Digital Flashback: Tibetan Freedom Concert Webcast Broadens Awareness

Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and friends used Internet to reach wider audience.

The third annual Tibetan Freedom Concert, held two years ago in Washington, D.C., drew 65,000 people to RFK Stadium and 300,000 visitors to the Internet in a powerful convergence of music, activism and the Web.

The two-day concert — organized by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and featuring his band along with R.E.M., Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead and others — was designed to raise awareness of the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

The June 13–14 event was carried live on the Internet, MTV and syndicated radio. The former outlet helped spread the festival's message worldwide, according to Deyden Tethong, education director of the Milarepa Fund, the festival's direct beneficiary. "Because people are watching it on the Internet, they can go around and look at the different pages, send a postcard, send a fax, read more material, go to links of different organizations and watch interviews," she said. (Sonicnet.com's parent company, Viacom, also owns MTV.)

"It's something that we've always felt was important, because our generation is the one that's on the turning point for the Internet," Tethong said.

The festival's webcast drew an average of 2,000 viewers at any given time and 300,000 overall, said Kurt Langer, Milarepa's technical director.

Langer said the webcast also served as a kind of simulcast picture for live backstage interviews broadcast nationally on radio.

The musical lineup also included Live, Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews, the Wallflowers, Patti Smith and Sonic Youth.

Halfway through the first day of the event, a severe thunderstorm rolled into RFK Stadium. Concert-goer Lysa Selfon, then 25, was struck by lightning and severely injured; 10 others were hurt. Organizers stopped the show, and some of the pre-empted artists returned Sunday to play shortened sets.

During the hectic Sunday schedule, Thom Yorke of Radiohead joined R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe on vocals for "E-Bow the Letter" (RealAudio excerpt of original). The Red Hot Chili Peppers crashed the end of Pearl Jam's set. Beck and Kraftwerk, citing scheduling problems, canceled.

The first two Tibetan Freedom Concerts, held in San Francisco on June 15–16, 1996, and New York on June 7–8, 1997, also were webcast.

The fourth festival, held on June 12–13, 1999, in four cities on four continents, was partially webcast, with an interview and one track per artist posted as soon as the live tapes could be encoded, according to Langer.

"By the end of the weekend, we had 40 or 50 files up of music and interviews," he said. "And then a week later we did a special rebroadcast where we packaged a four-hour program."

No Tibetan Freedom Concert has been scheduled for this year.