Rolling Stones arrive in Cuba to play free rock concert

HAVANA, Cuba – The Rolling Stones flew into Havana late Thursday for the British superstars' first-ever concert in Cuba, state news agencies reported.

Hundreds of thousands of fans are expected to turn out Friday for the free-of-charge gig in Havana's Ciudad Deportivo sports center.

Cuban state media forecasted that about 500,000 people could fill the playing fields, with music industry magazine Billboard reporting that as many people again could swarm into neighboring streets.

With no tickets on sale, it was impossible to confirm the estimates, but a million fans would amount to one of every 11 Cubans. 

The concert – a surprise addition at the end of the Rolling Stones' Latin America tour – was to be the first by such a major non-Spanish speaking group in communist Cuba.

Coming 3 days after a groundbreaking visit to Havana by US President Barack Obama, the event was widely seen as another step in Cuba's emergence from years of cultural, ideological and economic isolation.

The one-party state run by the Castro brothers for more than half a century has long looked down on British and US rock as subversive.

Between the 1960s and 1990s, rock 'n roll was discouraged to varying degrees, leading during the most repressive years to clandestine listening sessions and an underground trade in smuggled records and cassettes.

"A Rolling Stones concert in Havana? It's a dream," said Eddie Escobar, 45, who founded one of Havana's few clubs for live rock music, the Yellow Submarine.

If ideology was once the reason that foreign rock 'n roll was rare, today the barriers are mostly logistical and financial, with few major groups taking on the challenge – and none with the stature of the Rolling Stones.

Organizers told Billboard the stadium-level production meant importing gear in 61 sea containers and a packed Boeing 747.

Even if few Cubans are able to log on to Twitter, the band called on fans to vote via tweets for one of four songs to be included on the playlist: "Get Off of My Cloud," "All Down the Line," "She's So Cold," and "You Got Me Rocking." –