Landing the Rolling Stones for the 2019 New Orleans Jazz Fest is, in Quint Davis’ estimation, “a Biblical prophecy come true.”

[UPDATE: Rolling Stones won't play 2019 Jazz Fest after tour postpones due to Mick Jagger health issues]

Hyperbole aside, Jazz Fest’s longtime producer is correct. As arguably the world’s greatest blues-based rock 'n’ roll band, one that is still a vital, viable force, the Stones are indeed the ultimate expression of Jazz Fest’s fondness for classic rockers of a certain vintage.

But fulfilling that prophecy wasn’t simply a matter of ringing up Mick Jagger and firing off a seven-figure check (although such a check was certainly required).

The yearslong courtship stretched from Sao Paulo to Prague, and was finally consummated thanks to Davis’ connections and AEG’s clout.

After Tuesday’s press conference to announce Jazz Fest’s 50th anniversary line-up, Davis recounted the tale.

For decades, he’s been friends with Chuck Leavell, the Rolling Stones’ keyboard player and musical director. In recent years, Davis has often joined Leavell on the road with the Stones, attending rehearsals and getting acquainted with key members of the band’s camp.

Bringing the Rolling Stones to Jazz Fest has long been one of Davis’ dreams. Leavell, Davis said, was a “big proponent” of the idea.

But for an organization as vast as Rolling Stones Inc., such a decision is no quick or easy matter. The Stones have many, many options other than playing a festival in New Orleans.

Jazz Fest's interest likely never would have been taken seriously if not for entertainment industry titan AEG Live.

Fifteen years ago, Davis’ Festival Productions Inc. partnered with AEG to co-produce Jazz Fest. AEG encouraged Davis to book higher-profile bands and provided the resources and connections to do so.

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New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival producer Quint Davis, center, dances with Mayor LaToya Cantrell as musicians play on stage following the announcement of this year's line up for the festival. A press conference was held on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center.

AEG has exclusively promoted Rolling Stones concerts for years. The company’s point person for those tours is Paul Gongaware, who is a constant presence when the Stones are on the road.

So Davis made his pitch via Gongaware. And it immediately ran up against a major roadblock.

In February 2016, Davis joined 135,000 other Stones fans for two concerts at Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. During discussions about Jazz Fest, Davis was informed that the Stones would not perform at the Fair Grounds without their full stadium production of staging and sound and light equipment.

But at Jazz Fest, every act, regardless of status,  performs in the daylight on a simple, bare stage. “All that energy, where everybody is locked in and you are looking at them – that’s the magic of Jazz Fest,” Davis said. “It happens in the daylight.”

The Stones’ more elaborate production requirements seemed to signal “the end of the dream,” Davis said.

But in December 2016, two months after the Stones performed at the Desert Trip festival in California, the band released “Blue & Lonesome,” an album of stripped-down blues covers.

If the band required its full production to do a “regular” greatest-hits show, maybe they wouldn’t need that full production for a stripped-down blues show.

So Davis floated the idea of the Stones playing a blues-themed show at Jazz Fest via Gongaware. He jokingly promised to commission a bust of Gongaware if the Stones agreed.

After several rounds of discussions, Gongaware suggested Davis meet with the Stones’ managers during the band’s summer 2018 European tour.

So Davis traveled to the Czech Republic for a July 4 Rolling Stones show at a former airfield in Prague (four days later, New Orleans’ own Trombone Shorty would open a Stones show in Warsaw). The concert coincided with an English victory in the World Cup, which translated to happy vibes all around.

The sessions with Stones managers in Prague went well, but the deal was still far from done. The Prague trip “took it to another level,” Davis said. “That meant that we were an actual option. It went through a lot of twists and turns after that.”

Weeks passed with no confirmation. By early fall 2018, Davis and his team were already deep into booking the bands for the all-important 50th anniversary Jazz Fest.

Finally, Gongaware sent word: The Stones were in.

And it wouldn’t be the blues show, either. The Rolling Stones will preside over a full-on showcase of their classic catalog at the Fair Grounds on May 2, the festival’s second Thursday.

Davis was elated. Instead of a bust, Gongaware had earned himself a statue “on a horse, like a general.” If not for Gongaware and AEG, “this never would have happened,” Davis said.

Now that he had the Stones, Davis and his team had to figure out how such a popular, and expensive, band would work within the framework of Jazz Fest.

To cover the Stones’ multi-million-dollar fee, the festival priced tickets for that day at $185 – more than double Jazz Fest’s regular at-the-gate price, but in line with pricing for other stops on the Stones’ upcoming No Filter stadium tour of North America.

And as Davis notes, that price is considerably less than the face value of many seats for the likes of Justin Timberlake, Elton John and Paul McCartney.

“That’s the coin of the realm,” he said. “The business has changed. The economics have changed.”

For the first time in the modern history of the festival, ticket sales will be limited on “Rolling Stones Thursday.” Also on that day, chairs and tarps will be prohibited entirely at the Acura Stage field, to free up more space.

And when the Stones step onto the Acura Stage about 5 p.m., the rest of the Fair Grounds will shut down. Asking another performer to go up against the Stones, Davis said, wouldn’t be fair: “Do you want Mavis Staples playing to an empty tent?”

Going forward, the festival may do other such “premium days.” That business model, Davis said, allows the festival to pursue the most popular acts in the world – perhaps none more popular, for so long, as the Rolling Stones.

“We’re starting with the biggest band in the world,” Davis said. “They’re a blues-based rock band, the greatest in history. They’re going to kill it.”

New Orleans Jazz Fest 2019 lineup is here, Rolling Stones, Katy Perry and more to headline


Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.

Keith Spera writes about music, culture and his kids.