PHILADELPHIA and LONDON — Aside from helping solve famine in Africa, just about every fan at Philadelphia’s Live 8 concert seemed to have another mission in mind: finding the best seat in the house. As show openers the Kaiser Chiefs belted out the chorus of their bombastic “Everyday I Love You Less and Less,” concertgoers sought positions where they could see more and more of the artists they love.
Fans climbed trees, hopped atop vendor trucks, news vans and portable toilets and even offered members of the media sexual favors in exchange for their credentials. Even as a portable toilet threatened to collapse under the weight of his body, one concertgoer refused to retreat, saying, “Dude, it smells horrible, but it’s the best seat I’m going to get.”
For others, it was all about the Benjamins. Thanks to the sweltering heat, the crowd was teeming with entrepreneurs selling everything from bottled water and “coolers” (rags soaked in ice water) to Jell-O shots.
Business was phenomenal, said 18-year-old drink vendor Whitney, who sported a pierced septum, dreadlocks and a “Life Is Random” tattoo, not to mention a pack of cigarettes stashed in her sweaty cleavage. “So many diverse people, from all over the country — and we’re making more money than we thought we would!”
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But the fans trampling the once-lush grass near Philly’s Museum of Art weren’t all young, tattooed and pierced. Bob, a 48-year-old local, attended the Live Aid concert in 1985 (see “Live Aid: A Look Back At A Concert That Actually Changed The World” ) and was back for seconds with his 19-year-old daughter, Shanna. “The whole idea behind a show like this makes you feel bad when your throw away half your sandwich,” he said. “At the same time, this is just so great for Philadelphia, and these bands are all really spectacular. But if it wasn’t for having three kids, I wouldn’t know who the hell any of these bands are.”
However, being a cool dad was no match for the aforementioned heat. Midriffs and even pregnant bellies were bared, and every source of shade was sought. At least five people were carted away by first-aid personnel, having apparently suffered heat exhaustion. Live 8 staffers made the rounds with water, while others sprayed hoses into the air above the crowd, showering a mist that provided temporary relief.
“We were up at the front and it was just too hot,” Jaunesha, a 17-year-old high school student from Chester, Pennsylvania, said. “People were all bunched up together up there and stepping on us. After the show, I’m taking a shower and then I’m going clubbin’.”
For their part, Otis and his girlfriend, Kiki, from the Poconos, weren’t suffering much from the stifling heat. “It’s never too hot when you’re drinking,” Otis, a bare-chested, cowboy-hat-sporting, construction-working Toby Keith fan, explained. “You just have to keep the cold can up against your chest.”
The couple were without a cooler, but did pack a satchel overflowing with cans. “There’s a garbage bag in there, filled with ice — it’s the redneck cooler,” joked Kiki. But like many of the estimated million-plus who packed into the area Saturday afternoon, Otis and Kiki also wanted to celebrate the message and mission behind Live 8 (see “What Is The G8, Anyway?” ).
“There needs to be huge change,” Otis said. “Awareness isn’t going to do it, though. There’s enough food in the world for everybody, but it’s getting that food to the people who need it. And that means cutting through a lot of red tape. Countries are consuming more than their share, and leaving the rest of the world out in the cold. Awareness is good, but there’s just no easy solution.”
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The couple were also impressed that so many people, from so many diverse backgrounds, could gather in one place, and “nobody’s been killed,” said Kiki.
“There’s a real sense of community here,” Otis said. “You’ve got punk rockers, country people like us, urban music fans, suburban families, all assembled in this one place, and it’s nice to be able to get together and get along like this.”
That sense of togetherness and common cause was also what brought Jameel, a 19-year-old Syracuse University linebacker, and his friends Andre and Brandon out for Live 8. The fact that there was a free concert didn’t hurt, either. The hulking trio couldn’t wait for Jay-Z to bust it wide open, and a confused Andre expressed excitement for Elton John’s appearance — that is, until Brandon informed him Elton was at the London event (see “Jay-Z, U2, Madonna, Pink Floyd Deliver Live 8 Highlights” ). “Really?” Andre asked. “Damn, man, I got on the wrong airplane.”
