What Happened When The Rolling Stones Played Knebworth

The Rolling Stones played one of their longest sets ever at the Knebworth Festival concert on August 21, 1976.

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The Rolling Stones Performing Live in 1976
The Rolling Stones Performing Live in 1976 in Germany; Photo: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

The Rolling Stones’ tour of Europe in 1976 began at the end of April in Frankfurt, West Germany, and finished in the third week of June in Vienna, Austria. On the 22 city, nine-country tour, during which they played in Yugoslavia and Spain for the first time, over 550,000 fans came to see them.

Two months later, on Saturday, August 21, after Mick celebrated his 33rd birthday with a party in Montauk, Long Island with Andy Warhol, The Stones were back on stage for what was their biggest show in the UK since the Hyde Park concert of 1969, and it was in front of their biggest paying crowd ever…somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 people.

The Glyndebourne of Rock

Fans paid $4.50 each for the concert at Knebworth Park, in Hertfordshire, dubbed at the time as The Glyndebourne of Rock, where The Stones were supported by the Don Harrison Band, Hot Tuna, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and 10cc. Skynyrd played a blistering set with their classic, “Free Bird” at its heart. What’s long been forgotten by many is that two members of Harrison’s band were Doug “Cosmo” Clifford and Stu Cook, two of the original members of Creedence Clearwater Revival.


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Backstage, Moet and Chandon hosted a champagne party for guests including Jack Nicholson, Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, Germaine Greer, Traffic’s Jim Capaldi, John Paul Getty III, John Philips, Ian McLagan from The Faces, Van Morrison, and Paul & Linda McCartney. (The audience had to make do with tea or coffee at 12p a cup and a chicken curry that cost 55p.)

The performance

Technical problems dogged much of the show, resulting in The Stones going on very late, but they nonetheless played an extremely long set that helped make up for some earlier unrest among the crowd. They finally hit the stage at 11.30pm, 30 minutes after the concert was due to end, and ended up playing until just after 2am. Besides, Mick, Keith, Ronnie, Charlie, and Bill Wyman, the band was augmented by the brilliant American keyboard player Billy Preston and percussionist Ollie Brown.

The 30 songs set opened with “Satisfaction” and ran through almost The Stones’s entire career. It included “Little Red Rooster,” “Route 66,” and “Around and Around” from their earliest days, through classic singles including “Get Off Of My Cloud,” “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” “Honky Tonk Women,” and “Jumpin Jack Flash” as well as a short set within the set by Billy Preston who played, “Nothing From Nothing” and “Outta Space.”

Their set featured album tracks from Beggars Banquet (“Stray Cat Blues” and “Street Fighting Man,” their closer), Let It Bleed (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Country Honk,” and “Midnight Rambler”), Sticky Fingers (“Brown Sugar”, “Wild Horses,” “You Gotta Move,” and “Dead Flowers”) and Exile On Main St. (“Rip This Joint,” “Tumbling Dice,” and “Happy”), right up to their latest LP, Black and Blue, from which they played “Hot Stuff,” “Hand Of Fate,” “Hey Negrita,” and “Fool To Cry.” There were also tracks from their previous two albums, Goats Head Soup (“Star Star”) and It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (the title track, “If You Can’t Rock Me,” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”).

Power and relevance

The BBC’s Listener magazine said of the show, “Charlie Watts looked very neat and as like Bertrand Russell as ever: one’s feet were with him and one’s pulse with Bill Wyman.” While The Sunday Mirror said, “Scores of girls went topless as the scorching sun sent temperatures soaring in mid-afternoon. Some plain-clothes policemen mingled with the crowd, but only one arrest was made for an alleged drugs offense – even though ‘pot’ was said to be on sale.”

Perhaps The Melody Maker summed Knebworth 1976 up best of all, “The Rolling Stones drew a vast crowd estimated variously at between 110,000 and 250,000, to an exhausting, drawn-out event… it showed once again that they still have power and relevance.” Some things never change…

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  1. Pablito

    August 22, 2016 at 2:39 am


  2. Gilbert

    August 22, 2016 at 4:30 am

    AArtemus Pyle of Skynyrd was quoted as saying “… and we blew the STONES off the stage.” W/ Allen Gary and Steve hell yeah they did. But 10 cc, come on!

  3. Robert

    August 22, 2016 at 8:23 am

    Stones were untouchable at Knebworth. Even though 10cc openings song was started with “Just like a rolling stones Im outside looking in”. Im Mandy Fly me

  4. dpmhiaddict

    August 21, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    There was just an original copy of the festival poster listed on ebay, beautiful design. It sold for just £80, a bargain I think.

  5. Steve

    August 22, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Tickets were £4.50 not their best gig as lot of things went wrong , Keith’s guitar packed in at one point so he just casually lit up a ciggy..

  6. David Patefield

    August 22, 2017 at 10:53 am

    After Travelling over night to reach Knebworth, then spending the day sitting in the sweltering heat it was difficult just to keep awake waiting for the Stones to finally appear,

  7. Fred

    August 22, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Moi aussi j’y étais!

  8. Douglas Ferns

    August 20, 2019 at 8:12 pm

    Lynyrd Skynyrd played a brilliant set at Knebworth and really got the entire crowd bouncing so much that 10cc refused to go onstage immediately, which led to a lot of criticism from the audience. As it turned out, their performance was entirely forgettable but made up for when the Stones eventually got to start. Atmosphere was outstanding and, unlike other festivals of that scale, I can’t recall any lawlessness. Probably people were too hot to be bothered with fighting,etc.

  9. the breeze

    July 2, 2021 at 1:04 pm

    ah nostalgia ain’t what it used to be absolutely the best band on the day was skynerd fabulous little of we know it would be the last time we would see them.the worst bands were Harrison 10cc and the stones thanks to 10cc and their technicians delivering a very late and mediocre performance by the time the stones got on stage they were smashed on what ever they had been on a their private party. meanwhile everyone else was hung over hungry and cold never been to a stone’s concert since nor wanted too. skynerd were simply outstanding

  10. Jim Corboy

    March 31, 2022 at 4:57 pm

    Forgive me if i`m wrong but I do remember someone getting on stage to keep everyone’s attention by having a wank, does anybody else remember that, I wonder.

  11. Tom

    September 29, 2022 at 4:36 am

    I was in the USAF stationed at RAF Bentwaters and went there with 3 of my friends in my Triumph Vitesse. When the concert was over we’d been up for 2 straight days and I begged someone to stay awake with me for the drive back to Ipswich. All three of them were sleeping before we got out of the parking lot. It’s the only time in my life I fell asleep while driving. I hit the curb and the adrenaline rush kept me awake for the rest of the way home. None of my friends even woke up and had no idea we all could’ve died.

  12. GM

    May 28, 2023 at 2:29 pm

    Lynyrd Skynyrd were excellent but so were the Stones. All the other bands were good except Hot Tuna who were booed for turning their back on the fans and playing for themselves. The delays grew between each act to the point where it seemed deliberate, given the precision of the delay (extra half hour each break) and the light show of both the 10cc and the Stones. Allman Brother’s Jessica was played at least once in every break. Heroin was openly on sale although the dealers did get some stick. Stoned US military were sat in front of us leaving us to wonder about the defence of the West. Leaving in the early hours of the morning stepped over and on lots of sleeping people. First experience of a Festival – music great, environment not so much

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