Tunes: Keith Richards’ 1979 Concert for the Blind

    In 1977, police arrested Rolling Stones Keith Richards for possession of heroin during the band’s stop in Toronto. He was eventually sentenced to play two charity concerts—fundraisers for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind—in Oshawa in 1979.

    The tickets went on sale toward the end of my first year at Ryerson. I drained my bank account and headed down to the main BASS outlet at Bloor and Yonge about 20 hours before it opened. There were already dozens of people in line. Since there was a limit of two tickets per customer, I had tipped off a few friends to join me and they did, in the wee hours of the next morning. By that time, there was a crush of people. We managed to buy a total of 13 tickets, none of them particularly good seats.

    I put an ad in the newspaper to sell three of the tickets; my plan was to ensure that everyone who waited with me for tickets would go for free and I would at least make my money back. I was shocked by the response. From the moment I got home that afternoon, the phone literally rang off the hook—as soon as I hung up, it rang again. By early evening, people were offering me close to $100 for each of the $12.50 tickets. One woman caller offered sexual favours in return for a ticket; someone claiming to be a freelance photographer offered rare photos and albums. Exasperated, I decided to sell to the highest cash bidder at 8:00 p.m. I told two of the most promising bidders to call from College subway station for the address. The eventual buyer owned a leather store and left me his card, along with a belt, as a souvenir. I think the final price was $280 cash for three.

    The concert, far from great, marked the debut of the short-lived New Barbarians (fronted by Ron Wood and Keith Richards). The only time I ever saw music stands on stage (Wood later pushed them aside and said “we’ll just make it up”). The Stones followed with a relatively short set (similar to the Some Girls show I had seen in Buffalo a year earlier), highlighted by Keith and Mick’s opening duet of Prodigal Son. Given that it marked the return to Canada of a convicted-but-pardoned felon, a sardonic choice.

      Photo by moi (although it might have been taken by Nigel Price)

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