LONDON and PHILADELPHIA — The skies over London’s Hyde Park had been threatening to open up all day long. Heavy gray clouds hung lazily in the sky, pregnant with raindrops. A cold breeze whipped over the barren parkgrounds, sending the assembled Live 8 crew and band techs running for their windbreakers and hoodies. Most of the grass in the park had turned from a robust green to a tired, weary brown, and huge tracts of mud had been opened up by foot traffic and the odd Caterpillar tractor. Even the ducks in Hyde Park’s pond looked miserable — and they live here.
And in the middle of all this, standing on a barren stage, Madonna had chosen to wear white — fabulous, virginal white. In fact, she’d dressed her entire backing band (complete with a full gospel choir) in white too, the type of wardrobe mandate only Madge could make. And this was all just for her soundcheck, which lasted for the better part of an hour.
Before an audience of about 100 stagehands and various members of the media, she ran through a bumping medley of her hits: “Like a Prayer,” “Music,” “Ray of Light,” all of which had grips and gaffers dancing in their workboots while Sting braved the drizzle to watch. In fact, the music was so loud that the throngs of fans gathering outside the concert grounds — on the other side of a massive field, across crowd-control barricades and huge green walls put up only days ago — were able to hear it. And they were dancing too.
Early reports predicted somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 fans would pack into Hyde Park for London’s Live 8 show, one of 10 taking place all over the world on Saturday (see “Good Charlotte, Bjork In For Live 8 Tokyo; Moscow Concert Added” ). And on Friday, more than 22 hours before the concert was slated to begin, some of them were already here, setting up sleeping bags, kicking around soccer balls or watching through cracks in the green external wall while artists — including Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney and Sting — soundchecked. There were even more that didn’t have tickets, weren’t lucky enough to win them through the text-message lottery, or buy them from salacious scalpers. For them, this was about as close as they were going to get to actually witnessing Live 8.
Andrew, a 17-year-old from Peterborough, England, a town 60 miles outside London, came with his mom and dad to try and snatch up last-minute tickets, but instead ended up getting ripped off and now found himself sitting dejectedly in a lawnchair outside Live 8’s main gate, holding a sign that read, “Tickets Stolen, Any Help Would Be Appreciated.”
“We went to Piccadilly [Circus] to try and get some tickets, and we passed two guys who said they had a pair for 150 pounds, so we gave them the money and they handed us an envelope. When we got around the corner, we checked the envelope, and there was nothing in it,” he said. “We’re just here now to see if anyone has a spare ticket or something, but I doubt it will happen.”
And there were a whole lot of kids — from Scotland and Australia and Wales, dressed in band T-shirts and baggy jeans — just like Andrew, milling around the outside gate, hoping for a miracle, or help of any kind. Surprisingly, most of them seemed just as excited about being part of history — being at the largest show of the largest day of shows in history — as they did about catching sets from Coldplay, Pink Floyd or U2.
“The bands are only part of the reason we’re here. Raising awareness about poverty throughout Africa and putting pressure on the G8 assembly is the other” (see “The Road To Live 8: Why Are We Here?” ), said 35-year-old Andrew, who had flown from Toronto to see the show — and one band in particular. “Me and my friend have probably seen various forms of Pink Floyd 50 or 60 times over the years, and now, to get to see the original lineup, it’s amazing. We could’ve seen the [Live 8] show in Toronto, but when we heard Floyd was going to play, we had to come here. My wife gave me permission, though,” he added with a laugh.
It should be noted that just a minute prior to being interviewed, Andrew and his friend Bob had just been ordered to climb down from a tree by park security. They had been trying to catch a glimpse of Floyd’s soundcheck. They had also paid 210 pounds each (roughly $400 U.S.) for tickets to Live 8.
And they were not alone in their mania. Because as Pink Floyd brought Friday to a close with a booming, spot-on soundcheck, fans had climbed every tree in Hyde Park to watch the classic lineup’s first performance together in 24 years. The often-contentious bandmembers shared smiles as they worked through the entirety of their set, much to the delight of the impromptu crowd, which cheered wildly and even shouted out requests. And even though the concert was still about 13 hours away, lines had begun to form outside Hyde Park, and the cold air seemed somewhat warmer.
Meanwhile, in Philly, there was a carnival-like atmosphere on the grounds surrounding the city’s majestic Museum of Art — the performances will take place on the building’s front steps — with dozens of vendors setting up shop along the streets, peddling everything from funnel cakes and stromboli to turkey legs and Philadelphia’s civic vice, the cheese steak. Port-a-potties stretched as far as the eye could see.
While Kanye West, Linkin Park, Will Smith, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban and Def Leppard soundchecked, the throngs of high-school-aged kids traipsed through thick mud (the result of a brief but intense 10-minute downpour). Fans — some who’d come from as far as Phoenix, others from “just 15 minutes from here” — poured into the area, lugging cases of beer and coolers, with dogs by their side and children perched on their shoulders, to drink, play Frisbee, scarf down Mister Softee ice cream and take it all in.
|Live 8 artists stress debt relief, critics of the plan sound off and the G8 summit is explained in “Live 8: A Concert To End Poverty” on Overdrive.|
Jess, 18, who’d driven in from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with her friend Annie, wouldn’t have missed it for the world. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” she explained. “To see this many bands, for free? I had to be here.”
Andy, 24, of Collingswood, New Jersey, wanted to get a good look at the stage Friday just in case he didn’t have a clear view for the actual show on Saturday. “I wanted to see what it’s like from this vantage point,” he said. “I don’t know how close I’m going to get [to the stage] tomorrow, so now I’ll have an image in my mind of what they’ll look like onstage.”
Some fans even set up camp in the hope of getting a primo spot for the show, but promptly at 11 p.m., police ordered everyone to go home and return at 6 a.m. In the evening’s strangest moment, just minutes before the police starting towing cars and telling people to “pack it up,” a bachelorette party, seven rowdy girls strong, made its presence known by barking and screaming at the crowd.
The striking, young blond bride-to-be, who wore a plastic crown bedecked with ersatz jewels, suggestively devoured white chocolate and flashed the assembled throngs. A curious contribution the fight against poverty, perhaps, but her enthusiasm was applauded by the crowd.
MTV will be bringing you all of the Live 8 action — including live performances, interviews and more — starting at noon ET on July 2.
Get involved: Learn about the poverty crisis in Africa, the proposed solutions, and how you can help. Plus find all of our coverage of the international Live 8 concerts and more at our thinkMTV Live 8 hub.