Politics Meets Rock, Rap at U.S. Leg of Live 8

With 10 concerts around the globe designed to push Africa to the top of the agenda of next week's Group of Eight (search) summit, it may be fitting that the largest turnout by far was in the United States.

Live 8 (search)'s American leg was held in Philadelphia, the city where the Declaration of Independence (search) was signed more than 200 years ago. The all-day event on the Saturday of the Fourth of July weekend officially kicked off at noon, with many attendees staking out spots on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway hours beforehand, expecting to watch live feeds from host cities including London and Paris.

Due to technical glitches, that didn't happen. But even those who feared disaster and embarrassment for the City of Brotherly Love agreed the event was largely a success.

"I was really pleasantly surprised," said Joey Sweeney, who runs the Philebrity blog. "For all the ... kvetching and hand-wringing that we did, I'm kind of proud. It seemed by all accounts to go without a hitch."

Washington, D.C., editor Edmund Burke, 35, who drove up Saturday morning for the event, also had high praise for Philly's leg of Live 8.

"It was really impressive. It was brilliant. So incredible. I think the people of Philadelphia were wonderful to all show up and come out," he said.

Though the city's claim that more than 1 million people were in attendance is probably a gross overestimation — according to an analysis by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Parkway can hold 400,000 people max — the actual figure will likely beat those in the other nine cities: London; Eden Project, Britain; Moscow; Paris; Berlin, Rome; Barrie, Canada; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Tokyo. The Japanese festival saw a paltry 10,000-person turnout.

But enthusiasm was high in Philly. After the lineup's least-known band and sole indie-rock contribution, Kaiser Chiefs (search), warmed up the crowd with a three-song set, host and native Philadelphian Will Smith (search) led a live video shout-out to the other Live 8 cities. Then, in what would be one of the few sobering moments of the day, he informed the audience that a child in Africa dies every three seconds and snapped his fingers every three beats to drive the point home. The silent crowds in Philly and other Live 8 cities were soon snapping their fingers, too.

Shortly after noon, the nearly seven-hour tour of current American pop officially kicked off with the bouncy hip-hop act the Black Eyed Peas (search), which performed two of its best-known songs and its latest release.

The roster was largely skewed toward the MTV crowd, a sore point for older music fans who wondered why Philly did not get a U2, a Who or a Pink Floyd reunion. And if all the booty-shaking on stage wasn't enough, the audience had to sit through ads from the event's corporate sponsors between sets.

Such incongruities were par for the course and probably unavoidable. After all, the point of Live 8 was to wake up the G-8, which represents the world's wealthiest and most powerful nations, to the myriad problems in Africa, a continent of largely underdeveloped nations marred by poverty, disease and corruption.

"The commitments made this week at the G-8 Summit could make a world of difference to the people of Africa," actress Jennifer Connelly (search) told the crowd, encouraging them to sign a petition urging the G-8 to commit to canceling Africa's staggering debt, doubling foreign aid and tamping down domestic subsidies to boost African farmers' and manufacturers' ability to compete in the global marketplace.

More pointed political statements were rare. Performers reportedly had to agree to keep any sharp criticisms about the war in Iraq or the G-8's leaders to themselves. But leave it to rap heavyweight Jay-Z (search) to get his digs in anyway.

"We're spending billions and billions of dollars to kill people, when we should we spending billions and billions of dollars to help people live," Jay-Z said to enthusiastic applause.

It may have been the lone reference to the war in Iraq all day.

A blazing sun and sardine-like conditions on the ground had attendees wilting by early afternoon, and Jay-Z's performance with Chicago rap-rockers Linkin Park (search) was the energy booster the Philly crowd needed. "Numb/Encore" and "Big Pimpin'/Papercut," from their "Collision Course" collaboration, were among the strongest performances of the day.

Another highlight of the show was also the briefest. While many younger attendees shrugged off aging '80s hair band Def Leppard during their 20-minute set, songbird Alicia Keys had hundreds of thousands swaying to jazz classic "For All We Know." Then she bid the crowd goodbye and left.

Aussie country star Keith Urban wisely opened his set with the chorus "Philadelphia Freedom," before launching into his hit "Days Go By." After a cover of Phil Collins' late-'80s hit "Another Day in Paradise" — another reminder to the mostly young crowd that the day belonged to a serious cause — Urban closed with a rocking, reverb-heavy version of "Somebody Like You." For a town that isn't known for a fondness of country music, Urban handily won the crowd over.

Producer-turned-rapper Kanye West (search) also delivered a political number with "Diamonds From Sierra Leone." His mini-orchestra — whose female players apparently took their fashion cues from a Robert Palmer video — along with some arresting visual graphics made his the most dramatic set of the day. West performed his rap confessional, "Jesus Walks," with enormous digital crosses blazing in the background.

Whether the drama onstage or the symbolism of Saturday's huge turnouts will translate to real change in the developed world's aid and trade policies toward Africa remains to be seen. Some attendees said that it would be hard for President Bush and the rest of the G-8 to ignore the will of so many newly emboldened citizens.

"Everyone feels compassion toward other people, especially those who are less privileged than the rest of us, but a lot of us feel powerless," Burke said. "Now with the One movement people have gone under one umbrella and they've realized ... we can achieve our goals by going to these eight men and saying ... 'You guys have the money to go to war. We're just asking for a little bit to help make the world a better place."

TV ads for the One campaign (search), featuring the likes of Bono, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt have been running ahead of the G-8 summit.

Philadelphian Cedric White, 28, said he was optimistic Live 8's impact would be felt beyond Saturday's concerts.

"Hopefully everybody can come together and make a difference in the world. That's something I'm about and that's why I'm here. You just have to put a full effort in," he said.

Paul Normandeau, a 52-year-old lawyer from Toronto, said that what he and hundreds of thousands of others were asking of their leaders was relatively painless.

"The idea of the constant deaths is just unsustainable. And the idea of not having retroviral drugs at a reasonable price is just shameful," he said. "That's something the G-8 countries can afford very cheaply, to stop the AIDS crisis and at least treat people with HIV. Water for a whole continent is a little difficult, but HIV drugs, that should not be difficult."

Still others kept their expectations in check.

"I think ultimately they're going to do whatever they want to do," said Philebrity's Sweeney. "They may decide to do the right thing. But if however many thousands of years of human history can't convince these guys to do the right thing, I don't think a concert will."