Bruce Vilanch, Elton John, Patti Labelle: Concert To Raise Awareness of HIV/AIDS Great Success

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By Dwayne Campbell
Inquirer Staff Writer

Sir Elton John, one of the world’s best-known spokesmen and activists for HIV/AIDS awareness, poured out his passion last night as he rocked a crowd of thousands jammed along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and several nearby streets.

The free concert was the last show of Philadelphia’s big weekend, when the city played host to the Live 8 mega-concert and several other events under the banner of “Welcome America.”

The crowd greeted John with thunderous applause even before he sang a note. When he banged on his Yamaha piano and belted out “The Bitch Is Back,” the audience jumped to its feet.

Most of those who had seats stood throughout the grand performance and remained so for the second song, “Bennie and the Jets.” John sung with a force that brought home how magnificent a stage performer he can be.

But he also reminded people that the show was both an independence celebration and a push for HIV/AIDS awareness and assistance for the inflicted. Throughout the evening, actor hosts Wayne Brady and Bruce Vilanch, as well as public announcements, reminded people about the cause, as well as various AIDS charities, such as the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

John wasn’t the only one to shine last night.

In a corsetlike top, miniskirt and flowing coat, Philadelphia’s own Patti LaBelle heated up the stage with just two songs. The crowd sang along as she rocked “Lady Marmalade,” a staple she could sing in her sleep, signature screams and all.

Ever the queen of stage, LaBelle asked a group of singer-dancers to join her on stage for “Lady Marmalade.” The audience cheered the amateurs, reserving the loudest ones for Dhani Jones, the Philadelphia Eagle and showman, who played along like a pro.

Onstage, the diva also paid tribute to Luther Vandross, the soulful singer who died Friday.

“I’m just so happy to have been asked to be part of this celebration,” LaBelle said after her performance.

The Philadelphia Freedom Concert also featured Rufus Wainwright and Bryan Adams, who opened the show with a strong set, including “This Side of Paradise,” from his Room Service CD. Also on the bill were Peter Nero and the Philly Pops.

During the show, the hosts and artists, as well as Billie Jean King, show visionary Mark Segal, and disc jockey Jerry Blavat, urged the audience and those at home to support various HIV/AIDS charities.