Philly Officials Prepare For Live 8

With more than 100 bands across at least five cities, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 looks to be as momentous an occasion as his original Live Aid benefit two decades ago.

Coinciding with the G8 summit of world leaders, the July 2nd free concerts will take place in London, Philadelphia, Berlin, Paris, and Rome, with performances broadcast live worldwide via TV, radio and the Internet. Ottawa is another city being considered.

Geldof hopes the attention generated by the concerts will help influence summit attendees to address poverty and debt relief for Africa.

Officials in Philadelphia expressed excitement at the potential boost to the city’s economy and image, and downplayed fears of logistical difficulties. Organizers reportedly expect a million people to crowd Benjamin Franklin Parkway to watch the concert, which will take place on the steps of the city’s Museum of Art.

At press time, artists confirmed to perform at the Philadelphia Live 8 included Dave Matthews, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi, 50 Cent, Kaiser Chiefs, Maroon 5, Keith Urban, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Rob Thomas, with Will Smith as host.

Most sets will range from about 10 to 15 minutes during the six-hour concert, Geldof said.

Philadelphia is already expecting 2.5 million people for the annual week-long Sunoco Welcome America festival, which includes a July 4th performance by Elton John at the same location.

Welcome America spokeswoman Barbara Grant said the two events would “fit like a glove” and echoed other officials’ statements that many people would probably attend both concerts as well as other Independence Day festivities.

“We’ll have a wall-to-wall day of incredible music,” she said.

“Everything is a logistical challenge but we’re good at it,” Philadelphia Mayor John Street said. “We were selected to host this concert … in part because of our ability to host these kinds of events and to do it with ease and with a certain sense of flair that other cities haven’t been able to pull off.”

Promoter Larry Magid, head of the Clear Channel-owned Electric Factory Concerts, expressed no doubt the city could handle Live 8, citing its long history of major concerts and events.

“We haven’t had one major incident in all these years,” Magid told Pollstar. “Because of the large crowds of people that are here for the July 4th holiday every year, the police and fire people and all the auxiliary departments that support this type of event are well-versed in these types of things.

“I’m confident that they can handle it. It’s been done before.”

Magid’s company has put on a free 4th of July concert at the Parkway location for the past 14 years. The 2001 edition – headlined by Garth Brooks and featuring more than a dozen stars reading the original copy of the Declaration of Independence – drew about a million people, he said.

However, Magid – who was a key organizer of Live Aid in 1985 – said he has “no expectations” regarding the number of Live 8 attendees, calling the widely reported estimate of one million “just a number that somebody threw out.”

“We can handle it, but I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t think anybody has any idea of how many people are coming. They’ve had that many people; they’ve estimated they’ve had more. It’s a very big area and I’m sure we can accommodate a lot of people.”

Organizers are preparing relay systems for audio and video and enormous video walls throughout the site. The parkway leading up to the museum stretches for more than a dozen blocks, and Magid pointed out that there’s more to the event than “being next to the stage.”

He also hinted that the Philadelphia concert might have a collaborative air, citing the original Live Aid’s success with superstars performing together onstage.

“We found that the audience really responded to that and that’s one of the things that we’re working on now,” Magid said.

City officials have been exploring ways to limit the financial burden of putting on such an enormous event. Most vacation and personal days for municipal and union workers will be canceled for the July 4th weekend, according to city managing director Pedro Ramos.

“Because it’s more than three weeks out, we’ve already had the opportunity to mitigate some of our costs,” Ramos said.

Street added, “Whatever expenses we incur … will be well worth it because this kind of exposure is very, very difficult to come by.”

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— Niilo Smeds