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Author: Subject: Toronto SARS Day Concert
MadMadMike
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[*] posted on 7-31-2003 at 07:33 AM
Toronto SARS Day Concert


TORONTO - The Rolling Stones officially put an end to Toronto's SARS scare Wednesday, bringing out an estimated half-million people for a star-studded 11-hour-plus show that was the largest concert ever held in Canada.
"We're here, you're here, and Toronto is back and it's booming," Stones singer Mick Jagger, wearing a fuchsia jacket, told the crowd.

Jagger and the band hit the stage about 10 p.m., opening their 90-minute set with "Start Me Up." Singer Justin Timberlake and members of AC/DC, who had performed earlier, joined Jagger for duets. With encores, the music lasted until nearly midnight.

"I think it is the biggest crowd we have ever played for," said Jagger.

More than 400,000 tickets were sold at $16 U.S. Fans camped overnight to get near the stage at Downsview Park, a flat, treeless, 800-acre former military airfield north of downtown Toronto where Pope John Paul II appeared a year ago.

Police said one man was detained for assaulting a police officer as hundreds of people rushed in when the gates opened 15 minutes late Wednesday morning, but observers said the crowd was largely well-behaved. About 100 people suffered from heat exhaustion, but no serious injuries were reported.

Promoters provided more than 950,000 free bottles of water for concertgoers, distributing them at the gates. Emergency medical technicians also circulated through the crowd, handing out water bottles. To offset the bright sun and the 83-degree heat, cooling stations were set up around the site.

As they entered, concertgoers were checked by security guards with metal detectors. A long list of items were banned, from pocket knives to umbrellas. There were 1,500 security guards, plus 1,300 police officers, to keep order.

The crowd was a mixture of every taste and lifestyle - from adult flower children and punk rockers to bikini-clad women and leather-clad bikers.

A ways back from the stage, it was like a makeshift beach, minus the sand. A sea of bronzed, sunburned people lay and sat on towels and beach blankets as they watched the concert on nine giant video screens.


Unimaginable crowds

City of Tonawanda resident John Berndt drove up Tuesday night and spent the night with his Canadian cousins.

"The Rolling Stones is the only reason why I'm here," said Berndt, as AC/DC blasted out "Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be."

After all day at the concert, he still couldn't come to grips with the massive number of people around him.

"You just can't imagine 500,000 people. It's like Rich Stadium, even if it's full, it's only a quarter of this, and gosh, not even," Berndt observed. "You look everywhere and there's miles of people."

Berndt, a recent University at Buffalo graduate, also acknowledged how well-organized the concert was.

"I'm really impressed with how mellow people are," he said. "Things are a lot smoother than I thought. You don't get (ticked) off if you get pushed when someone walks by."

For Canadians, the concert was a way to truly show their love of country. Canadian flags were everywhere, and the maple leaf banner showed up on tattoos, belly rings, beach balls and spray-painted across people's chests.

Outside the park, entrepreneurs turned anything they could into parking space, charging as much as $30 Canadian to park in residential driveways and gas station lots.

The air was filled with the faint smell of pizza, marijuana and beef from the Beef Without Borders promotion, which hopes to increase sales of Canadian meat after the discovery of a case of mad cow disease.

For many, the concert was a chance to smoke a joint apparently free from hassle by the Toronto police.

Upstate New Yorkers Victor Schmidt, 19, and his friend Josh Lynch, 20, sat on a beach towel with two others, passing a joint around in a circle.

"Toronto's so liberal," Schmidt said. "In the States, they're really cracking down on everything."

The two both attend St. Lawrence University in Canton. Lynch took the Via Rail train three hours from Rockville, Ont., to attend the concert with Schmidt, who is spending the summer in Toronto with his parents.


Skin and security

The concert did not have the nostalgic feeling of another Woodstock, but a few people seemed to be inspired by the free-love motto anyway.

One woman shed her inhibitions to the gritty funk of the Isley Brothers.

Standing on a truck, first she pulled up her blue bikini top and flashed her chest. Later she pulled down her matching blue shorts to the delight of hundreds of onlookers, who screamed happily and quickly captured the moment with their disposable cameras.

But Toronto may not be as liberal as some concertgoers had thought. Within minutes, about a dozen police officers escorted the woman away in handcuffs. The crowd hollered, "Let her go" and "Free love." A few threw empty plastic water bottles at the police.

Jane Sorensen, 54, of Kingston, Ont., couldn't help but sway to the music in her flowing brown floral dress as Canadian singer-songwriter Sam Roberts crooned early in the show. She was accompanied by her 27-year-old daughter, Angela.

"I'm still a hippie at heart," said Sorensen. "I'd said to (Angela) we'd go to a Rolling Stones concert together, and here we are at the biggest event I've ever been to."

But the true purpose of the concert was to benefit Canada's ailing health care and tourism industries, reeling from the SARS outbreak last spring.

The message didn't seem to be lost on the fans in the crowd, but some thought the scare surrounding the outbreak was overblown.

One man wore a tongue-in-cheek T-shirt: "I came, I SARS, I conquered."

The concert also was designed to bring back tourists to Toronto. Estimates put the city's tourism losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars since the first SARS outbreak in March, along with health care costs of about $700 million. SARS sickened almost 250 people, killing 42 of them, in Canada's largest city - the biggest outbreak outside of Asia.

The World Health Organization removed Toronto from a list of places affected by SARS on July 2, but 10 cases remain active, including six people in critical condition.

Rolling Stones tour promoter Michael Cohl said the gig would cost $7 million. Canada's federal government put up $2.45 million, and the Ontario provincial government kicked in $1.4 million. Canadian brewery Molson, the chief sponsor, is contributing $4.55 million, a company spokesman said.

Any profits, plus 70 cents per ticket, will be split between two funds helping health care and tourism workers affected by SARS and the ensuing economic downturn.

A midafternoon set by the Flaming Lips raised a few eyebrows in the crowd when some of the dancers appeared wearing medical masks. Lead singer Wayne Coyne said the masks would be removed during their set, but the symbolism apparently was lost on some in the audience.

The music started shortly after noon with Canadian vocalist Jann Arden singing the national anthem and Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi and the Have Love Will Travel Revue leading off the performances.

During the concert, the fans were told a surprise performance was in the works, but no clues were given. There were rumors that Bono and other members of U2 could appear, along with Paul McCartney and Prince. One announcer drew laughter when he confided, "Celine Dion is not here."

"We're bringing this city back," said Belushi. "We're celebrating with music, and it's one of the most joyous and communal experiences."

Aykroyd, who was born in Canada, waved a Canadian flag on stage and encouraged Canadians and Americans to love, and visit, each other.

"Hey there, Pennsylvania. Hey there, New York State, Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan," he yelled. "We don't see you enough! And you don't see us enough. No borders! No borders!"



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* The Witch *
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[*] posted on 7-31-2003 at 10:46 AM


It was one hell of a barbeque. :D

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