Michael Jackson Tribute Concert Kicks Off in Wales
Three generations of Michael Jackson's family -- with a few notable absentees -- joined an eclectic roster of entertainers Saturday to pay tribute to the King of Pop, a celebration of the late star's life overshadowed by the Los Angeles manslaughter trial of his doctor.
On a stage shaped like a giant glove, participants performed songs from across Jackson's career - from his childhood with the Jackson 5 through monster solo albums like "Thriller" and "Bad." Participants urged fans to ignore the criticism and planning glitches that marked preparations for the show in Wales, and to revel in the celebration of Jackson's musical legacy.
"It's not about the controversy," said R&B star Ne-Yo, who kicked off the show with a rendition of "Billie Jean," complete with some passable moonwalking. "It's not about the trial. It's not about his death. It's about celebrating his life. It's about celebrating his music."
The crowd at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium did just that, roaring with approval as Jackson's brothers Marlon, Tito and Jackie -- three-fifths of the original Jackson 5 -- took the stage to perform "Blame It On the Boogie" with British boyband JLS.
"Can you feel his spirit in the house tonight?" asked Marlon. Judging by the cheers, the fedora hats and the sequined gloves in the audience, many could.
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The concert has divided the King of Pop's family and followers. The three brothers and sister La Toya were performing, while Michael Jackson's mother Katherine was in the audience and his children Prince, 14, Paris, 13, and 9-year-old Michael Joseph Jr., known as Blanket, briefly took the stage to thank fans for coming.
"We're very happy to be here on this special night to honor our father," said Paris, who like her older brother smiled and appeared confident, while Blanket stood stoic and shy.
While 13 Jackson family members attended -- including vocal group 3T, composed of Tito's three sons -- Michael's brothers Jermaine and Randy and sister Janet have stayed away, saying it is wrong to hold the show at the same time as the manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray.
Before the show, Marlon Jackson said he respected his siblings' decision. "Each one of us grieves differently," he said. "We want to celebrate the positive side of his life, the positive things that he did."
Latoya Jackson speaks about the Michael Forever concert
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 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 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, Netherlands. "This is a good opportunity for us to begin grieving."
The show has suffered teething problems, with producers struggling to line up top-name acts for the tribute, hosted by actor Jamie Foxx and British TV host Fearne Cotton. The Black Eyed Peas pulled out of the lineup this week, citing "unavoidable circumstances" amid reports the chart-topping band is splitting up.
Organizer Chris Hunt said that despite the last-minute loss, fans could 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."
Several fan groups around the world have 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 also 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 remained 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 by Friday, 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.
Marlon Jackson, 54, said he wanted dissenters to know that Michael would have approved of the show. "I want the world to understand that my brother was more than just an entertainer," he said. "There was a human side to him as well."