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'ENDING HUNGER: NOW THAT WE CAN, WE MUST' : Good Feeling Permeates Happy Crowd as Technology and Talent Rise to the Occasion of Festive Event in City of Brotherly Love

July 15, 1985|DENNIS McDOUGAL | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — Take this, eat and remember that there was communion here Saturday.

The U.S. slice of Bob Geldof's international music pie was as profane as an all-night beer bust and as profound as actor Jeff Bridges' decree that July 13 would go down in history as the day that the flower children who had gone to seed in the '60s sprang back to life.

"I missed Woodstock, but I'm sure glad I'm here," Bridges told more than 92,000 sweating, swaying, shrieking fans wedged like superheated sardines into JFK Stadium for 14 hours of Saturday's Live Aid global rock concert.

Singer Lionel Richie capped the marathon all-star chorale with the proclamation in its fevered, closing moments, that the Live Aid telethon had raised an unprecedented $40 million to feed the globe. Actually, it will be some time before costs and contributions are weighed and tallied. The Philadelphia accounting firm of Laventhol & Horwath volunteered to audit the extravaganza and issue a final report to the public.

But the happy mob wallowing in 90-degree dog-day heat didn't have to wait for at least some of its hoped-for rock miracles. A Beatles reunion did not materialize, and New Jersey's beloved Bruce Springsteen did not participate, but the crowd did get to see:

--A musical marriage of Mick Jagger and Tina Turner on "State of Shock" that should brand the shy couple forever as the Arthur and Kathryn Murray of raunch rock.

--The magical reunion of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, a partial resurrection of Led Zeppelin and an Eric Clapton elegy to "Layla" that put the defunct Derek & the Dominoes back in business, if only for a few electric minutes.

--Phil Collins' virtuoso performance, hopping a Concorde for Philadelphia after his Wembley appearance to become the only transatlantic Live Aider, then singing, soloing on piano and pounding drums behind Robert Plant and Jimmy Page on "Stairway to Heaven." Appearing on the JFK stage with a 5 o'clock shadow that would make Richard Nixon envious, Collins said of his Concorde zip:

"I was in England this afternoon. Funny old world."

Unlike the pastoral Woodstock, Live Aid was dominated as much by technology as by the music. From the ABC Skycam operation, towering four stories over stadium center, to the massive video monitors flanking the stage that gave fans a quarter mile away in the back of the stands a bird's-eye view of each performance, it was an almost flawless exercise in audio-video wizardry.

The captive audience was forced to sit through commercials for all four concert sponsors (AT&T, Chevrolet, Pepsi and Kodak), and the massive sound system went out temporarily several times, but glitches were few considering the ambitious satellite sophistry of swapping feeds back and forth between England and South Philly. During the lulls, the crowd entertained itself with Frisbees, beach balls and stadium "waves" of fans standing, shouting and sitting in a coordinated undulation. The only sustained booing came after monitors carried several minutes of an anti-famine statement read by a German rock star in German with no translation.

Generally, good feeling blanketed the unkempt amphitheater. From lightly clad couples to several hundred cases of heat exhaustion, drug overdose and alcohol dehydration, all the inevitable comparisons to the Summer of Love materialized as promised.

But the outrage of a hippie draping himself in an American flag or a female, braless, wearing a wet T-shirt, that seemed so shocking just two decades ago was shrugged off. Even punk mohawks and chrome dog collars got no second look. Stagehands regularly sprayed down half-a-dozen waving American flags along with the sunbaked fans in front of the stage, and no one shouted treason.

Petty thievery, profiteering and some minor South Jersey-style brawling arose on the darker side of the Woodstock comparisons, but the only real incident of police violence reported during the day occurred out in the stadium parking lot, more than a scream away from Live Aid fans.

Shortly after 3 p.m., a woman suspected of selling beer without a license kicked a Philadelphia patrolman who retaliated with a baton to the side of her head. Bridget Conroy, 21, was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of a deep scalp wound following her arrest and that of her boyfriend, 28-year-old Jack Varniss.

Around the stadium, the mood of the day was dichotomous. Despite the gospel of charity being preached from the stage, the spirit of free enterprise was at work elsewhere from daybreak to sunset. By nightfall, the Vendor Detail of the Philadelphia Police Department had confiscated from the stadium area several truckloads of pretzel stands, bootleg T-shirts, kielbasa vendor boxes and grocery carts loaded with block ice and beer. Five teams of officers assigned to stop unlicensed entrepreneurs and ticket scalpers also confiscated dozens of $50 Live Aid tickets that were being hawked for as high as $100 apiece at the 9 a.m. opening of the concert.

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