Groningen, Netherlands -May 30- June 2, 1999
Woke up at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am. The husband was kind enough to drive me to the airport, even though he was disappointed he was not coming along with me on this trip. Amsterdam would have been his kind of place with space cakes and all that but I needed to feel unhampered on this trip. Ronnie-itis was setting in bad and there is no cure for it, but at least I could be more expressive about the symptoms and cause of this illness when the hubby is not around.
Check-in was a breeze. There was no one there! I was beginning to wonder if there was even going to be a flight, or was I booked on a phantom flight. I got to duty free on time - bought the requisite gifts for my Dutch hosts and boarded the plane. For the little amount of money I paid for this flight I was only too thrilled it wasn't a prop jet but a proper Boeing 757. As the pilot announced the flying time of 4 1/2 hours, I quickly downed a few drops of Bach Flower remedy "Rescue" which I called my Emotional Rescue drops. I was lucky. My row was empty so I stretched out my legs over three seats trying to catch a few winks. Drinks were served so I got up and downed some OJ. Laying down again, the pilot announced turbulence so there I was upright again. We were flying over Turkey now. I tried for the 3rd time to lie down but Patch Adams with Robin Williams was on and I never miss a good laugh with Robin. He reminds me a bit of Ronnie - the crazy sense of humor - the goofiness. Ain't no use in trying - it just wasn't meant for me to sleep (the shape of things to come).
We landed finally and I breezed through as I wisely did not carry check-in luggage. I looked for my cyber-friend hostess whom I had never met before. Everyone at work thought I was nuts. "What if she's an axe murderer". But inside I knew if she was a Keith woman, she was alright. How do you find a friend you've never met. Easy. She held up her Stones tongue glove for me (and everyone else) to see. Finally, at last we meet. We had been e-mailing each other for 5 months previously counting the days until the concert at Groningen. And then I saw it. That hugeKeith tattoo on her leg. She was wearing shorts so the entire airport saw it too. It was also easy to spot her car with the Tongue decal on it. Passing by windmills and canals, we got to her home in Zoetemeer. We hurried upstairs to check the set list from Stuttgart and settled down to watch the Bridges to Babylon video. Later that evening - as it was still light outside at 9:00 - we drove on to The Hague, where I saw the Malievelds park where the Stones played recently and the Kurhaus where the Stones played for 10 minutes in 1964. Then we watched 25x 5 video, suffering silently, while Syl's boyfriend watched for our jealous reactions, through the wedding footage of Ronnie and Keith.
Monday May 31st
Got a late start today. Travelling on to Amsterdam, it took a while to find parking, so we parked on the outskirts of the city and took a trolley to the center of town. Grabbing some bread for breakfast, we trudged on to the Anne Frank House where we waited in line for 1 hour to get in. The line was full of young American tourists. While looking to take a boat tour of the canals in the city, we stumbled on a 50s record/cd shop. What a find! Lots of blues, Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, Howlin Wolf - Rolling Stones roots, if you wish. And I even found and bought an Etta James rendition of "I just want to make love to you." We came across amusic café with the tongue logo and sat down for a drink. While sitting there, some American hippie street troubadour serenaded us with "Like a Rolling Stone". It was starting to seem very trippy (and we hadn't visited any of those "coffee shops" yet).
Sylvia had a taste of a Scone at my urging. "This is as hard as a Stone" was her review of the British pastry.
Cultural differences were apparent when nature rang for me and I proceeded to walk into a hotel lobby. "What are you doing" inquired Syl. "You can't just go into a place like that and use their bathrooms." "WHY NOT???" "Because here it's just not done." Seeing a café a block away, regardless of whether it was done in Amsterdam or not, I trudged in and made my way to the restrooms, much to Syl's embarrassment. "You didn't even buy anything there!!" . No, I didn't but, hey, the quote - "We piss anywhere man" had new meaning for me now.
There were a lot of police around, and Syl began a conversation with one who mentioned a likelihood of a secret gig at theParadiso tomorrow night, Ronnie's birthday. That'll surely screw things up for us, as we were planning to spend the evening in Groningen and a pre-concert party. We sailed along the canals on a boat tour to clear our heads, wondering what we should do.
We caught a glimpse of the famousAmstel Hotel and thought perhaps we'd have a drink over there tomorrow afternoon when the boys arrive, before our trip to Groningen. What a thrill that would be should we have the luck to bump into any one of them in the pub or lobby.
