“Where Were You?”: The Rolling Stones 1981 ‘Kentucky Tour’

Thirty-one years have passed, almost to the day [at the point I write this], since these two shows occurred.  Over half of my lifetime ago, already….whew!

Posting both shows together, and calling them the “Kentucky Tour”, is a simple way to combine the shows, and recollections of a time when looking forward to such events was still a thrill, of sorts.  One must remember that these shows took place before the advent of the widespread use of the Internet, and long before mobile phones and texting were commonplace. That was part of the charm:  finding out about the shows long enough in advance, in order to map out a plan of action and score good tickets [or even tickets at all].  This required a group effort, in this case.

At that time, I had been working for chain record stores for a few years, and of course, that meant a little bit of extra information would be coming down the pipeline about major tours, and whether or not they would end up being booked for our particular “neck of the woods”.  It also did not hurt to have friends and acquaintances who happened to be rabid fans of the band, and already had an established network of friends who also knew someone, who knew someone, who knew…….

Anyway, rumors of potential dates in the state were ripe, since the band had already appeared at Rupp Arena, in Lexington, on their previous tour, in 1978 [not a particularly memorable show, as Jagger’s voice was shot by that point in the tour, and the band was not altogether in sync with each other – as evidenced by the FM broadcast that is “out there”, and the SNL appearance which was even more ragged, from the same year/tour].  I attended that show in Lexington, and took photos, which I will share at some later point in time, and one more show on that tour, at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, where I managed to click about ten frames before deciding to give up and save my gear, and maybe some limbs, and head to a safer place on the field to watch and listen….

Back to Kentucky:  Once the rumors and contacts started indicating that the booking of the shows was getting more serious, all that mattered was being able to get enough people together to get in line to attempt to score some decent seats.  Most people were convinced they would return to Lexington, which was the harder place to procure premium tickets, and in fact, my seat would end up being in the concourse area, to the right of the stage.  But no matter, fortune would smile on me at the show.  More on that, later…

In Louisville, once the news came through that the tickets would go on sale at Freedom Hall, our group got together [the night of October 25 & the morning of the 26th], and mapped out a strategy that involved “camping out” overnight, on just one side of a security fence that was about 100 yards from one of the entrances to the ticket booths at the Fair & Exposition Center.  Earlier success was had by using this spot because there was a convenient hole in the fence, and with a mad dash to the gates at just the right time, this would give about a 200 yard “head start” over the others who would be lined up at the main entrance, awaiting the guards to open the security gates and let the madness begin.

If memory serves correctly, there were 6 of us who eventually made the dash [confirmed after going through some papers over the weekend], and each of us was pretty much soaking wet from an all-night/all-morning rainfall – but that would not matter!  Once we saw the security guards moving to unlock the main gates [at 6:30 AM], we crawled through the hole in the fence, and made a quick run through the grass fields surrounding the Fairgrounds, and reached the turnstiles with maybe 3 to 6 people ahead of each of us in separate lanes.  We separated, so as to try to get the best of the the physical allotment of tickets each window had; combined with the ticket purchase limit set for the show.  Somewhere on videotape, footage of some of our group being interviewed by a local TV news station exists [on Channels 3 and 11].  Tired, wet, and very happy people about to make their purchase, being interviewed by bemused beat news reporters must not have merited much attention from the editors at the station, but I would be amused to see such footage – if it exists – today.

In the end, our efforts netted seats for the majority of us, in the center areas on the floor, in rows 1, 3, 4 & 5, and a few more farther back.  My photos from this earlier date, were surreptitiously taken from seats in the 4th or 5th row.  The lighting at this performance was not particularly great: far too much yellow and red light affected the results [grainy, and not as sharp as they could have been, as I had to use slower shutter speeds].  I did not stray from my seats, because those that did, and who decided to move up for a closer look, were dealt with in a very rough manner by Bill Graham and his security crew.  I can attest to some particularly unnecessary physical manhandling by he, and his staff, in fact…….Quite a few people were quickly ejected from the show, and after about 30 minutes into the set, “order” was more or less maintained, for the duration.

The performance was a much better one than the ’78 Tour dates that I attended, although I preferred the earlier tour’s material, in many respects.  The photographs that I took from the Louisville show were serviceable, with a handful of satisfying images, and they made friends and acquaintances who attended the concert seemingly very happy.  But the shots from Lexington would be much better, and for good reason.

As I remember it, at the Lexington show, the “lottery” approach of selling the tickets was much more efficient, so I did not manage a floor seat.  So, after getting my camera gear inside, I took my place and began to plan a course of action.  For the longest time before the show, and part of the way into the opening act for the night, the seats next to me remained empty.  By the end of the opening set, a couple finally came and sat down, and I could not help but notice they had backstage passes on their outer garments.  Well, a few pleasantries were exchanged, and after some time, I decided to shoot the moon, and pose a question:

“Are you going to watch the show from the stage area?”

