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We Went Backstage at the Rolling Stones Concert in Vegas. Here’s What We Saw

A massive behind-the-scenes effort was underway before Mick, Keith and Ronnie rocked Sin City


VIDEO: Do You Know What it Takes to Put on a Rock ‘n’ Roll Concert?

Las Vegas’s glassy, domed Allegiant Stadium was packed with some 55,000 fans Saturday night as the Rolling Stones performed classic tunes that many in the crowd likely had been listening to and loving for decades: “Sympathy for the Devil.” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” “Gimme Shelter.” The band also sang three songs from its new album, Hackney Diamonds, highlighted on the AARP-sponsored “Stones Tour ’24 Hackney Diamonds” that kicked off in Houston on April 28.

The age-defying Mick Jagger, 80, slid around the stage and shook those famous slim hips. Keith Richards, also 80, was as stunningly accomplished and cool (seriously, who’s cooler?) as ever, and Ronnie Wood, 76, rocked along with them — from “Start Me Up” to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

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My first-ever Rolling Stones concert was, in a word, awesome.

But it seems even more remarkable when I consider how much work and how many people are needed to make this kind of unforgettable rock show go off without a visible hitch. I got the chance to catch a glimpse of how the magic happens by going behind the scenes on the day of the Vegas show. Here’s what I saw.

11:30 a.m. local time

The “backstage” area is really an underground warren of unglamorous concrete corridors, with a catering area, whose walls are classed up with black fabric drapery for staff meals, dressing rooms and humming production offices. Vegas is just the fourth of the Stones’ 19 stops in North America, and there are only about 10 hours until showtime. Yet I notice that everyone — the security staff and production team down here and the sound and light people preparing the stage upstairs — seems surprisingly relaxed.

spinner image The Rolling Stones Production director Dale Skjerseth
Production director Dale Skjerseth
Christina Ianzito

12:30 p.m.

If there’s one person most responsible for the low anxiety in the arena today, I learn, it’s Dale Skjerseth, 62, an affable, seasoned pro who’s been working on the Stones’ tours since 1994, first as stage manager, and since 2005 as production director.

Tall, with gray hair and kind eyes, Skjerseth talks to me in the massive, mostly empty arena at Allegiant Stadium, where about 20 guys in black shorts and T-shirts are setting up and testing sound and lights. “What’s the most stressful part of the show-prep process?” I ask. He pauses, then says, frankly, “That’s not how my tours work. I don’t freak out. It’s a rock show,” he adds with a shrug and a smile. “Panic only comes with inexperience.”

He explains that show day may seem particularly chill, because everything’s already been set up, “although the energy starts to double” as the hours before the show tick away.

A Rolling Stones concert, by the numbers

57 trucks: 25 for sound, lights, video and other equipment; 16 to carry the massive steel structure that is the core of the stage set. Another 16 trucks have already delivered a second set of steel to the next venue — in Seattle, in this case, where the band plays on May 15.

300+ people: 110 workers on the regular tour team, with 150 more local construction workers, caterers, stagehands, plus dozens for security. And the band.

7 days: The production team needs a week to set up, then pack up and get out in each city. That includes a prep day, three or four days to construct the massive steel structure that bears the weight of the lights, video and stage decor that are affixed to it. The day after the show, everything will be out the door by 8 p.m.

1 p.m.

Skjerseth, now checking out the stage where drummer Steve Jordan’s kit is set up, notes that he needs to pay particular attention to the floor. “Where do their feet land? Is it smooth? This is a dance floor. They’ll come up here later ...” He stops mid-sentence. “We got a wet spot there,” he says to a woman nearby. “We got to fix that.”

He continues, “That’s what I give them: that guarantee that it’s going to be how it’s supposed to be, every day.”

Later, the team will sprinkle pool cue powder on the stage, so Mick can do his smooth moves (like Jagger).

1:15 p.m.

A group of a dozen or so stagehands are assembled behind the stage, preparing to set up the gear for the opening act, The Pretty Reckless, a rock band from New York fronted by singer and guitarist Taylor Momsen (a former Gossip Girl star, who knew?). Their instruments will sit in front of the Stones’ for now, whisked offstage as soon as they wrap their 45-minute set tonight.

spinner image Saxophonist Tim Ries
Saxophonist Tim Ries
Christina Ianzito

3 p.m.

The musicians have started to arrive.

Tim Ries, 64, who’s played saxophone with the Stones since 1999, strolls through the garage, near the tour’s massive bank of now-empty trucks. “So, what’s it like touring with the Rolling Stones?” I ask.

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“They treat us like family,” he says, referring to how the three principals — Mick, Keith and Ronnie — interact with the other musicians. “If you have that good vibe offstage, that’s going to translate onstage,” adds Ries, who’s also a jazz musician. “And the audience … you’re going to feel that good, really cool energy.”

He notes that he misses Charlie Watts, who “was a dear friend” and a fellow jazz aficionado. (Watts, the drummer for the Stones since 1963, died of cancer at age 80 in 2021.) “In every city we’d go to jazz clubs,” when they toured together, and he even came to know Watts’ children and grandchildren.

Ries then pulls out his sax and starts jamming. It sounds incredible. And it’s just a warm-up. He packs it back up, smiles, then strolls off, headed to his dressing room to get his four saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) and their reeds ready, before showing up for the sound check. (He’ll be joined onstage by Karl Denson on saxophone.)