Meanwhile, at London’s Hyde Park, an estimated 200,000 people — from guys in soccer jerseys to girls in bikini tops, waving flags of their homelands, singing, dancing, chanting, screaming — assembled for 26 bands and one united voice against hunger in Africa. Many had been waiting since Friday afternoon (see “Madonna Wears White, Fans Climb Into Trees On The Day Before Live 8″ ), having come from as far away as Canada, Scotland, Lebanon, Ireland, Switzerland, Zimbabwe and the United States.
They brought tents and sleeping bags, skinny cans of Red Bull and monstrous cans of lager. At noon on Saturday, under gray skies and the threat of rain, they were finally admitted to the concert grounds, and a mad dash to the stage began. No matter that the actual concert didn’t start for two more hours, their excitement was unbridled.
Fans cheered as footage of Björk’s performance from the Live 8 show in Japan played on massive TV screens. Lines formed early at merch booths and food kiosks. Kids feasted on “authentic” Southern fried chicken and sausages and devoured footage of U2, Bryan Adams and Queen performing at the original Live Aid 20 years ago.
And when U2 confidently strolled onstage at 2 p.m., trailed by Sir Paul McCartney and a brass band dressed in psychedelic Sgt. Pepper’s garb, the place went nuts. The air above Hyde Park instantly became a cacophony of helicopters, flags, beach balls and doves (courtesy of U2′s stage show). When Bono grabbed the mic after ripping through “Beautiful Day,” to deliver an impassioned plea to end Third World poverty, it was a message not lost on the assembled masses.
“I was 15 when the original Live Aid happened, and I remember seeing the footage of people starving on TV,” said Tanveer Ahmed, who made the trip down from Manchester. “And 20 years later, we’re still seeing the same thing. Human beings should be slapped for their insensitivity to the whole issue. And maybe this concert is a good way to start that.”
That was the opinion of most at Hyde Park — they came for the concert, but also because they care about solving African poverty. Maybe it’s because their prime minister is the chair of the Commission for Africa, or maybe there were just 200,000 humanitarians assembled in the park, but whatever the case, they displayed a level of awareness seemingly far superior to that their American counterparts.
“It’s all about awareness, of course. Over here, we hear about free trade all the time,” said 22-year-old Dave Wong, from Reading, who spent much of the concert reclining on the ground with his girlfriend, a good 500 yards from the stage. “That’s why we came out. I mean, we’re so far back here it’s like watching the concert on TV. But it’s all for a good cause.”
“To be honest, I didn’t even know about this concert until yesterday, but I was aware of Third World poverty,” 20-year-old Peterborough resident James Medlock said. “I want to see Coldplay and the Killers, and I waited in the line since 9 a.m. to see them, but I’m also here because I want to be a part of history, you know?”
As the day progressed, fans skanked to UB40, threw their hands in the air for the Killers, clapped along loudly for Madonna’s bombastic set and danced like mad for Snoop Dogg. And despite the mud, tight confines and cold wind that whipped through the park, they all got along, with the exception of one surly gent who got a bit too riled-up during Snoop’s set and was dragged, kicking and screaming, off the premises by security.
And as the evening entered its homestretch, the clouds thinned a bit, revealing a rose-colored sunset that was greeted with cheers. Local fave Robbie Williams got the lads singing along, and Pink Floyd reunited for a spot-on performance. The day ended as it had begun, with McCartney onstage, and fans cheered just as loudly for him as they had some 10 hours earlier — maybe even louder. And then, after the obligatory group sing-along, it was over. Nothing left but the message (and a whole lot of empty Red Bull cans).
The throngs headed for the serpentine security gates, some carrying tattered signs, other with tired children on their shoulders. Two-hundred thousand muddy, cold, weary fans, headed back to towns in England and countries across the seas.
Two hundred thousand potential future-shapers and world-changers, part of one momentous day that brought together millions more just like them. Who knows — in another 20 years, perhaps we won’t need another Live 8.
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.