Stones, minus Charlie Watts, roll toward Atlanta; the show goes on

The venerable drummer who never missed a concert is mourned

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ron Wood kicked off the second leg of the No Filter tour in St. Louis last week, with an emotional dedication to Charlie Watts.

Lifting a toast to the imperturbable heartbeat of the band, Jagger said “Here’s to you Charlie.”

Then the Stones did what they’ve been doing since the middle of the last century: They carried on.

The band that won’t quit arrives in Atlanta Nov. 11 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on a hopscotching tour of the U.S. that recrosses the continent four times in less than two months.

“Somebody threw darts at a map,” joked production manager Dale Skjerseth. In reality the Stones had to reschedule most shows (including the Atlanta date) after postponing this part of the tour due to the pandemic, and they had to accept whatever dates were open at the big stadiums.

But neither death, nor disease, nor advancing age nor an inconvenient itinerary will stay these rockers from their appointed rounds. “It’s 60 years, next year, of doing this,” marveled Skjerseth. “And they’re still standing, in stadium mode.”

Skjerseth started with the Stones in 1994 as stage manager during the Voodoo Lounge tour. He’s been production manager since 2005, during the Bigger Bang tour. That jaunt, from 2005-2007 (which earned a half-billion dollars and was, at the time, the highest grossing tour ever) required 52 production trucks. The current tour requires half that number, plus another 16 trucks for the 1,200 tons of steel to build the stage.

“We got back to basics in a way,” he said.

Those basics including four 60-foot-tall video screens and a stage that’s 200 feet wide. During a recent Zoom call with a group of journalists, Skjerseth was asked if the production made any concessions to Jagger’s recent heart surgery.

In the spring of 2019 the tour was postponed while, Jagger, 75 at the time, had an aortic valve replaced. The surgery was minimally invasive, and Jagger was back on his feet six weeks later, posting his dance moves on Instagram.

Skjerseth said “Nothing’s changed after Mick’s incident with his heart. We’ve actually made (the stage) longer so he gets more of a workout.”

One thing that has changed is both band and crew, including the 150 workers required to assemble the stage at each stop, are vaccinated, and everyone wears N-95 masks.

Catering is divided up to keep each group in their pods, maintaining social distance. Apparently the effort to isolate only goes so far. According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Jagger told the St. Louis audience that he had visited the Gateway Arch, City Museum, Ted Drewes Frozen Custard and Crown Candy Kitchen. He also went out for a beer in Charlotte and was unrecognized.

While the producers are encouraging audience members to get vaccinated, and are actually offering vaccinations on-site, Skjerseth said it’s “up to the people” whether they follow suit.

“The venues are all on board,” he added. “It’s not like we’re asking for anything outrageous.”

If someone gets sick, he said, 150 people are out of a job, and hundreds of thousands won’t see a show. “We are following the protocol to our standards, so that we will successfully get through it. It’s working. We’re a good team out there. We’re going to get through it”

Of the fans, he said, “we can’t change their minds, but we can protect ourselves.”

The 10 musicians on stage include Georgia resident Chuck Leavell on keyboards and Steve Jordan, taking up the drumsticks in Watts’ absence.

“Steve is up to speed with everything,” said Skjerseth. “I don’t think you ever fill Charlie’s shoes. No one ever will. But for what he’s doing, it’s spot on.”

Watts was originally trained in design, and had a hand in creating album covers and stage designs for Stones performances. That hand is still evident, said Skjerseth.

“His stamp is still here. It always will be here, with the guys.”


The Rolling Stones

7:30 p.m. Nov. 11. $64.50-$494.50. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 1 AMB Drive NW, Atlanta.