Start Me Up: My Very First Stones Concert Was a Rite of Passage

(Photo courtesy Jennifer Ha)

My Dad did a killer Mick Jagger imitation in which he put his hands on his hips, stuck out his tush and made fish lips. I had a patch with big, fat Rolling Stones lips on the back of my jeans, stitched on the right ass pocket. We all laughed when my Dad once brought a seat warmer to one of their stadium gigs. When Some Girls came out, I got special permission from my parents to stay up late and watch them on SNL.

As you can see, this love for the Rolling Stones was a family affair.

In 1981, when the tour for Tattoo You was announced, I was finally old enough to go see them in person. The question was with who, and how. They’d only scheduled one date in Florida. Orlando was too far away for me to go with friends unchaperoned. My older brother and sister had left the house, and over the years I had watched them go to concert after concert, to see whatever groups came to South Florida: Chicago, Boston, Bob Seger, Boston, Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd, even KISS! A year apart, they’d usually go together, with friends. The next day, it was mandatory for them to wear the concert t-shirt to school as visual proof that they’d been there.

Such was life before Instagram.

I watched all this excitement from the filter of middle school, and longed to go with them. The Stones wouldn’t be my first concert, but my sister and I felt strongly that sitting in a reserved seat next to your Mom at a Jackson Browne show just did not count. “Until you’ve had to drag an unconscious buddy (my brother) to the medic tent,” she said, “you haven’t really been to a concert.”

So when my sister, who was away at college in New Orleans, suggested we see the Stones when they played at the Superdome in December, I was beyond thrilled. I owned an old but marginally cool second-tier muscle car (’73 Javelin) that had a racing stripe over the hood (hokey). I figured out how much it would cost to drive, but since I’d be alone, my sister and I decided that I’d have to fly. We worried that a frivolous, non-essential trip during the school year might be vetoed, for any number of reasons. I “casually” brought it up with my Dad.

“Sure, why not? You’ll have fun with your sister,” was the answer. I really could hardly believe that it was happening, but embraced the good news with gusto. Glamorous, sophisticated 16-year-old me was going to jet off to a Stones concert! Of course, I told all my friends and promised to bring them back t-shirts.

This was my first trip without a parent. Grateful that my braces had come off the year before, I stayed with my sister in her dorm. We ate at the cafeteria, and she took me to the pub where she and her boyfriend met. We did New Orleans-y things — rode the streetcar, ate beignets, went to the Rock ‘n’ Bowl, and had breakfast at The Camellia Grill. I felt like I blended in as a college student — I wasn’t high school “Jenny,” but a very grown up and sophisticated Jennifer, a would-be college student. Really, I could have just stayed there, indefinitely drinking 25-cent beers on the quad.

The day of the concert, we got there early. The place was huge, and was filling up quickly with other Stones fans. It was a pretty incredible to realize that thousands and thousands of people had come to the same place at the same time to see the same band. I was there because my sister loved me, my Dad loved me, and he trusted me enough to let me go somewhere far away and on my own.

The Neville Brothers opened, and though I like them, the space seemed too big for them, and let’s face it — where the hell was Mick? Once the Stones came on, my sister’s boyfriend went to the floor, and she and I danced, laughed, yelled, sang and watched Mick prance across the stage in a stylized football uniform, pouting into the Jumbotron. It was all over faster than I could have imagined. After the encore, at the end, they released a ton of balloons on to the crowd. I got one, and I talked it on to the plane home. Who the hell takes a balloon on a plane? (Me.)

When I got home from New Orleans, my Dad and I were hanging out and he wanted a full report, with “trip highlights,” as he used to say. “So how was Mick?” he asked, pouting a little for emphasis. “Mick was cool,” I said. “The whole thing was cool.”

“But what about Mick?” He looked at me, and at that moment I felt him looking through me.

“Well, Mick was just a part of the weekend, really. He was a highlight, but not the biggest one.”

And the next day, I proudly wore my concert t-shirt to school.

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2 Responses

  1. Editor’s Note: Lighters Up | Tue Night

    […] Jennifer Ha remembers her Rolling Stones moment. […]

  2. Kate Davis

    I saw the Stones in 1982 at the Wembley Arena two weeks after I graduated from High School. Huey Lewis & The News opened and Black Uhuru seconded. It was great show on a 90 degree day in London! I can still smell the weed that was lit as Black Uhuru strolled on stage…


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