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Back to the Rock

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Star-Ledger Staff

On July 13, 1985, Bob Geldof brought together many of the world's biggest rock acts for Live Aid -- televised, all-day stadium shows in London and Philadelphia that were viewed by 1.5 billion people, and raised millions of dollars for African famine relief.

For the followup, 20 years later, he's doing something really audacious.

Live 8, taking place Saturday, is a mammoth undertaking, with eight free shows, featuring more than 100 acts, on four continents. The purpose is not to raise money, but to increase awareness of Make Poverty History, a campaign to get the richest nations to cancel debts from African countries and boost poverty-relief efforts.

The "8" refers to the July 6-8 G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, where President Bush, British prime minister Tony Blair and six other world leaders will meet. Live 8 organizers hope the concerts will encourage them to take strong stands on these issues.

"Twenty years on, it strikes me as being morally repulsive and intellectually absurd that people die of want in a world of surplus," said Geldof, former leader of the punk-rock band the Boomtown Rats, at a May 31 press conference announcing the shows. "This is to finally, as much as we can, put a stop to that."

Pink Floyd (featuring estranged singer-bassist Roger Waters for the first time in more than 20 years), U2, Paul McCartney, Elton John, The Who, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Coldplay and many others will perform in London, making this, by far, the most star-studded of the Live 8 shows.
The Philadelphia concert boasts the second most impressive lineup, with A-listers such as Bon Jovi, the Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Wonder, Destiny's Child, Jay-Z and Linkin Park.
"They say their goal is to raise awareness, right?" said Ray Waddell, senior editor of touring for Billboard magazine. "They've already cleared a major hurdle in that regard, because when you start trotting out names like Pink Floyd, you've got the attention of the music world and beyond."

Roger Taylor, who will play with his band Duran Duran at the Rome show before flying to Denmark for an appearance later in the day at the Roskilde Festival, agrees.

"I think the great thing that comes out of this is the amount of airtime it generates," he said. "To me it's a success already. Every paper I've picked up over the last few weeks has had something about Live 8 and the issues it's trying to put forward. That's what music can do: You can't change the world, but you can generate interest in issues."

Following the model of the Live Aid concerts, sets will be short -- 15-20 minutes for most acts -- and one-time-only collaborations will be encouraged.

The stage for the Philadelphia show will be at the base of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (famous for their cameo in the movie, "Rocky"). The crowd will stretch up the tree-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which, like many roads in downtown Philadelphia, will be closed for the day. Video screens will offer close-up views for those far from the stage.

This site has been used for concerts before, including a Garth Brooks-headlined concert on July 4, 2001 that drew an estimated million people.

Tim Sexton, executive producer for Live 8 in the United States, said there were several reasons why the show landed in Philadelphia.

"One, it's the cradle of American democracy -- the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell, the legacy of Philadelphia in American history," he said. "Second, we wanted a iconic public space. Philadelphia has a number of places like that, and this particular location can accommodate a crowd. Lastly, the original Live Aid was held in Philadelphia, 20 years ago, so there was a desire to try to keep some continuity regarding the legacy of Live Aid."

The London show is free, though tickets are required. They have been distributed through a text-messaging lottery that cost a small fee ($2.73 in U.S. dollars) to enter. In Philadelphia, you won't even need a ticket.

"We would expect hundreds of thousands, and we are planning for having up to a million people in the city," said Thomas McNally, spokesman for Philadelphia's Commerce Department, which is helping to organize the event.

"It could be huge, it could be modest," said Sexton.
At press time, lineups for the shows were still expected to expand, and many details -- including the all-important matter of whether the Spice Girls reunion in London is on or off -- had not been finalized.

McNally said the Philadelphia show was confirmed so late that the city, working in conjunction with Live 8 personnel, had only about a month for planning and preparation work that would normally take up to a year. Organizers in the seven other cities are similarly rushed.

"There are eight concerts happening around the world simultaneously," said Sexton, "and a worldwide television production that will be carried in more than 135 countries, and a worldwide radio broadcast, and real-time on-demand streaming by AOL. And 100 artists performing in front of million people, to a television audience of a billion, or more. It's, frankly, a military-level enterprise, with a very limited time."

The Philadelphia concert alone will cost millions of dollars to produce. At press time, no estimated final price tag was available. But the city itself -- which is also presenting a free AIDS awareness concert with Elton John, Patti LaBelle and others at the same location on July 4 -- will bear much of the expense.

McNally argues that it's worth it, and not just because of the money that will be spent in the city by those attending the show.

"The effects of the exposure that Philadelphia will receive in the form of massive worldwide media coverage -- which could include well over a billion people seeing Philadelphia -- will be seen for months and, we believe, for years to come," he said. "People who see Philadelphia will want to come and spend money here, have a vacation, do business in the city.
"We're taking this opportunity to present Philadelphia on a world stage. There are costs, but on the other side of the ledger, it's a grand opportunity."

The Live 8 organization is covering its expenses in a variety of ways. Sponsorship deals are bringing some money in. So are the text-messaging fees, and money that vendors will pay to be part of the events. DVD and CD sets documenting the show will probably be released at some point in the future.

The musicians are working for free, which cuts down on costs. Still, it's a huge challenge to make it all work.
"It's not enough to do a regular concert," Geldof told Time magazine. "We had to create something grand, and free is pretty grand, I'd say. The funding? It's a massive risk."
Despite his good intentions, Geldof -- part of a team of Live 8 organizers that includes his Live Aid partner Midge Ure (of the band Ultravox), U2 frontman Bono, screenwriter Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill") and British concert promoter Harvey Goldsmith -- has had to deal with non-stop criticism. The self-aggrandizing tone of his comments hasn't helped; in that same Time article, for instance, he called Live Aid "perfect in almost every sense."
Soon after Live 8 was announced, there was an outcry over the lack of African artists on the bill. This led to a separate concert, devoted exclusively to African artists like Angelique Kidjo and Salif Keita, in Cornwall, England.

A similar rash of articles about the scalping of free tickets on led the Internet auction site to ban such transactions.

A million-man march on Edinburgh that is part of the Live 8 agenda has been lambasted by police officials in that city, who have said it would create safety hazards.

Speaking to the British magazine, Observer Music Monthly, Noel Gallagher of Oasis (who are not performing at Live 8) summed up the doubts that many people, surely, have about this quixotic project.

"I'm not sure about this Live 8 thing," he said. "Correct me if I am wrong, but are they hoping that one of these guys from the G8 is on a quick 15-minute break at Gleneagles and sees Annie Lennox singing 'Sweet Dreams' and thinks, '(Expletive) me, she might have a point there, you know.' It's not going to (expletive) happen, is it? Keane doing 'Somewhere Only We Know' and some Japanese businessman going: 'Aw, look at him ... we should really (expletive) drop that debt, you know.'"

Live Aid was not so easy to mock. People needed food, and Live Aid raised money to buy and distribute it.

Live 8's goals are less concrete, though Roger Taylor, who played with Duran Duran at Live Aid, does not think they are less noble.

"It's a big issue," he said, "and to be involved in something that's putting some positive energy into that ... it's just the same, whether you're raising money or awareness. It feels as important to us as it did the first time around."

Courtesy The NJ Star Ledger