As preparations continue for the upcoming Michael Jackson tribute concert, the show's organizers have been forced to go on the defensive after numerous Jackson fan clubs and two of the singer's brothers have publicly condemned the tribute.
Michael Forever: The Tribute Concert, set to take place October 8 in Wales' 75,000-capacity Millennium Stadium, will feature performances by Christina Aguilera, Cee-Lo Green, Smokey Robinson and Ne-Yo, though its proximity to the September 20 manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray has troubled some of Jackson's fans and family.
"Staging the concert during his manslaughter trial isn't the right time," Gary Taylor, owner of the 80,000-member Jackson fan club MJJ Community, tells Billboard.com. "The fans are going to hear and see things that will be very hard to handle emotionally. The last thing they want to do is celebrate tribute-style to MJ. We're not saying to cancel it completely, but we will not support this concert one bit unless it's moved outside of the Murray trial. Otherwise, the concert will just have a load of Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo fans."
Taylor's group recently spearheaded an open letter speaking out against the concert signed by 35 Jackson fan clubs around the world.
Last month, Jackson's brothers Jermaine and Randy issued a statement denouncing the event, stating, in part, "While we wholeheartedly support the spirit of a tribute that honors our brother, we find it impossible to support an event that is due to take place during the criminal trial surrounding Michael's death."
Chris Hunt, President of Global Live Events, the UK-based production company organizing the concert, told Billboard.com that misinformation and ulterior motives were driving much of the protests. "I don't give a lot of credence to the 'It's disrespectful to do this during a trial' argument," Hunt tells us. "I like Jermaine and hope that he participates, but he also tried to set something up like this on two occasions and didn't succeed. You wonder if there's some of that in the back of his mind as well. I don't think there's any inappropriateness about having the concert three weeks after the trial may or may not start. What is wrong with a celebration of a great man's life at such a time?"
Many of Jackson's family have agreed to participate in the concert, either as performers or producers of the show. In a joint statement to Billboard, Jackson's brothers Jackie, Marlon and Tito said, "When we were approached to do this show, we thought it was important for us to say yes as our mother has endorsed this event and we wanted to support her with this tribute to our brother Michael. We feel this tribute would be something Michael would be proud of. I know our mother is thrilled that we are able to share this special event with her as well as all of Michael's fans. We look forward to seeing you all there."
While Global Live did not require the Jackson estate's permission to stage the upcoming concert in the UK, Howard Weitzman, an attorney representing the estate, issued a strongly worded letter to the company earlier this month. The letter outlined "multiple concerns" about the concert, including questions about the event's charitable donations and a clause in the ticket's Terms and Conditions stating "If 50% or more of the number of contracted artistes attend and perform the concert will take place and no refunds will be offered."
"How can you have a concert where you put in small print, 'We can't be responsible for artists not turning up'?," Taylor says. "What sort of concert is that? These people are clueless."
In response, Hunt said, "This is another curious misconception. These small print terms are merely standard insurance requirements. We do not give refunds because it is the agent who sells the ticket who does so, and this happens before the ticket money ever gets as far as us. Anyone deserving a refund gets one - this is UK consumer credit law. It would be wise to be clued up before calling people clueless."
Concertgoers are encouraged to add on to the ticket's cost for charitable donations, though Hunt states that a "significant amount" of the proceeds, regardless of ticket buyers' contributions, will go to AIDS Project Los Angeles and UK youth charity The Prince's Trust. Organizers are also setting up a trust fund for Jackson's children in excess of $100,000 with Jackson's mother Katherine as trustee.
A number of fan clubs -- and posters on Facebook -- have erroneously disseminated news that invited artists will perform their own songs, a point Hunt vehemently denied. "All the songs in the tribute are Michael Jackson's either from The Jackson 5, The Jacksons era or his solo career," Hunt says. "Every one. Period."
Tickets for the concert, ranging in price from 55 to 240 pounds ($90-360), went on sale Wednesday. The concert is scheduled to be broadcast around the world on paid television channels.