“A milestone in history” – 1990 Prague Rolling Stones concert remembered

Václav Havel and Rolling Stones, photo: CT24

Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of a legendary Rolling Stones concert at Prague’s Strahov Stadium, the first major rock concert in Czechoslovakia following the fall of communism. More than a 100,000 people attended the show, which became a symbol of the country’s new-found freedom.

President Václav Havel himself introduced the legendary rock band to a packed Strahov Stadium on August 18, 1990. It was a special moment for Czechoslovaks, who could finally see live on stage stars they had only read about and whose music they knew from bootleg cassettes.

One of the people who attended the concert was journalist and musician Ondřej Hejma:

“I was a musician at that time, so my goal was not only to attend the concert but somehow get into the band’s orbit and perhaps hopefully meet somebody from the band.

Ondřej Hejma,  photo: Petr Jindra / Czech Radio

“I knew they were staying at the Palace Hotel, so we staked it out with a couple of friends hoping to see one of the members coming out or in and perhaps walk to them.

“We were lucky to finally run into their keyboard player, whose name was Chuck Leavell, a wonderful musician. He was gracious enough to get in my car and we spent the whole day with him. And it ended with the actual concert.

“So it was not only the music, the concert, the crowd and everything, that was fantastic, but it was the personal experience with Chuck that made the day for me.”

Was it a symbolic moment for you, something like a confirmation of the downfall of the Communist regime?

“Absolutely. The revolution took place in November 1989 and the political change was enormous, everything was different, but it was still like a fairy tale, it wasn’t real.

Rolling Stones,  photo: Jim Pietryga,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

“Czechs are known to not trust politicians very much, so we were still not sure whether this was real. And then the news came that the Stones were coming. The Rolling Stones, the enormous capitalist organisation that takes nothing for granted.

“So to us this was a confirmation that we are actually entering the world of free market, democracy and free speech and that we will see it with our own eyes. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Have you seen other Rolling Stones concerts in Prague and what were they like compared to this event?

“Funnily enough, I saw the same show in October 1989 in Vienna. There I enjoyed the music. It was a fantastic music experience.

“But the concert at Strahov, that was a social event, a philosophical event and something like a milestone in history. After that, I went to other concerts of course. But this one was really very special and very unique.”