Back home Syl called scalpers, only one of which heard about the secret gig, but we figured out that it probably won't happen because they wouldn't do concerts three days in a row. A colleague of Syl's came over that night to watch the Voodoo Lounge video, listening to us gush over Ronnie and Keith. He had his own serious questions to ask me - "Why don't you like Mick. What is it about Ronnie? What does your husband think of this, etc." vowing never to go out with a girl who likes the Stones because he'll just never be number one….
Tuesday June 1st
The first thing we did today was see if I could get the book "A Life on the Road", something I cannot get in my home town. I found it and bought it - something heavy to lug home on the plane!! In the afternoon we met my reporter friend from the States - another e-mail friend who had seen the Stones a number of times already and was going on the entire European tour. He had not gotten any sleep since Imst last night and said the audience was rather dull at that show. We dragged him to acoffee shop (get a whiff of their menu) to savour the ambience there and spent the next 3 hours talking Stones. He, also, posed that same question put to me last night. "What is it about Ronnie that you like so much." Just confuses the hell out of people, doesn't it, when you don't gush over the lead singer. It was getting late and the trip to Groningen was going to take about 2 1/2 hours at least so we headed out, and checked into our resort bungalow. We found Maas Huis, the place of the pre-concert party, set up by Oeds Jan Koster. I didn't recognize any of the faces there from Glimmer gatherings but Oeds said people were coming. Soon enough a slew of Undercoverlings came in - Greg from Canada, Mayumi from Japan, Richard Fox from New Zealand, and Runa from Holland, just to name the few I recognized. It was like photos coming to life. There were 4 Stones cover bands. The last one was the best and played a lot of old stuff - real old stuff. A TV cameraman was there interviewing people. They focused in on Mayumi and myself and we spontaneously raised our glasses and wished Ronnie a happy birthday. Well, they did spot the Keith tattoo on Syl and I snapped photos as she was being interviewed by Dutch TV. What a waste of a tattoo if Keith doesn't see this one on TV. They interviewed New Zealander Richard Fox, pictured here with Sylvia, who was asked why he liked the Stones so much that he travelled so far to see them.
It wasn't long before Richard posed THE question to me. I kind of expected this by now. "So, Leah, what is it about Ronnie that you like so much - why HIM?" Well, there's a tradition with us that if something happens three times in a row, it becomes a permanent thing. So it looks as if that Ronnie fixation will just never go away. Like a tattoo. Not in this life, nor the next.
The way back from the party, Syl and I groped our way in the dark trying to find our bungalow. We thought we were at the right one and circled it but it wasn't ours. I was hoping the people in that bungalow weren't going to call the police because I could just imagine the description - "It's 2 a.m. and there are 2 intruders circling our bungalow. One's wearing a leather jacket and the other has this huge tattoo…"Yikes!!! We ran as fast as we could to the right house. I'm sure we looked pretty scary then…
Wednesday June 2 - D-Day
Woke up at 5:30. It gets more ungodly by the day, doesn't it? Managed to grab some grub at the local Shell station (just think of the fancy caterers catering to the Stones at their gigs and think of me grabbing chips and tuna sandwiches and water to tide me over for the day). We got to the Stadium at 7:00 a.m. Richard and Oeds were already there. There were about 50 of us on one unorganized line. By 7:30 people broke through the main gate to sit by the smaller gates at the entrance. We were told to move about 4 times by Stadium staff and then police. Then they tried barking dogs, but it was no use. We had our places up in front and we weren't going to move. It was looking good.
I polished up the birthday card I was going to hold up for Ronnie - trying to relive my adolescence.
Crates of beer were being devoured. I couldn't believe this crowd. Israel's Stones crowd would have been a bunch of coffee drinkers and would have been really wound up for the show. Keep drinking, I thought, then you'll all be too drunk and slow to run to the front of the stage. I'll outrun all of you. By the afternoon, the crowd really started to belch badly from all that beer. It sounded like a chorus of frogs at a pond. It kept me laughing though. They were a good natured bunch despite the amounts of beer consumed.
Going to the bathroom was an experience for me too. I had to time the frequency of going - I tried not to drink too much, and hopefully not dehydrate, and at noon made my way through hundreds of bodies hoping I'll be able to find my way back.
Well, I forgot my film that I bought especially for the concert. Rats. I managed to sneak in the camera but what good was that. I explained to Dre that I wanted to just see them without looking through a lens, trying to make myself feel better, but he said he would have taken the photos. Next time.
