The Rolling Stones may be touring without drummer Charlie Watts for the first time ever, but the band's longtime production director says there "is always a piece of Charlie in the show."

The trek that begins Sunday night (Sept. 26) in St. Louis is actually the fourth leg of the Stones' No Filter Tour, which began in 2017. Besides drumming, Watts was always instrumental in the visual side of the Stones' presentations, and Dale "Opie" Skjerseth tells UCR that the group's current staging still reflects Watts' sensibilities.

"This is a, yes, he did the artwork and all of that," Skjerseth says, pointing to the stage set up at The Dome at America's Center and its four 45-foot-high video screens emblazoned with the Stones' lips-and-tongue logo. "That's part of his world. He always picked out those things. He's part of the creative end, so everything from the top to the bottom, looks and things like the colors, his input is on the show."

Skjerseth further notes that Watts' "stamp is still here and always will be here with the guys. What you see is always a piece of Charlie."

That said, Skjerseth assured that drummer Steve Jordan, who was already lined up to spell Watts for the tour, is "up to speed with everything. It is big shoes. I don't think you'll ever fill Charlie's shoes -- no one ever will. But for what they're doing and will be doing, it's spot-on for what it needs. The crowd will love it."

The Stones, Skjerseth added, spent five weeks rehearsing in Boston before its Sept. 20 private show in Foxboro, Mass., for New England Patriots' owner Robert Kraft, and have been in St. Louis the rest of the week preparing for Sunday's opening night. The group is planning to play 14 dates, finishing Nov. 20 in Dallas.

Mick Jagger revealed in a publicity-released interview that the Stones have "rehearsed 80 to 90 songs," and in Foxboro the band debuted their most recent single, "Living in a Ghost Town," as well as a version of the Chi-Lites' "Trouble's a Comin'" that's part of the upcoming Tattoo You box set.

Skjerseth said the group is thrilled to be returning to the road after having to postpone tour dates in 2020 due to the pandemic. He added that the touring party is taking protocols very seriously, including required vaccinations and masking in the venues. Local crew workers are also being asked to wear masks. The tour is also carrying doctors and testing equipment.

"We're paying attention to basic common sense," he explains. "We social distance. Dressing rooms have all been sanitized, everything’s been sanitized. We divided up catering for local staff and our staff. We have zones that only allow certain people in for our staff, just to keep the numbers down. The venues all across America are on board with our plan. We have nine weeks of a tour, so let's get through it and be successful and go home safe and healthy."

"That's what it's all about," he continued. "We follow the protocols. We all came to the table and said we want to do this, so if we're gonna do it we have to do it together. We're all doing what we love to do and we were unable to do, as we all know...We all know what the consequences are if we go home -- there is no work. So we are following protocols to our standards...We believe we'll be successful and get through it. Put your mask on, pay attention and use common sense. We're a good team out there. We're gonna get through it, and that's our plan."

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