Rolling Stones tell giant crowd 'times are changing' at Cuba debut

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Rolling Stones Play Free Concert in Havana

HAVANA, March 25 (Reuters) - The Rolling Stones rocked a massive crowd at a free, outdoor concert in Havana on Friday, capping a week of engagement with the West for the Communist-led country that once censored the veteran British band's music.

The Stones started their first-ever show in Cuba with "Jumpin' Jack Flash," a song recorded in 1968, when Cuban rock fans were secretly sharing pirated vinyl records and risked being sent to rural work brigades to cure "ideological deviation."

"We know that years back it was hard to hear our music in Cuba, but here we are playing. I also think the times are changing," lead singer Mick Jagger said in Spanish to a roar from the crowd.

The singer spoke in Spanish throughout of the 18-song show of hits that lasted more than two hours. The band played "Sympathy for the Devil" as a yellow moon rose through clouds, and they finished a two-song encore with "Satisfaction."

See photos from the Rolling Stones historic appearance and concert in Cuba:

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Rolling Stones first concert in Cuba
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Rolling Stones tell giant crowd 'times are changing' at Cuba debut
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 24: The Rolling Stones arrive for their concert in Havana at Jose Marti International Airport on March 24, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 24: The Rolling Stones arrive for their concert in Havana at Jose Marti International Airport on March 24, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 24: Mick Jagger arrive for the Rolling Stones concert in Havana at Jose Marti International Airport on March 24, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 24: Ronnie Wood arrives for The Rolling Stones concert in Havana at Jose Marti International Airport on March 24, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 24: The Rolling Stones arrive for their concert in Havana at Jose Marti International Airport on March 24, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 24: (L-R) Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones talk to media after landing at the Jose Marti International Airport on March 24, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. The Rolling Stones are in Havana to play a free concert for the first time, after the music was once banned by the Cuban government. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 24: Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones talk to media after their plane landed at the Jose Marti International Airport on March 24, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. The Rolling Stones are in Havana to play a free concert for the first time, after the music was once banned by the Cuban government. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Fans waits near a stage where the UK rock band Rolling Stones will perform at 'Ciudad Deportiva' in Havana on March 25, 2016. When the Rolling Stones rock Havana this Friday in their first-ever Cuban concert, the sound system will blast to as many as a million fans. AFP PHOTO/ Rodrigo ARANGUA / AFP / RODRIGO ARANGUA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/Getty Images)
Fans waits near a stage where the UK rock band Rolling Stones will perform at 'Ciudad Deportiva' in Havana on March 25, 2016. When the Rolling Stones rock Havana this Friday in their first-ever Cuban concert, the sound system will blast to as many as a million fans. AFP PHOTO/ Rodrigo ARANGUA / AFP / RODRIGO ARANGUA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/Getty Images)
British singer and frontman of rock band The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger performs during a concert at Ciudad Deportiva in Havana, Cuba, on March 25, 2016. AFP PHOTO / YAMIL LAGE / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
British singer and frontman of rock band The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger performs during a concert at Ciudad Deportiva in Havana, Cuba, on March 25, 2016. AFP PHOTO / YAMIL LAGE / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
British singer and frontman of rock band The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger performs during a concert at Ciudad Deportiva in Havana, Cuba, on March 25, 2016. AFP PHOTO / YAMIL LAGE / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
British singer and frontman of rock band The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger performs during a concert at Ciudad Deportiva in Havana, Cuba, on March 25, 2016. AFP PHOTO / YAMIL LAGE / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Cubans attend a concert by the UK rock band The Rolling Stones at Ciudad Deportiva in Havana, Cuba, on March 25, 2016. AFP PHOTO / YAMIL LAGE / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: Fans of Rolling Stones attend the first show of the band in the Island as part of the Latin American Ole Tour at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: Fans of Rolling Stones attend the first show of the band in the Island as part of the Latin American Ole Tour at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: Mick Jagger of British rock band The Rolling Stones performs during the first show of the band on the Island as part of the Latin American Ole Tour at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: Mick Jagger of British rock band The Rolling Stones performs during the first show of the band on the Island as part of the Latin American Ole Tour at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: The Rolling Stones performs on stage at a free concert March 26, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Thousands of fans listened to the Rolling Stones play for the first time, after the music was once banned by the Cuban government. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: British model Naomi Campbell attends the first show of the Rolling Stones in the Cuba as part of the Latin American Ole Tour at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: Fans of Rolling Stones attend the first show of the band in the Island as part of the Latin American Ole Tour at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)
British singer and frontman of rock band The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger performs during a concert at Ciudad Deportiva in Havana, Cuba, on March 25, 2016. AFP PHOTO / YAMIL LAGE / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: The Rolling Stones performs on stage at a free concert March 26, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Thousands of fans listened to the Rolling Stones play for the first time, after the music was once banned by the Cuban government. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: The Rolling Stones performs on stage at a free concert March 26, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Thousands of fans listened to the Rolling Stones play for the first time, after the music was once banned by the Cuban government. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: Rolling Stones fans wait for the start of a free concert March 26, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Thousands of fans waited for the Rolling Stones to play for the first time in Cuba, after the music was once banned by the government. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: Rolling Stones fans wait for the start of a free concert March 26, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Thousands of fans waited for the Rolling Stones to play for the first time in Cuba, after the music was once banned by the government. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: The Rolling Stones perform during the first show of the band on the Island as part of the Latin American Ole Tour at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images) (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: American Actor Richard Gere is seen during the first show of The Rolling Stones in Cuba as part of the Latin American Ole Tour at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: The Rolling Stones backstage before their concert at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: Keith Richards performs on stage during The Rolling Stones concert at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: Ronnie Wood (L) and wife Sally Humphreys on stage before The Rolling Stones concert at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: A general view of the atmosphere before The Rolling Stones perform at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: A general view of the atmosphere during The Rolling Stones performance at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 25: Mick Jagger performs on stage during The Rolling Stones concert at Ciudad Deportiva on March 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
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Fans started gathering 18 hours ahead of time at Havana's Sports City football and baseball fields, including Cubans who traveled from across the Caribbean's largest island and foreigners who flew in for the occasion.

While no official estimate was immediately available for the crowd size, Cuban state media estimated half a million people could fit in the venue, which was nearly full.

The audience ranged from teenagers to pensioners and reserved some of the biggest cheers for Jagger's snakey dance moves.

"I love Mick Jagger so much. I've always dreamed about this. I couldn't sleep knowing he would be here," said Angela Menendez, who cleans floors in a hospital.

Security was low key and there was a noticeable absence of would-be entrepreneurs selling T-shirts or memorabilia.

People were dressed in all manner of jeans, T-shirts and boots with the Stones' tongue and lips logo.

Cubans have taken to coloring the tongue with the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag, whether in the mistaken belief that the British rock stars were American or in the spirit of this week's historic visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The Stones formed in London in 1962, three years after Fidel Castro's bearded rebels toppled a pro-American government.

Castro's revolutionary government came to see counterculture bands like the Stones and the Beatles as dangerously subversive and prohibited their music on TV and radio.

Half a century later, both the Rolling Stones and Cuba's leadership share a longevity, performing well beyond what most people would consider retirement age.

The band's advancing years did not stop the youngsters in the audience enjoying the show, however.

"Don't let anybody tell you different, this is the best concert in the history of Cuba," said Cristian, 18, a reggaeton fan who this month saw electronic music act Major Lazer in another free gig.

For Juan Carlos Leon, 57, the event was more than special.

"To me, this is a consecration," Leon said. "I've waited my whole life for this. The Stones are the greatest."

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