Officials have declared a state holiday for the opening day of the festival, which began Friday (January 12). Organizers hope 1.5 million music fans will buy tickets to see the $31 million event, and as many as 1 billion more to see it via pay-per-view television and the Internet. However, as of Thursday, about 500,000 tickets, at the cost of $18 each, had been sold.

The concert will open with three minutes of silence for prayer for peace, and the concert’s promoter, advertising mogul and promoter Roberto Medina, said TV and radio stations across the country have agreed to join the silence.

“I believe that we should be very concerned with the social question – not just saying how awful it is or how much violence and deforestation, but actually doing something to change it,” said Medina.

Medina started the Rock for Rio concert back in 1985. It was Latin America’s first major international rock festival and coincided with the collapse of Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship.

From its youthful idealism to the rain and mud, Rock in Rio was a south-of-the-border Woodstock. Some 1.3 million people from across the continent turned out to hear groups like Queen, Rod Stewart and Yes.

A second Rock for Rio, staged six years later, was less successful.

Unlike other high-minded festivals like Live Aid and Farm Aid, this year’s Rock in Rio is out to make a profit. All the bands will be paid, and Medina himself stands to clear a cool $2.5 million.

But Medina has pledged to give 5 percent of the gross earnings – expected to be about $6 million – to charity after the festival. In addition, there will be seminars and discussions about everything from saving the earth to promoting world peace in a special “For a Better World Tent.”

Whether acts like Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Britney Spears will also raise social consciousness is anyone’s guess, but Medina is convinced he’s on to something. He calls it social marketing.

For months, Medina has been involved in charitable events that keep the festival’s name in the news, giving away $1 million in scholarships and computers for poor communities.

Not everyone is comfortable with Medina’s “misery marketing” strategy. Some feel it glosses over the real problem in a country where nearly half the population of 170 million gets by on $150 a month or less.

“I think it’s good the festival is donating money to people who need it,” says Carlos Albuquerque, a music critic for Rio’s O Globo newspaper. “I just don’t think three minutes of silence and an orchestra playing (John Lennon’s) ‘Imagine’ to a lot of people holding white handkerchiefs is going to make this a better world.”