We were scheduled to kick things off at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium, but simply getting to the venue proved to be an adventure in itself. We were cruising down the highway when our chartered bus lost power and sputtered to a stop. The driver made several attempts to restart the engine, but had no luck. Our bus was dead - and the lack of air conditioning quickly drove us out of the vehicle. We loitered on the shoulder of the freeway as cars whizzed by. I could see the massive stadium on the horizon, but it did not qualify as walking distance. We were stranded.
Fortunately, we’d been followed. A few carloads of Sting chasers had fallen in behind us as we departed the hotel, and they’d had the cojones (and/or common decency) to pull over when they saw our bus limp to the curb. Realizing our loss could be their gain, the benign stalkers offered to ferry the band the rest of the way. Billy weighed the spontaneous proposal and, with no better solutions on the table, instructed us to split up and pile into the cars of complete strangers. Win-win, I guess. We were rescued - and some Sting fans got the thrill of a lifetime. Funny, in all my rock-star fantasies, I never envisioned being chauffeured to my big-stage debut in the cramped backseat of a Toyota.
After reaching the stadium, courtesy of our makeshift motorcade, we settled into our dressing rooms. My guitar was in need of fresh strings, so, like I’d done my whole life, I sprawled out on the floor and began the humdrum task of restringing my axe. Sting wandered in a few minutes later, paused, and gave me a bit of a funny look before moving on. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it later dawned on me that instrument maintenance probably wasn’t considered a part of my job description up in the big leagues. Sure enough, I was assigned my own personal guitar tech the very next day. (OK, if you guys insist.) Mike Strout, a proud Jersey dude, was put in charge of keeping me happy, and he did one helluva job. Mike took great care of me and - damn him - succeeded in spoiling me for life. My pampered showtime routine entailed: Walk on stage as Mike hands me my polished, freshly strung guitar Play awesome music in front of gigantic, adoring crowds Toss my abused, sweat-drenched guitar to Mike as I walk off stage Accept a towel, a cold beer, and a pat on the back from Mike.
All musicians should be lucky enough to have a “Mike.” I’ve missed him on every single gig since.
Ironically, our first concert ended up being the largest of the entire tour. With a flair for the dramatic, Sting unveiled his new band to a mob of over two hundred thousand fans. It was an incredible evening. Hearing the roar of a quarter million people is something I’ll never forget.
(c) Jeffrey Lee Campbell - Do Stand So Close: my improbable adventure as Sting's guitarist. Deeds Publishing.