45 Years Ago: Rolling Stones Stage Benefit Concert for Nicaragua Earthquake Victims
The Rolling Stones lifted their unofficial ban on doing benefit concerts on Jan. 18, 1973, when they performed to aid the earthquake victims of Nicaragua.
A month earlier, the Nicaraguan capital of Managua was rocked by a quake that killed more than 4,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Mick Jagger and then-wife Bianca, who was born in Nicaragua, flew relief supplies to the disaster zone shortly after the quake. The concert at the Forum in Los Angeles raised more than $350,000 for the ravaged country, the highest-grossing rock benefit at the time.
The show's producer, Bill Graham, explained in Rolling Stone how the show was organized. "I reserved the Forum weeks ago, right after the Nicaraguan disaster," he said. "It was a basic situation, one and one make two: Jagger is married to a Nicaraguan lady; Chepito [Areas, timbales player for Santana] is from Nicaragua also, so I contacted the Stones and Santana people. The Stones were immediately extremely favorable. They themselves were thinking of doing something."
Comedians Cheech & Chong planned to take part in a "Latinos for Latinos" benefit but ultimately joined the Stones' show. The target was to raise more than $500,000 from ticket sales; the best seats were priced at $100. Hordes of fans camped outside the Forum for days, but by the afternoon of the show, 500 of the $100 seats were still available. Graham knocked the ticket price down to $25. By show time, 70 seats remained unsold.
Watch a 1973 Report About the Rolling Stones' Benefit Concert
"I expected the $100 tickets to be bought by the record industry and the Beverly Hills heavies with the 16- and 17-year-old daughters," Graham told the Los Angeles Times. "They were tax deductible and all that. But it didn't happen. Some record companies did support the concert, but some did absolutely nothing."
Santana opened with "Going Home" from their 1973 Welcome LP. Their 11-song set, largely rock-Latin fusion rather than the spiritual jazz Carlos Santana would record with John McLaughlin, lasted at hour and closed with "Toussaint L'Ouverture" as an encore.
Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin followed with a 20-minute stand-up set loaded with drug references. "The downer freaks are here," Chong told the crowd. "They're the ones facing the wrong way."
"That was really the secret of Cheech & Chong’s success – is that we were able to open for rock bands back in our early days," Chong told Vintage Rock. "In fact, our first gig that put us on the map after we did our recording was opening for the Stones at the Forum when they did their Nicaragua benefit. The audience loved us."
Listen to the Rolling Stones' 1973 Benefit in Los Angeles
After a 45-minute delay plagued by technical glitches, the Stones opened with "Brown Sugar." Jagger flashed onto the stage in a black cape and rhinestone-studded headband. "Bitch," "Rocks Off" and "Gimme Shelter" followed, then the 19-song set took a detour into the past with "Route 66." "Vintage," said Jagger after the applause. "Definitely vintage."
"It's All Over Now" followed, then it was back to the Stones favorites of the late '60s and early '70s like "Tumbling Dice," "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Dead Flowers." An encore of "Midnight Rambler," with Jagger on harp, wrapped up two wild hours of music.
During the show, Jagger made only one reference to the benefit: "I'd really like to thank you all tonight for shelling out so much bread," he said. "We really appreciate it."
The concert ended up raising $352,274 for the Pan American Development Foundation, a disappointing amount since Graham expected to gross more than $500,000. Mick and Bianca Jagger and Graham presented the check at a Washington, D.C., ceremony attended by senators and foreign consuls, one of whom referred to the lead Stone as "Mike Yaeger."
Graham told Rolling Stone that Jagger was "somewhat disappointed that Washington didn't respect – didn't take the time to know who he was. The whole thing was bombastic, there was no real emotion to it. Just these bodies there looking at this man giving them a lot of money. It was a glimpse of politico-rama."