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 tickets. Specifically, tickets to see the Rolling Stones at the 2019 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

A day before Friday’s online on-sale to the general public, the festival made tickets available to Louisiana residents in person at the Dome. Some camped out overnight, as concert-goers did years ago to secure choice seats before the advent of online ticket sales.

Many fans were only too glad to do so. The Rolling Stones have not performed in New Orleans since an Oct. 10, 1994 date at the Superdome during the “Voodoo Lounge” tour. Nearly 25 years will have elapsed by the time they rock the Acura Stage at the Fair Grounds on May 2, the 2019 Jazz Fest's second Thursday.

Pent-up demand, coupled with the novelty of seeing the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band at the 50th anniversary Jazz Fest, translated to strong early sales.

Approximately 10,000 tickets, priced at $185 plus fees, were reportedly allotted for Thursday’s pre-sale, with each Louisiana resident limited to two tickets. Based on the length of the lines throughout the day, sales may have exceeded that number.

Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis, who has worked on bringing the Stones to the festival for the past eight years, arrived at the Dome at 3 a.m. Thursday to greet early arrivals. He went home an hour later, then returned before the box office windows opened at 10 a.m.

As he stood near Gate H in a Rolling Stones jacket and a Jazz Fest cap, a steady procession of newly minted ticket-holders stopped to thank him for both booking the Stones and for making tickets available to local residents first.

Working with SMG, the company that manages the Superdome, the Jazz Fest team designed a system to organize the crowd. Barricades directed fans to the box offices at gates D and H on the plaza-level concourse on opposite sides of the Dome. Patrons showed a Louisiana ID to receive a wristband before getting in the line, which by mid-morning wrapped around half of the Dome's circumference, doubled back on itself and stretched across the pedestrian bridge to the Smoothie King Center.

“We didn’t know for sure" what the response would be, Davis said. “Would it be 200, or 2,000? But we built an infrastructure for this in case it happened. And it happened."


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The To Be Continued Brass Band and a pair of grand marshals from the Untouchables social aid and pleasure club marched along the line, enhancing the festive atmosphere. When they broke into "When the Saints Go Marching In," several people in line broke into a "Who Dat" chant.

Frank Hartman arrived at the Gate H box office at 8 p.m. Wednesday night, technically four hours before the queue officially opened. He spent 14 hours outside the Superdome to buy a pair of tickets for his wife and sister-in-law. "I'm retired," he said. "I figured I'd do a nice deed and get her tickets. This morning I was named 'husband of the year.'"

Jack Leonardi, proprietor of the popular Oak Street restaurant Jacques-Imo's, got off work at midnight Wednesday and headed straight to the Superdome. Ten hours later, he was among the first 20 or so people to buy tickets. "The earlier you get here, the less you have to wait in line," said Leonardi, an avowed classic rock fan who has seen the Stones live more than 15 times. 

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New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival producer Quint Davis sticks out his tongue like Mick Jagger as long lines build outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday, January 17, 2019 as The Rolling Stones tickets go on sale for the Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Dylan "James" Stansbury was an LSU student when the Rolling Stones kicked off their Tour of the Americas on June 1, 1975, at the LSU Assembly Center, with New Orleans funk band the Meters as the opening act. The Stones played both an afternoon and an evening show that day; Stansbury attended the afternoon concert. 

Since then, he's seen the Stones at the Superdome in 1978, 1981 -- a show that for years held the record for the largest indoor concert crowd -- 1989 and 1994.

Back in his LSU days, Stansbury was often the first person in line for concert tickets, and would organize everyone else who camped out behind him. He arrived at the Dome at 3 a.m. Thursday and was impressed with the way SMG and Jazz Fest handled the process: "I've never seen it managed so well and so organized." 

The 63-year-old Stansbury liked the old-school method of having to buy a ticket in person. "In the old days, this is how you got a ticket. This works so much better. I think they should go back to this system."

As it turned out, he was already guaranteed the right to purchase a ticket to "Rolling Stones Thursday" because he'd bought a ticket to Jazz Fest's annual fundraising gala. He camped out Thursday just to buy a back-up ticket: "I like to have a ticket in hand."


Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.

Keith Spera writes about music, culture and his kids.