The Rolling Stones played in Prague 30 years ago today, the first big concert after the Velvet Revolution

A last-minute entry into the end of the Stones’ Urban Jungle tour brought 100,000 spectators to Strahov

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 18.08.2020 12:48 (updated on 07.10.2020)

The Rolling Stones first played in Prague 30 years ago, on August 18, 1990, at Strahov Stadium. It was the first big cultural event in Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, with an estimated 100,000 people attending including then-president Vaclav Havel. The concert, part of the Urban Jungle tour, was advertised with the slogan “Tanks are rolling out, the Stones rolling in.”

At the time, nobody in Prague had any experience dealing with international acts. When the ideas to bring the Stones began to take shape, Luboš Schmidtmajer, the head of the underground club Na Chmelnici, formed a production company called MARS. They were able to communicate with the Stones’ management via a fax machine that Karel Schwarzenberg brought from Vienna. All of the people on the Czech side had limited English, which made negotiations a bit slow.

When the Stones played in Munich on June 2, members of the MARS team went to talk to the Stones management in person. The deal for the show was basically struck, and it was wedged into the end of the already underway tour after a concert in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, and before the final two dates in London’s Wembley Stadium.

The contract was finally signed during the Vienna stop on the tour on July 31. Czechoslovak Television sent a small team including Jan Rubeš, father of the Honest Guide Janek Rubeš, to interview Jagger and Richards, and to create an advertisement for the show under the title “Kameny se valí do Prahy! (Stones rolling into Prague!). Jagger also expressed an interest in meeting Havel, and wrote to him saying he had been following Czechoslovak politics and that it would be an honor to perform the concert.

One problem in Prague was that no ticket sales network existed, and there was less than three weeks to try to fill one of the world’s biggest stadiums. Trailers to serve as ticket outlets had to be borrowed and set up in Old Town Square and Výstaviště, and also in other cities across the country. Tickets sold for 250 and 280 Czechoslovak crowns, which was much less that in other cities on the tour.

The tour used three stages, while one was being used in one city, another was being assembled for the next show and the last one was being taken down from the previous show. The stage arrived in 32 trucks, supervised by a helicopter. It took five days to assemble. The podium was 30 meters high, 72 m wide and 25 m deep. The sound system was half a million Watts, and the show could be heard all over Prague.

The Stones arrived in Prague on a government-supplied Tupolev Tu-154 plane on the early morning of August 17. They stayed at Hotel Palace, which had to fulfill 30 pages of demands ranging from room color to types of fruit and brands of liquor.

Strahov Stadium
Strahov Stadium / via Raymond Johnston

“Prague is a city and Czechoslovakia a country that have always had music in the coat of arms of their culture,” Mick Jagger said just before the concert, according to a 1990 article by Rolling Stone magazine. “And your government has a very favorable attitude toward us and has been very cooperative. We’d like to play in other Eastern countries as well, but we haven’t gotten the support anywhere else.”

In the same article, Richards said he had wanted to visit the country sooner, but it wasn’t possible. “It’s always suspect if a government starts to be afraid of a rock & roll group. Rock & roll is a feeling, a spiritual condition. As soon as you start hacking away at it and warning that someone might be jailed for a song, the music gains other dimensions and becomes an important force. But that isn’t normal. That’s why I don’t like to use rock & roll as a challenge. Rock doesn’t like being carried like a banner.”

Jagger was most interested in touring the city, seeing many of the main sites. On the evening before the concert Havel’s wife, Olga Havlová, invited the members of the group to dinner at a fish restaurant called Na Rybárně. The former fish restaurant is now a Vietnamese eatery, but it has a small sign in a glass case on the outside to commemorate the Stones’ visit.

Richards is supposed to have had five glasses of Czech beer at dinner. He and some others went on to visit Jazz Club Reduta before ending the evening with a party in Richards’ hotel suite.

The former Na Rybárně restaurant, with a sign on the right about the Stones’ visit / via Raymond Johnston

On the day of the concert, the Stones visited Prague Castle for a tour, and they gave Havel a jacket. Havel reciprocated with a copy of one of his books. Havel and the Stones waved to fans from a balcony, which had to be reached by an emergency exit since nobody could find the keys.

The Czech band Etc … led by singer Vladimír Mišík was picked as the opening act. Dan Reed Network, which supported the Stones on other dates, also played. Mišík was so nervous that he brought an empty guitar case, and his sound man had to go back to Mišík’s apartment to get a guitar.

The stage was unlike anything seen in the country before, with inflatable figures and pyrotechnical effects. The Stones began their show with “Start Me Up,” and played 23 songs including most of their big hits. The encore was “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

PRIVATE PROPERTIES

Apartment for rent, 3+1 - 2 bedrooms, 105m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for rent, 3+1 - 2 bedrooms, 105m2

Hyacintová, Praha 10 - Záběhlice

Apartment for rent, Flatshare, 25m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for rent, Flatshare, 25m2

Polská, Praha 2 - Vinohrady

Apartment for rent, 2+1 - 1 bedroom, 63m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for rent, 2+1 - 1 bedroom, 63m2

Šafaříkova, Praha 2 - Vinohrady

Apartment for rent, 4+kk - 3 bedrooms, 125m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for rent, 4+kk - 3 bedrooms, 125m2

Pod svahem, Praha 4 - Braník

The Stones waived their fees and suggested that the proceeds be used for charity, which was significant because the band declined to do other charitable events such as Live Aid. Some 4 million Czechoslovak crowns went to the Committee of Good Will – Olga Havel Foundation. The money was used to help disabled children and purchase medical equipment.

One urban legend about the concert has grown over the years. Tourists will often hear tour guides say the lights that illuminate Prague Castle at night in the city skyline were paid for by the Stones in 1990. Actually, the Stones paid to modernize the lighting in the Castle’s representational rooms including the Spanish Hall, and this was in 1995 during the Voodoo Lounge Tour.

Setlist
Start Me Up
Sad Sad Sad
Harlem Shuffle
Tumbling Dice
Miss You
Almost Hear You Sigh
Angie
Rock and a Hard Place
Mixed Emotions
Honky Tonk Women
Midnight Rambler
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Can’t Be Seen
Happy
Paint It Black
2000 Light Years From Home
Sympathy for the Devil
Street Fighting Man
Gimme Shelter
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
Brown Sugar
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Encore: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction