is their first in seven years. The tour kicked off Sunday night at Fenway Park in Boston and will conclude March 9 in Little Rock, Ark.

One of the most enduring bands of all time, the Stones pioneered a raw, blues-based sound in the '60s that would come to define hard rock and presage punk by a decade.

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