Bigger bang: How Stones brought their love to town

Days before the official announcement, the closely guarded secret– that the Rolling Stones will play Scott Stadium– was the talk of the town.

Until then, concert promoters and university officials steadfastly refused to confirm that Scott Stadium– which has hosted exactly one concert in its post-expansion history– was going to welcome the rock band of all rock bands.

In a lavish May 10 press conference at Bryant Hall, organizers announced the October 6 show and provided a live feed from New York where the Stones were performing "Start Me Up," "Brown Sugar," and "Oh no not you again," a song from the new album.

So why Charlottesville? And what convinced UVA to allow the Stones, the original bad boys of rock 'n roll, to perform on the hallowed David A. Harrison Field smack in the middle of football season?

"Teamwork" is the party line from both SMG, the company that's going to book events at the new John Paul Jones Arena, and The Next Adventure (TNA), the boutique subsidiary of Clear Channel that handles international tours for mega stars like the Stones, Madonna, and U-2.

When it became apparent the Stones would have a 2005 tour, SMG immediately tried to snag them for a show– but construction on the John Paul Jones Arena would not be complete by the time the tour kicked off August 21.

That's when TNA countered with, "Why not Scott Stadium?" says SMG executive Larry Wilson, then the general manager of the Richmond Coliseum, one of the 170 facilities worldwide that SMG runs.

It helped that TNA's director of touring, Tres Thomas, has been on tour with the Stones three times– and that he happens to live in Charlottesville.

Thomas credits the band with the decision to add Charlottesville to their tour. "This time they decided they wanted to tour places they haven't done or haven't been to in a long time," Thomas explained. "In the [1997/98] 'Bridges to Babylon' tour, they did a lot of colleges and felt a lot of energy. They had a great experience doing that.

"In routing the tour, there was a spot for Virginia and the Carolinas. I was asked for my opinion, and rather than seeing it go to Carolina or Clemson, I suggested UVA," Thomas said at the press conference.

SMG's Larry Wilson made the proposal to Rich Kovatch, UVA's associate VP for business operations, whose boss is Leonard Sandridge.

"His reaction was 'whoa!'" says Wilson. "And when I said 'October,' he said 'whoa!' again.

The only open slot in UVA's home football schedule was the first two weekends in October before the Florida State game on the 15th.

"It's not every day you get this type of opportunity and precursor of what could happen at the arena," says Kovatch. "It just seemed like a real opportunity for the University and Charlottesville area to bring in an act of this magnitude."

The biggest obstacle? Convincing the University its fescue would survive.

"What clinched it," says Thomas, "was the opening of the 2002 'Licks' tour in Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, on a Friday night. They had a nationally televised Monday night football game, with a three-day turnaround."

UVA's David A. Harrison field will be covered for 24 hours with Terraplast, a hard plastic perforated to let the grass breathe. "The field will be turned over to UVA by noon the day after the concert," said Thomas, "and the stage will be out of there by 8pm that night.

"We've done worldwide shows for the Rolling Stones, U-2, Pink Floyd," says Thomas. "There's a level of confidence when we say we can do this."

Actually, there was a moment when the gig seemed doubtful because of the stage, which will go up in the end zone.

"They're renowned for the best stage show," Thomas said of the Stones. "There was a question whether the stage would fit through the tunnel at Scott Stadium– 13 by 11 feet. Everything has to go through that tunnel."

Once it became apparent the University was receptive to the idea, the Rolling Stones flew in their production manager, Jake Berry. "He looked at the stadium, looked at the logistics and venue– and fell in love with it," says Wilson.

It was only in the final days of April that it looked like the concert might really happen. "We wanted to keep it tight between the University and SMG until we got the go-ahead from the band," Thomas said.

At that point, Dave Matthews Band manager and music impresario Coran Capshaw was tapped to market the event. Capshaw's résumé includes the DMB's "Homecoming" benefit concert in April 2001. That event– the first big rock show at Scott Stadium– had 50,000 attendance and just three arrests.

"Very successful," says UVA's Kovatch. "It convinced everyone this could be done."

The Stones' announcement was still so secret, according to Thomas, that Capshaw sent private emails and faxes to keep his own staff from knowing.

Organizers say that the University is well equipped to deal with a sudden influx of people the concert will parallel football games as far as traffic and demographics are concerned.

"This is not," Thomas points out, "a Green Day show."

And if rowdy 50somethings start rocking out of control, "We'll have sufficient medical staff on hand," Kovatch says.

The tour coincides with the release of a new Rolling Stones album, A Bigger Bang, which debuted September 5 in Britain and a day later in America. "This album is the first Keith and Mick have written together since the '80s," says Thomas. "There's a lot of excitement in the industry that there'll be some great new music."

Approximately 50,000 tickets went on sale at 10am May 20 for the Scott Stadium show, after members, UVA students and faculty got first dibs, according to Thomas.

There are four price levels, and the average price for 95 percent of the tickets is $99. The Gold Circle tickets ended up going for $350.

"I've yet to hear anyone complain about not getting value for a Rolling Stones concert," says Thomas.

By the time of the announcement, 40 shows in the United States were confirmed. The rapid sell-out of the Scott Stadium show subsequently led organizers to add a date in Durham at Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium, in the backyard of UNC and NC State.

By mid-September, the itinerary included 61 gigs including Mexico, South America, the Far East, and Europe. Moscow, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Budapest... and Charlottesville.

"You'd expect New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago," says Thomas. "When you look at the places the greatest band in the world plays, that they would select Charlottesville is pretty cool."

A live Stones feed, featuring a buff 61-year-old Mick Jagger, kicks off the Scott Stadium announcement.


UVA and Clear Channel brass announce that the Rolling Stones are headed our way. From left, Coran Capshaw, Tres Thomas, Leonard Sandridge, and Larry Wilson

A version of this story was published in the May 12 edition of the Hook.