“No, we’d rather be here, because there are too many people back there…”

“Would it be possible for me to ask what might seem like a strange request?  If you aren’t going to go backstage for a bit, like maybe 20-30 minutes, could I possibly borrow one of your passes, so I can go down to the floor and take some photos?  I promise to return and give you the pass back, and I’ll be happy to give you copies of the photos after they are processed, in return.”

To my surprise, they nodded in agreement, and I was given a pass to adhere to my jacket, and after a quick “Thank you, very much!”, I slowly made my way down, as the house lights faded, and the adrenaline all around surged for the arrival of the band.

I waited for the first people to make their push to rush the stage, and be moved back, but at this show, the security were much more friendly about it.  Once I saw things calm down, and the band made their entrance to the stage, I cautiously made my way up the right side of the stage.  Some people were still taking their seats, and a few were still trying to make their way to the front, and with the confusion of security having to take charge of the situation, one guard took a look at my pass, and quickly motioned me up behind the barrier facing the stage, on the right hand side, while he went back to dealing with the rest of the crowd.  Yes!!!

This spot would remain my “post”, for about the first 40 minutes of the show, before heading back to my seats to give the pass back, but they were enjoying themselves, and told me to just come back by the end of the show, when they would go backstage.  So, I went back down to the same spot, unhindered, and finished off the film that I had brought for the evening.  The lighting for this show was much, much better, and the band were seemingly a bit sharper than they were in Louisville, the month before – and they seemed to enjoy themselves a bit more.

What follows is the combined results of those two performances.  Memorable, for me, for a number of reasons, and some decent frames were captured, too.  I hope you enjoy the viewing, and I also hope that Susan, Ceci, Mark S. and Gary, in particular, get a kick out of seeing some of these again – and a few more of them – for the first time.  And a very big thanks to the generous couple on the night of the Lexington show; without your assistance, mosts of these photographs would not have been possible. I owe you.

While the number of images may seem like overkill for some, they may be revealing for others…..have a look, and thanks for taking the time [and remember: these are just “proofs” and not the finished images]!

A popular image amongst many, but not one of my particular faves

One of the few photos I could manage of central “sidemen” for the tour, Mr. Ian McLagan

Someone threw a straw hat on the stage at a certain point, and Jagger ended up wearing it for a few songs

This frame is more for the fact that Charlie Watts is visible, which wasn’t easy at either show

The only decent color photo of Mr. Watts that I could get. Lots of yellow light = less detail

At the start of the set, Keith Richards happened to be on my side, and was most agreeable about lingering for a few expressive photos, like this one

A lot of red light also made getting good images difficult, plus other obstructions, but this one turned out interesting

A dark one, but I like the blonde Tele in stark contrast here

Although a lot of red light was in use, this one of Mr. Wyman turned out quite alright

One of the very few shots that I could get of Keith, from head to toe, and without some obstruction. Very happy with this one

Another shot from early in the set, which captured a nice expression

Dark, but good moment

The only shot I could get of Bobby Keys, who was in the shadows for the most part

The band is in full stride, and Jagger almost looks as if he’s doing a “rooster strut”

You can just see Ian Stewart at the piano in this frame

A classic image of days gone by; Mr. Richards was in much better health and form this time round

Wish I could have gotten Charlie Watts completely in-frame here

If you look in the lower left, you can see Bobby Keys. The back spots help make this a fave image of mine from this show

The spots create a nice touch again here

There wasn’t much room to move in front of the piano, but that didn’t stop Jagger from heading in that direction

Closeup of a special moment; call it a short rest during a solo, shall we?

A light moment occurs after someone threw a Santa cap onstage, and Ron Wood doesn’t miss a beat

A few moments later, and the show carries on, while a few laughs are had

Although the lighting isn’t so great, and Jagger’s other foot is missing, I like the image with his shadow appearing in the spotlight’s circle onstage

Moments before the shades would come off for the rest of the show

Another image I am fond of, in terms of how the light spills into the frame

Early on in the show, and the sloping stage is clear to see from this framing

Another one in which the spotlight from behind the stage creates a nice effect

You can just make out Charlie Watts behind Ron Wood, as Mick Jagger sings

A favorite image of mine, because of the chance moment with Jagger’s shadow against the piano as he moves past

A change of tops for the end of the show. Seem to remember it looking like a Cleveland Browns’ jersey

Time between songs to start up a smoke

My fave color photo of Ron Wood

Perhaps the best image I took of Mick Jagger playing the SG

For some reason, I like this strange moment: the spotlight coming down, just as the “threat” of the guitar coming down happens – plus the look on Jagger’s face

Another favorite of mine, for the framing and lighting, amongst other elements in the moment

Aside from the monitor being in the way, I really like this image of Keith Richards

Charlie Watts, without whom, there would be no rock *and* roll in the band



While many of you who arrive here, to look at these photographs may get turned off to my use of watermarks [thinking they ruin the image], let me explain why I choose to do this.

