PHILADELPHIA – When Philadelphia was chosen as the only American city to host Live 8, many residents asked: Why us?
Only in Philadelphia.
The City of Brotherly Love is not used to the national spotlight, or at least not in the way Washington, D.C., and New York are. And among sports fans at least, Philadelphians are almost as famous for their homegrown pessimism as they are for cheese steaks.
"This is Philadelphia. We're not used to winning or things going well. You always hope, but somehow we're going to come in second. There's the expectation that we're going to screw this up," explained Philadelphia Inquirer writer Daniel Rubin.
But that's not to say the city isn't also enjoying its moment. Maybe it's because with a crushing Super Bowl defeat five months behind them, Philadelphians found themselves aching for something new to grouse over. Or maybe the city, like the scrappy underdog Rocky Balboa, thinks it's about time the world saw what Philadelphia has to offer.
"I think it's a showcase for what in my estimation is a little jewel of a city," said Elmer Smith, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist. "It's not a little city, but it's exquisite. [Live 8] will give it a showcase before an audience that otherwise might not get to be here."
That Philadelphia is one of the best-kept secrets among major American cities is a popular sentiment here.
Said Rubin: "I come from Boston, which is one of the most pretentious places in the world. I prefer here — it's got no attitude, certainly no pretension. It's a vibrant, interesting, real place."
Rubin, who also runs the Blinq blog, finds Philadelphia's inferiority complex endearing. "What I like about Philadelphia is it's Philadelphians who have the worst opinion of Philadelphia. That's just part of the attitude," he said, guessing it may all stem from the city's "Quaker humility."
Joey Sweeney, who runs the blog Philebrity.com, put his devotion to Philadelphia another way.
"As somebody who writes about the city, I have to be honest with you and say that's part of the charm: It's a white-knuckle ride all the way."
Hopefully, that won't be the case Saturday. City officials estimate more than 1 million people will descend on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (search), on which the concert stage has been erected. Attendees are expected to begin filing in starting at 6 a.m., to catch the other Live 8 concerts, which will be televised from across the globe.
Live 8 is the brainchild of Irish rocker Bob Geldof (search), who was also responsible for 1985's Live Aid concerts in Philadelphia and London. Instead of raising money for famine victims, Live 8's aim is to get the attention of the leaders of the eight largest industrialized nations, the Group of Eight (search) or G-8, ahead of their July 6 meeting in Scotland. The message: Forgive Africa's debt and formulate a concrete plan to double aid, wipe out hunger and poverty, and help Africans become viable trade partners to the rest of the world.
Huge turnouts are expected at the concerts taking place in each of the G-8 nations, along with smaller events in Johannesburg, South Africa, and at the Eden Project in southwest England. Organizers hope the sea of people alone will serve as a political statement those country's leaders would be foolish to ignore.
Molly Armour, a 28-year-old bartender and law school student, said that was the reason she was braving the heat and crowds.
"I think it's important as an American to attempt to communicate to the rest of the world and tell them, 'Global issues are our issues.' I feel that our current administration has totally lost sight of that," she said.
Armour was among those who will be attending Live 8 not for the Top 40-friendly lineup — "I feel it appeals to the lowest-common denominator" — but to protest what she sees as the developed world's inaction when it comes to the suffering in Africa.
"I have a lot of anger [about] the amount of money that is being spent on a poorly planned war," she said, referring to Iraq. "I think nothing more would speak to our values than doing some basic funding to stop starving, to end diseases like malaria — we're talking the basic fundamentals of human existence."
The range of acts has something for almost everyone to love — and hate. Event organizers have been criticized for inviting mostly mainstream pop acts like Black Eyed Peas (search) and the Dave Matthews Band (search). One snub in particular rubbed many Philadelphians the wrong way: Hip-hop collective The Roots were told that if they wanted to be involved, they could play backup for Jay-Z, Inquirer music critic Dan DeLuca reported earlier this week.
"The Roots thing is just dunderheaded. They've done so much for the city," Philebrity's Sweeney said.
"As a music fan and a Philadelphian I'm kind of dreading it ... I probably have the same sort of aesthetic and a lot of the same problems with the lineup that a lot of people have had: in a nutshell, the idea that the Philly lineup in particular is so frivolous. You wonder if the frivolity of the lineup is actually hurting the cause."
Sweeney conceded that the lineup was probably designed to get the highest turnout possible, and acts with large, loyal followings, like Bon Jovi (search), Josh Groban and Toby Keith, were sure to bring the fans out.
"Other than Bon Jovi I don't really care about any of the other performers," said Erika Valtinson, a 29-year-old graduate student. "I'm going to go just for the event and the experience ... I've never been in a crowd of a million people before."
Perhaps to counteract the “frivolity” that may ensue Saturday, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the National Constitution Center co-hosted a forum on Africa Friday evening. The Live 8 organizers were roundly criticized for not including many African acts — there are none on the Philly roster — and organized the smaller Johannesburg and Eden Park events in response.
But no matter who's playing, eight mega-concerts taking place in eight different countries on the same day is nothing to wave off — and Africa watchers hope the symbolism at least is not lost on the world's leaders.
Ed Cain, director of the Global Development Initiative at The Carter Center, said he was hopeful Live 8 would be a success in inspiring more aid to Africa.
"With Live 8, the question is not how to do it but the political will to do it. It's a real test."
Cain said the Bush administration in particular needed to be spurred to meet its promises on African aid.
"I think what the G-8 leaders need to do is to make a concerted effort on an alliance in dealing with these problems together. Not for the United States to come up with independent initiatives, but to join in a comprehensive, collaborative effort with the international community," Cain said by phone from Atlanta, referring to the U.N.'s Millennium Project. "The U.S. studiously avoids allying itself with that collaborative effort."
Cain said that the United States, which has led the global War on Terror since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, ought to take a leading role in Africa especially because of the threat posed by failed states, which the U.S. State Department has warned have become hotbeds for terrorism.
"We cannot disconnect what Live 8 is about and the problem of terrorism from the fact that poverty, despair and hopelessness somehow might contribute to the terrorists' agenda. Terrorists exploit people in poverty and despair," he said.
Afolarin Fakeye, 45, a Nigerian who has lived in Philadelphia for 10 years, said that he was "very excited" about Live 8, but wanted to see the developed world do more than throw money at Africa.
"What I would like the Western world to do is to take the stolen money in Africa from the leaders. They should not allow them to horde this money — this money should be used to help the people," Fakeye, who earned a degree in economics in Nigeria and now is a part-time cab driver, said.
"Look at Nigeria. Nigeria can produce 35 million barrels of oil a week, it's supposed to be the richest country in Africa, but it has nothing [to show for it]," he said.
"If you want to help them, train Africa in the medical field, in the engineering field ... because giving them money, it's always going into the wrong hands," he said, referring to warlords and dictators who have prevented substantial amounts of aid from reaching their people. "There is selfishness and they want to be in power for the rest of their lives. Democracy does not work in a society where somebody wants to keep himself in power for the rest of his life."