We braved one heavy downpour around 4 p.m. as some nice "neighbors" handed us a garbage bag to drape over ourselves. Since I was too young to go to Woodstock, this seemed like a taste of it. Security took its place shortly after the rain stopped. We began to shake. I felt as if I was getting ready for the big race. I was frightened of getting trampled to death. It felt like the start of the Running of the Bulls in Barcelona or Pampelona, or wherever it is. I gathered all my clothing, the plastic garbage bag, in case of another downpour. Chairs brought for the long sit-in by the gate, were tossed over the fence and we were scrunched up bad. It seemed like an eternity waiting for the gates to open. And then we saw the other gates had opened before us. We panicked and screamed at the guards because we saw other people already running towards the stage. Now this is very frightening as the thought of not getting front row was becoming more real with each passing second. They began to open the gate very slowly. Too slowly for this bunch. So the gate was forced open by the rest of us and we poured out. I thought I was going to get trampled on for a split second until I went through the gate and started to run. I felt myself weakening as I saw how far the stage was from where I was and was hoping Dre would make good on his word. I got to Ronnie's side a couple of minutes later and over to the middle looking for my hosts. There they were. Right in the front row, saving a place for me. I jumped up and down, hugging and kissing them mercilessly, and screaming that I loved them about 10 times, making all the security guys laugh. It was a dream come true. FRONT ROW!!! YES!! Especially on Ronnie's side. 4 hours to concert time now. 1 1/2 hours before the Stones came on Catatonia came on. It began to pour during their set and we draped our garbage bag over us not really caring whether we saw the back up band or not. It's a drag to have to sit through these bands anyway when you just want to hear the Stones.
Then Syl got into a discussion with me about the security guys posted between the stage and the audience. Syl, who works for Dutch internal security gave the lowdown about these guys. "See that guy" she pointed to a young clean-shaven man of about 25. "This is his first day on the job and probably his last. He's smiling too much and joking around with the people in the audience. He's really not supposed to be doing that." I looked around at the rest of the security men and sure enough everyone else had their hands across their chests looking really mean, macho and tough.
And then it was time for THE band to finally come onstage. The curtain opened, the music began and they materialized onstage to a great roar from the audience. I was elated. The press photographers were in front of me for about 2 songs and left. Ronnie came over to ham it up for them, of course. I managed to make eye-contact for a split second, with him. It was an improvement over nothing at all. This is what it's all about isn't it, to be seen, to be noticed, however briefly.
I could go on describing the set list, the guitar riffs, etc. but that's traditionally more of a guy's thing. I'll go on to the more 'girl thang' stuff. Man, were Ronnie and Mick thin. Mick wore nice shiny jackets onstage and moved so incredibly. He put on a great show, perhaps even more so because the entire crowd was standing and rocking for the entire show. Keith actually RAN on stage to the left side. I'd never seen him run like that. I've never seen him run period. B-stage - I'll talk about riffs here because Ronnie did kick some bad ass on Midnight Rambler. This was his best song for sure.
I had a sign (I had to do this uncool fan thing because it was the only way I could wish the man a happy birthday) wishing Ronnie a happy birthday (it was his birthday the day before). There was much ado about Charlie as it was actually his birthday on the day of the show. The audience even sang Happy Birthday to him, and I felt sad for Ronnie because no one officially recognized his day.
Then this strange bit was happening to me from the onset of the show. When Lisa and Bernard came onstage, they immediately saw my sign as I was in the front row directly in front of them. They pointed to it a few times and spoke animatedly amongst themselves. I felt so weird. Sylvia, am I wearing clothes? Is my outfit on backwards? Do I have food on my teeth? Did I put my lipstick on my eyelids by mistake. Why are they doing this? I didn't know why the stupid sign would cause this kind of attention. Ronnie came over, she said something to him, and ruffled his hair. I would have liked to think that since all the attention was directed at Charlie that day that Lisa may have said something along the lines of "there's one for you - Ronnie dear". Who knows. Another mystery.
Throughout the concert, the intense eye contact I wanted to have so badly with Ronnie did not materialize, but it did happen surprisingly with Bernard. Many times I saw Bernard looking directly at me. His gaze was so penetrating. I was dancing a lot as I had all this empty space in front of me, so we "hand-gestured" back and forth. It was quite a nice experience for me and almost made up for the fact that I didn't slap hands or eyes with Ronnie this time around.
And then it was all over. As soon as the band left the stage, I sank into an immediate depression, worrying and wondering if I'll ever see this band perform again. If so - to the b-stage next time…
To see my Athens Stones' page (September, 1998) clickhere