Memory Lane: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!”

The bad boys of rock ’n’ roll headline two star-studded shows at Assembly Hall

The Stones at Assembly Hall. Three weeks after their shows in Champaign, the Stones ended their U.S. tour in California, with the infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival, at which four people died and the ’60s met an unceremonious end. (Image by Richard Parry)
The bad boys of rock ’n’ roll headline two star-studded shows at Assembly Hall

It was tucked away on pg. 12 of the Oct. 22, 1969, issue of The Daily Illini—a brief notice, just above the classified ads, about one of the biggest rock bands in the world. It read: “Rolling Stones May Come to UI.”

And less than a month later, they did, for two shows on their 1969 U.S. tour.

The Nov. 15 concerts at Assembly Hall (now State Farm Center) would mark the band’s first appearance in Champaign-Urbana, and for students, anticipation had been growing for weeks. Ticket lines outside campus box offices were so long they had vanishing points. And in The Daily Illini, ads, articles and letters-to-the-editor about the Stones were a constant presence in the days leading up to the shows.

DI columnist Roger Simon, ’70 LAS, summed it up in one simple statement: “We get our Rolling Stones and are happy.”

But on the day of the concerts, many students were unhappy when the evening’s first show, scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m., started more than two hours late. The band’s equipment had been delayed in Auburn, Ala., where they had played the night before, and was still on its way to Champaign well after show time. Unfortunately, Assembly Hall staff failed to explain the delay to ticket holders, who were left wondering if the Stones would ever go on.

Students wait for Stones tickets at a campus box office. (Image courtesy of UI Archives)

Depending on whom you ask, the crowd either waited patiently in their seats or had reached a full boil by 7 p.m., when the concert finally began.  Nevertheless, the audience quickly forgave the late start, and for many future alumni, such as Nancy Claar Flom, ’70 LAS, “it was worth the wait.”

It was a great show even before the Stones appeared, claims Ken Bus, ’72 LAS, MA ’75 LAS. He recalls thinking that the opening acts, B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner, “would have been major concerts on their own.”

When the Stones finally came out, Bus says, singer Mick Jagger “looked up at the shape of Assembly Hall and said, ‘I feel like I’ve been swallowed by a giant clam.’”

That wryness set the tone for their performance.

A popular bootleg copy of the shows. (Image courtesy of NSU Records)

The Stones treated the audience to a mix of new songs and hits, including “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and covers of songs by Chuck Berry and Robert Johnson. For Lynn T. Summers, ’71 ENG, it was the first time he’d heard “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Midnight Rambler.” More than 50 years later, he fondly remembers that night as his “first live blues concert,” a big deal for the lifelong blues fan.

Less fond are the memories of those who attended the evening’s second concert, which was originally slated for 8:30 p.m.

John Matras, ’70 LAS, recalls that “the Stones…started at almost midnight, and we were not amused.” Matras and his future wife, Mary Ann Matras, ’70 LAS, just like the other ticket holders for the “8:30” show, had stood outside Assembly Hall in the bitter cold as they waited for the first concert to end. Despite that, Matras says, “I’m glad we went.”

The same can be said for thousands of other Illinois students who braved the cold that November night to see the Rolling Stones. For most of them, the concerts provided an unforgettable night out—one of many in their college careers.

Of course, it was not an unforgettable experience for everyone. “I have no memory of the event,” jokes Richard Parry, ’70 ENG. “Not because I was high or am suffering from dementia, but because I’m a Beatles fan.”

The DI’s coverage. (Image courtesy of Illini Media)