No one paid for my camera equipment but me. No one paid for the film I used to take these photographs.  On occasion, when I free-lanced for a free monthly newsletter, and they published a photo of mine, the payment for each photograph barely paid for the fuel to get my vehicle to the show [when I *did* have a vehicle], and the film I used on that night. 

Not too many of my photos were published, at the time, because the artists I chose to capture images of, were not hugely popular then.  Hence, the old dictum, “Supply and Demand”; I had the supply, but the demand [pre-Internet], was not there. You can argue the relative merits of the quality of my work, and that is precisely what a blog offers:  a venue for discussion.

Back to the watermarks: no one is subsidizing my time to scan and then clean up the images I am presenting here. Start to finish, each negative will take approximately an hour-and-a-half to reach “proof” quality – which is what you will see here.  This is my labor of love, and until there is some measurable return on my efforts, what you see is what you get.


8 responses to ““Where Were You?”: The Rolling Stones 1981 ‘Kentucky Tour’

    • Hello Gerald,
      I appreciate the suggestion, but at the present time, I am trying to set up a direct mailing arrangement for purchases, rather than have my work hosted where I cannot control what happens to my work [a nuisance, but this is my preferred method of madness].

      I can now print high quality glossy & semi-glossy images; the second step is mailing & handling, which is not cheap, since I do not currently reside where I can use the US Postal service, so the cost per print is still a bit higher than most people probably want to pay, since I have to use a courier service, instead….. Sorry, but for the time-being, that is the situation. I will let you know, since you expressed an interest in those Stones’ images, when I have some firm prices to quote you, if that would be alright with you?

      Thanks, for the interest and suggestion, in the meantime.




      • Wow! Thanks. I’m enjoying these images again! I’d love to hear from you when you are ready to go. I bought some Stones pics on smugmug and they print them, ship, and you can watermark them. You just put them out there and they do it all and send you the checks.

        Also, it won’t be long when the Stones are big news (sad to say interest grows when a famous person…I don’t want to say it. Then is the time everyone will want pics and something new which you offer.

        You could put them online with Getty Images. Every major publication in the world gets images from Getty.

        I’ve been looking at you pics for well over a year so a little longer I’ll have to wait to have a few nice ones.

        Price is important for you and the customer. I only bought a few on smugmug since the pirces were a little high. You set your own prices.

        Thanks for writing. Best of luck.



      • Thanks Gerald,

        I’ll be in touch, as soon as I have a firm offer to make. Things are a bit busy for me, but you can be sure I will have some sort of answer in the coming months.

        Thanks again for the notes of appreciation, and suggestions.

        Take care!



  1. Hi Michael, these are great pictures! I was at the Lexington concert just by chance. I was doing a filming job in town that week and told my buddies that I would go to the concert. They laughed at me since it was obviously sold out. We were staying at a hotel next to the arena. I wandered over and to my surprise scalpers stuck with tickets were very quietly trying to get rid of them at face value! Apparently it was illegal to scalp, so they had no choice. Now I started looking for the best seat, and I struck gold with a row 13 seat for $16!! It was a fabulous experience. Next morning my buddies asked me jokingly about the concert. Needless to say they were shocked and died of envy. 🙂 Someday I may ask you for a photo or two for my memoirs. All best, Juan

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Juan,

      Great story of your own from the night of the show! I cannot say that I had much luck going for tickets like that, on the night of a “big” show, but I do know of people who lucked out like you did, at other concerts.

      A reserved seat that close to the performance would have been very enjoyable, I am sure. Thanks for taking the time to share those memories, and glad the photos helped bring them back again 😉




  2. Great shots! I was in the nosebleeds, a few rows from the furthest back so REALLy appreciate your posting these.
    QUESTION: Who Opened For the 81 Rupp shows? It was not on the ticket, we missed his/their intro and never found out. The internet searches have not beenhelpful. Thanks for your consideration


    • Hello Charles B.

      The answer to this question, as far as the Rupp Arena show is concerned, is that The Meters were the opening band on that evening. I will check on whether they also opened the Louisville date or not, as I cannot remember exactly.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!



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