As big as the build-up was for the Rolling Stones' appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the disappointment over the band’s cancellation is even bigger.
Booking "the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band" for the historic 50th anniversary Jazz Fest was a tremendous coup. When the festival announced its talent roster in January, the Rolling Stones, spelled out in all capital letters, occupied the entire top line. It would be the Stones' first New Orleans gig in 25 years.
But on Saturday morning, the band postponed its entire 2019 North American tour because frontman Mick Jagger needs an undisclosed “medical treatment.”
So the Rolling Stones will no longer headline Jazz Fest on Thursday, May 2.
A multi-year, around-the-world courtship, months of planning and secrets-keeping, complex negotiations, a template for an entirely different day at the Fair Grounds, a new premium ticket pricing structure, fans camping out overnight, millions of dollars in ticket sales — all of it was rendered moot by the fragile health of a 75-year-old singer.
In a scene right out of the pre-Internet 1970s, thousands of people lined up at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday morning to buy concert…
Sorting out the logistical mess will take a while.
This is not the first time Jazz Fest has faced a prominent cancellation. Fats Domino was to close out the triumphant 2006 Jazz Fest, the first after Hurricane Katrina, as a hometown hero. But Domino, beset by performance anxiety, canceled the morning of the show because he didn’t feel well.
Can't see video below? Click here.
In 2010, Aretha Franklin bailed on the fest a day before she was to headline the main Acura Stage. Rock ’n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis, still recovering from a stroke, dropped out of this year's lineup.
But never before has the festival suffered a cancellation as devastating as the Stones.
In 2006, the festival moved Lionel Richie into Domino’s slot. In 2010, Franklin was replaced by Earth, Wind & Fire. Johnny Rivers will fill in for Lewis this year.
But who could possibly be an equivalent replacement for the Rolling Stones? Unless Led Zeppelin were to reunite, probably nobody.
Paul McCartney is already booked for a New Orleans concert at the Smoothie King Center in May, so he's out. U2 is a next-generation superstar act that has a history with longtime Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis and New Orleans. But U2, like all acts of that stature, plans out its tours long in advance, and it generally performs with an elaborate stage and light show.
The Stones were the ultimate booking for a festival that has, over the past dozen years, presented most major artists from the 1960s and ’70s who are still vital and viable: Elton John. Eric Clapton. Bruce Springsteen. Billy Joel. The Eagles. Fleetwood Mac. Rod Stewart. Stevie Wonder.
But none of them generated as much excitement — or could sell as many premium-priced tickets — as the Rolling Stones.
Had it been, say, Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood who needed medical treatment, maybe the show would have gone on. Bon Jovi replaced guitarist Richie Sambora at the last minute for the band's 2011 Jazz Fest show.
But Jagger is irreplaceable. If he is out of commission, so is the band.
Festival producer Davis declined through a spokesman to comment Saturday on the unfortunate turn of events. But he’s likely as disappointed as anybody, if not more so. He carefully cultivated a relationship with the Rolling Stones camp for years, and he worked extremely hard to bring them to Jazz Fest. He really wanted this to happen.
Landing the Rolling Stones for the 2019 New Orleans Jazz Fest is, in Quint Davis’ estimation, “a Biblical prophecy come true.”
But just as he can’t control the weather, he can’t control Jagger’s health. Having promoted festivals and other events for five decades, Davis has learned to roll with whatever fate throws his way.
Still, this one has to sting. A lot.
What happens next is unclear. The entire May 2 schedule at the Fair Grounds was built around the Rolling Stones. All the other stages were to go dark at 4 p.m., an hour before the Stones were to start up at the Acura Stage.
Tickets in the initial allotment for “Rolling Stones Thursday” were priced at $185 — slightly more than double the price of a regular Jazz Fest ticket. They sold out, with hundreds of people camping overnight for a Louisiana residents presale at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in January.
The festival put more Stones tickets on sale this week, for $250 apiece. Second-weekend VIP packages and WWOZ Brass Passes all sold out quickly because of the Stones.
A statement from the band announcing the postponement of the No Filter Tour said the 16 stadium concerts around North America will be rescheduled, and fans should hold onto their tickets.
But that doesn’t apply to Jazz Fest, a once-a-year event. The festival says that information about refunds will be forthcoming.
Face-value refunds won't help those fans who bought scalped tickets, or booked expensive flights and hotels for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the Rolling Stones at Jazz Fest.
Meanwhile, Davis and his team must figure out what to do about May 2.
Will they try to book some other high-profile act? Will they revamp the schedules on the other stages, or fill in additional bands for the late slots? Instead of May 2 being the 50th anniversary's marquee day, will it become a more low-key "locals day"?
Voodoo Experience producer Don Kelly can relate. The rapper Childish Gambino, Voodoo's scheduled Saturday night headliner in 2018, canceled due to an injured foot. Voodoo was able to find a last-minute replacement in rapper Travis Scott.
"I'm one of the few who can say I've been in the same spot as Jazz Fest," Kelly tweeted on Saturday. "Headliner drops out, it's beyond your control and it sucks. I know they're working hard and will find the best solution available. It's not fun, but they'll handle it."
Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk was scheduled to play on the Acura Stage just before the Rolling Stones on May 2. He was looking forward to performing in front of what would have been an enormous crowd and hanging out with his buddies in "the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band."
“Obviously, it’s a big disappointment,” Neville said Saturday. “My heart goes out to everybody who’s got to figure this out — that’s a tough gig. But if anybody can figure something out, it’s Quint.”
It won't be easy. And whatever happens, Rolling Stones fans likely won't get much satisfaction.