5 p.m.

Photos and videos are not permitted during the hour-long sound check, when the band takes the stage. And there’s Mick, in jeans and a baseball cap, running through a few of the songs from the show’s set list with Keith, Ronnie and the band. They work through “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (tonight’s the first time they’ll be playing it on this tour), “You Got Me Rocking,” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” a Bob Dylan cover that the audience will go wild for.

spinner image Keyboardist Chuck Leavell
Keyboardist Chuck Leavell
Christina Ianzito

6 p.m.

The sound check’s over, and I corner keyboardist Chuck Leavell, 72, before he heads back to his dressing room, which he shares with bassist Darryl Jones, 62, “my roomie.” Jones joined the band some 20 years ago, after Bill Wyman left the group. Leavell, a former member of the Allman Brothers Band, has been with the Stones since 1982, and serves as their musical director. (Fun fact: He’s also a big environmentalist and owns a tree farm outside of Macon, Georgia.) “When I started, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could get maybe four or five years with [the Rolling Stones]. That would just be amazing. Forty-two years later, here we all are. It’s really remarkable.”

And no, Leavell, who sports a white beard and near-shoulder-length hair, is not anxious, a few hours before showtime. “It’s really more for me focusing on what is it going take to put on the best show possible, to keep those people happy, to keep the smiles on their faces.” Then he’s off to see his pal Jones and pick out what he wants to wear tonight.

spinner image Rolling Stones fans Ronnie, Margaret and Thomas Sokol
(Left to right) Ronnie, Margaret and Thomas Sokol
Christina Ianzito

7 p.m.

Shooed away from the backstage area, I hang out by an entrance to watch fans as they walk into the now-buzzing arena. Some look positively giddy, including Margaret Sokol, 54, from Houston, who’s joined by her husband, Ronnie, 69, and their (comparatively unenthused-looking) 20-year-old son, Thomas — all three in matching black Rolling Stones T-shirts. “I wanted to see the Stones when I was 11 years old in New Orleans at the Superdome,” Sokol says, “but my parents absolutely put their foot down and refused to let me go.” With a grin, she adds, “I’m rebelling now!”

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spinner image Rolling Stones fans Doyal and Susie Hannibal
(Left to right) Doyal and Susie Hannibal
Christina Ianzito

7:30 p.m.

A line has formed at AARP’s welcome booth in the entry area, where people can get their pictures taken with a giant replica of the Stones’ lips-and-tongue logo, and tablets where AARP members can enter to win upgraded seats for tonight’s show.

Susie Hannibal, 79, and her husband, Doyal, 77, retired General Motors employees from Grand Rapids, Michigan, are in line too. Susie, a superfan who even named one of her cats Mickey Jagger (“her little sister is Tina Turner”), is one of the three winners of pairs of tickets to this concert through AARP’s Rock Out With the Rolling Stones sweepstakes. “She’s been in a tizzy this whole time,” says Doyal, about his wife’s excitement since she won. They’ve just returned from a meet and greet with the band — another perk with the sweepstakes win. Susie gushes that she got a fist bump from Mick, and shook hands with Keith and Ronnie. She was too flustered to say much, she adds, but “I wanted to say, ‘I grew old with you!’ ”

7:45 p.m.

There’s a long, snaking line of fans waiting to buy Hackney Diamonds T-shirts and other merch.

8:30 p.m.

I find my seat, up on the 300 level. The Pretty Reckless are playing. They have talent, but ... they aren’t the Stones.

spinner image The Rolling Stones performing on stage
The Rolling Stones performing on stage at Allegiant Stadium.
Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun

9:20 p.m.

Yeeeeessss! Mick, Keith, Ronnie and all the rest take the stage with “Start Me Up” and are welcomed with a roar from the crowd. Mick is on fire. When I spoke to Ries earlier, he admiringly called Jagger “a freak of nature” for his youthful energy at 80. “But it’s not like a mystery,” Ries added. “He eats well, he exercises and he’s actually determined to continue performing at a high level.”

Those shaking hips don’t lie.

Set list:

  • Start Me Up
  • Get Off of My Cloud
  • Let’s Spend the Night Together
  • Angry
  • Like a Rolling Stone
  • You Got Me Rocking
  • Mess It Up
  • Tumbling Dice
  • You Can’t Always Get What You Want
  • You Got the Silver
  • Little T&A
  • Sympathy for the Devil
  • Honky Tonk Woman
  • Miss You
  • Gimme Shelter
  • Paint It Black
  • Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Encores:

  • Sweet Sounds of Heaven
  • (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

10:40 p.m.

The highlight of the night: “Gimme Shelter,” with Chanel Haynes, 45, belting out those unforgettable backup vocals. Haynes started performing with the band in 2022, and is jaw-droppingly, spine-shiveringly good.

11:30 p.m. approximately (it’s been a long day!)

I join the crowd spilling out into the street to head over Hacienda Bridge, which is now closed to car traffic to allow for the exodus of fans walking across I-15 toward the hotels along the Strip. It’s hard to believe in less than 24 hours, the arena will be empty of all traces of the Rolling Stones. Here’s hoping (fingers crossed) they keep rocking on.

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