A rock concert in Moscow, jointly organized by American promoters and the Soviet government, plays to a crowd of approximately 25,000. The venture was intended to serve as symbol of peace and understanding between the people of the United States and the Soviet Union.
The idea of a rock concert in Russia was essentially the brainchild of concert promoter Bill Graham, a fixture in the West Coast rock and roll scene. He approached the Soviet government about the idea of holding a show in Moscow. Some Soviet officials were extremely reluctant to consider the concert. For nearly three decades, rock and roll had been castigated by official Soviet propaganda as “decadent” and a threat to public morality. However, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s rise to power in the mid-1980s heralded a new liberalism. The Soviets agreed to host the concert, and it took place on the Fourth of July. Performers included Santana, the Doobie Brothers, and Bonnie Raitt. The security for the show was heavy–some observers said “oppressive”–and most of the 25,000 people who attended were kept far away from the stage. One American reporter claimed that many of the Russians trickled out during the show, bored or disgusted. Only when a Russian folk troupe hit the stage did the crowd muster up much excitement.
The concert was evidence of the new, but still uneasy relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. Gorbachev’s promises of economic and democratic reforms encouraged many in the United States to believe that a new and less antagonistic relationship with Russia might be possible. As the thousands of armed guards at the concert demonstrated, however, the new “openness” in Soviet society was hardly complete.