Digital Flashback: Beating The Rolling Stones To The Web

A rock band called Severe Tire Damage claims to have gotten there first, in June 1993.

When was the first digital concert broadcast on the Internet? A rock band called Severe Tire Damage claims to be the first to perform live on the Net, more than a year before the Rolling Stones became the first act to grab international attention for doing so.

Calling themselves "the house band of the Internet," the members of Severe Tire Damage set up on the patio of the Xerox Palo Alto [Calif.] Research Center on June 24, 1993. In those pre-Web and pre-RealAudio days, the cybercasters used the facilities of the Internet's Multicast Backbone — a high-speed network also known as the MBone that since 1992 had been used mainly for academic conferences and computer research.

A year and a half later, on Nov. 18, 1994, the Rolling Stones webcast 20 minutes of their performance from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas over the MBone. In universities and research labs with MBone connections, fans crowded around computer screens to watch the slow-scan video. Reviews were decidedly mixed because of the low quality of the picture.

The Stones performed "Not Fade Away", "Tumbling Dice" and "You Got Me Rocking" (RealAudio excerpt), and then singer Mick Jagger greeted all the MBone listeners who "climbed into the Internet." That was followed by performances of "Shattered" and "Rocks Off."

The Stones, who were on their Voodoo Lounge tour, claimed to be the first to cybercast a portion of a live show. (They were among the first to debut an official band Web site, which they did in conjunction with Thinking Pictures Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. in 1994.) But according to the Internet Underground Music Archive (www.iuma.com), Deth Specula and Sky Cries Mary webcast shows earlier that year. And Severe Tire Damage webcast another show on the MBone an hour before the Stones took to the stage Nov. 18.

Xerox PARC is better known as the incubator that produced the concepts underlying the Macintosh and Windows operating systems and the Ethernet local-area network.

Ron Frederick and Steve Deering from the Computer Science Lab at Xerox PARC engineered the Severe Tire Damage webcast. Some of the band's live performances are still available at its Web site (www.std.org), now converted into the more modern RealPlayer and MP3 formats, and available for ShoutCast streaming to a Winamp player. Previous cybercasts on the MBone included a National Public Radio program Nov. 2, 1992, and an audio-only broadcast of an Internet Engineering Task force meeting in March 1992.