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Amnesty Concert in Jersey Print-ready version

by Jon Pareles
New York Times
June 16, 1986

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.,June 15 - A two-week, six-city, all-star tour to benefit Amnesty International wound up with a celebratory 11-hour concert today at Giants Stadium. A potential audience in the millions watched on MTV and tuned in to radio broadcasts of the concert across the United States.

The tour was an an effort to raise money for Amnesty International, the human-rights organization, and to give it a higher profile in the United States; it succeeded on both scores.

The finale - dozens of performers singing Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" alongside 25 prisoners who had been freed with Amnesty International's help - was a memorable image of rock with a conscience. And there were others - U2's Bono naming trouble spots: Beirut, Nicaragua, his native Belfast - and leading the crowd in a chant of "No more!" Or the songwriter Peter Gabriel, closing a brilliant set with a wordless elegy for the South African activist Steven Biko.

The concert did not try to match the international scale of last July's Live Aid concerts in Philadelphia and London. But at Giants Stadium, about 55,000 people danced and clapped and shouted along with a 19-act bill - all donating their performances - topped by the Irish band U2 and a reunion of the Police featuring Sting.

The line-up also included an appearance from Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the dissident Nigerian songwriter who was released from prison earlier this year, in part because of the efforts of Amnesty International. Tickets at $36 Apiece

Profits from the $36 tickets were donated to Amnesty International, which marks its 25th anniversary this year. John G. Healey, the executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A., said he expected the tour to raise $3 million. "It's bigger and better than anything we could have anticipated," he said backstage at Giants Stadium. "I'm ecstatic. And the musicians are actually becoming human-rights activists."

Seven acts - U2, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bryan Adams, Lou Reed, the Neville Brothers and Joan Baez - took part in the "Conspiracy of Hope" tour that began with a San Francisco concert June 4. The tour also included Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta and Chicago; the Denver show was the only one that did not sell out. For today's broadcast finale, music started promptly at 12:05 P.M., with the New Jersey rock singer John Eddie, and stayed on a tight schedule - 20-minute or half-hour sets through 11 P.M.

On a flower-bordered stage flanked by video screens and banners with the Amnesty International symbol - a candle wrapped in barbed wire - some performers sang love songs; others made political statements while noting that Amnesty International was nonpartisan.

"I want to sing this for everybody who's rotting in jail today for what they believe," Jackson Browne said, introducing a song called "I Am a Patriot."

"I used to be an attorney in Latin America," said Mr. Blades, who turned in a galvanizing set, "and I can tell you from experience, many people have been saved by this organization."

Mr. Browne, Steve Van Zandt and Peter, Paul and Mary protested United States policy in Central America; Joni Mitchell sang about brutality to prisoners. Ruben Blades's "Muevete" - sparked by Mr. Anikulapo Kuti on keyboard and Carlos Santana on guitar - was dedicated to the anti-apartheid movement.

The "Conspiracy of Hope" tour was not just a fund-raising event. Amnesty International, which works to free political prisoners, hoped to recruit "freedom writers," who would send a letter a month on behalf of a prisoner. On the way in, concertgoers were handed postcards addressed to heads of state, urging the release of six political prisoners. Thousands of postcards were filled out and deposited in "mail boxes" labeled "Set Them Free," to be delived to embassies.

"In the United States, not that many people knew about what we do," said Barbara Cohen of Amnesty's Teaneck, N.J., chapter, who was distributing literature on the mezzanine, "but this concert has definitely put Amnesty on the map."

The music was thoroughly eclectic, from Mr. Blades's modern salsa to the pop-reggae of Third World to Miss Baez's a cappella rendition of "The Times They Are a-Changin"' to Miles Davis's electrified jazz.

But it was the concert's last four hours - with the bands that had been touring - that made the concert a mujsical triumph. It was a nearly unbroken stretch of throughtful rock - Lou Reed's three-chord stomps, Peter Gabriel's dramatic vignettes, Bryan Adams's workmanlike rock, U2's ringing primal anthems and the Police's internationally flavored pop.

Earlier, there was catchy pop-rock from the Hooters, elaborate guitar solos from Stanley Jordan, tender love songs from Joan Armatrading, teen-rebellion workouts from John Eddie. Yoko Ono shouted, and sang wordless cries, in her "Walking on Thin Ice," and received a sustained cheer when she broke into John Lennon's "Imagine."

There were also brief onstage appearances by Senator Bill Bradley, Democrat of New Jersey, the boxer Muhammed Ali, and by such actors as Daryl Hannah and Christopher Reeve.

The Police's closing set was a festive sing-along, but the finale, with former prisoners onstage, was a reminder of Amnesty International's continuing mission.

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