After President Trump’s debacle in Tulsa last night, I started thinking about poorly attended “big” concerts that I’ve been to.
One that really stands out is Peter Gabriel at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford; I’m not sure of the year, but it was probably around 20 years ago. He had stopped having major hits at that point in his career, but still wanted to do a big tour. There was also a Madison Square Garden show around that time that I heard was well attended, but the CAA was emptier than I’ve ever seen it.
Another one was a Parliament-Funkadelic show at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel. Again, I’m not sure of the year. They were resurrecting the larger-than-life Mothership productions of the ’70s (this show was in the ’90s or ’00s) and needed a big stage, but attendance was extremely sparse.
And then there was NetAid, a Live Aid-style mega-benefit at Giants Stadium on Oct. 9, 1999 that had a solid lineup but failed to draw much of a crowd. Performers included Sting, The Black Crowes (both on their own and with Jimmy Page), Wyclef Jean, Puff Daddy (with surprise guests Page and Slash), Bono (in a rare non-U2 appearance), Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow, Busta Rhymes, Counting Crows, Jewel and Zucchero. I don’t think an attendance figure ever was announced, but even at the show’s peak, the stadium probably wasn’t half-filled, and many, many people left before it was over.
There was also a NetAid concert in London on that day (with David Bowie, George Michael, Eurythmics, Bush and others) that was better attended, and a relatively small show in Geneva. But there was a sea of empty seats in East Rutherford.
I think there were two main reasons why NetAid didn’t work.
One, it was just too eclectic a lineup. Sure, Live Aid was eclectic, too, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime event, with far more star power, and had built-in interest due to the success of the “We Are the World” single. But the anthem that was created for Net Aid and released in September 1999 (“New Day,” by Wyclef Jean with Bono) did not make much of an impact. And the reality, for anybody contemplating going to this concert, was that you were going to have to sit through a bunch of stuff you weren’t very interested in, in order to hear the stuff you really came to hear.
Second, the organizers didn’t articulate an urgent need for the concert. The issue behind the concert was world poverty. But the primary goal wasn’t to raise money that would be used directly in the fight against it. Instead, the intention was to increase awareness of the problem and publicize the United Nations’ NetAid website, which was envisioned as a hub for world-changing anti-poverty initiatives.
Also, the concert could be seen on the internet, as well as on TV and the radio. So if you were curious, you didn’t really have to be there. And it was in October — not, perhaps, as good a time, for a big outdoor show like this, as the summer would have been. (Live Aid took place in July.)
Anyway, here are some videos from that day, to jog your memory:
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