Fans gather for Michael Jackson tribute concert
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Michael Jackson fans flocked to the capital of Wales on Saturday for a tribute concert that has divided the King of Pop's family and followers — a celebration of the late star's life overshadowed by the Los Angeles manslaughter trial of his doctor.
The genre- and generation-spanning lineup for the "Michael Forever" show at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium includes Christina Aguilera, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Leona Lewis, British boyband JLS, Cee Lo Green — and, via video, Beyonce.
The Black Eyed Peas pulled out this week, citing "unavoidable circumstances" amid reports the chart-topping band is splitting up.
Despite the last-minute loss, organizer Chris Hunt said fans can expect "a very, very spectacular show."
"Everything we've done has been governed by one criterion — would Michael have done it this way, would he approve, would he like it?" said Hunt, chief executive of Global Live Events. "We're trying to do something worthy of one of the greatest showmen of modern times."
Jackson died in June 2009, at age 50, as he was preparing for a string of comeback concerts in London.
His last hours are being relived in graphic detail at the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, accused of giving Jackson a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol and other sedatives in the bedroom of his rented mansion on June 25, 2009.
Some fans have said it's inappropriate to hold the tribute show during the trial, but those who came to Cardiff said it was a fitting antidote to the grim courtroom spectacle.
"There's a lot of negativity in that courtroom," said Ronnie Lee, a 32-year-old truck driver from Pembroke, Wales, sporting a "Thriller" T-shirt. "This is a chance to say, 'Thank you Michael' and celebrate the music."
Fans from across Europe gathered outside the stadium, where vendors did a brisk trade in King of Pop T-shirts and fedora hats like those once worn by Jackson.
"Whatever happens in that court, we'll never get Michael back," said Karin Kiewiet, 40, a local government worker from Emmen in the Netherlands. "This is a good opportunity for us to begin grieving."
Little that Jackson did in the final years of his life was without controversy, and the division has continued after his death.
Jackson's estate is not involved in the concert, and his family is divided about the show. Siblings Marlon, Tito, Jackie and La Toya are scheduled to perform, and Michael Jackson's mother Katherine is due to attend, along with his children Prince, 14, Paris, 13, and 9-year-old Michael Joseph Jr., known as Blanket.
Katherine Jackson has said the concert is "exactly the way Michael would have wanted to be remembered."
But brothers Jermaine and Randy Jackson have criticized the timing of the show, saying Murray's trial should take precedence over other events. In a statement, the brothers said "we feel that the most important tribute we can give to our brother at this time is to seek justice in his name."
Sister Janet Jackson also has said she will not attend because the concert coincides with Murray's trial.
Fan groups around the world have also criticized the event, not just for its timing, but for ticket prices that started at about $100 and for what some regard as an out-of-the-way location in Cardiff, 150 miles (240 kilometers) west of London.
Organizers have struggled to line up top-name acts for the show, hosted by actor Jamie Foxx and British TV host Fearne Cotton. They outraged many fans by inviting the rock band Kiss, whose bassist Gene Simmons told a magazine last year that there was "no doubt in my mind" that Jackson, who was acquitted of molestation charges in 2005, had abused children.
The invitation was hastily rescinded, but many fans remain angry.
"The fans are not happy that the Jackson estate is not involved," said Wesley Noorhoff, president of a Dutch Michael Jackson fan club. "It seemed like they wanted to build a concert soon, to get money.
"I believe it should wait, not only because of the Murray trial. If you do a tribute to Michael it has to be the best there is, just like Michael."
Hunt insisted the show would be a success. He said more than 40,000 tickets had been sold, and he was confident of reaching the venue's 50,000 capacity.
Some of the proceeds will go to the AIDS Project Los Angeles and Prince's Trust charities, and a portion will be placed in a trust fund for Jackson's children, though organizers did not give an exact breakdown.
Hunt said 13 Jackson family members were scheduled to attend the concert, many of them appearing onstage.
"It's a family's tribute to their own," he said. "I'm expecting it to be a hugely emotional evening."