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12:00 AM Monday, 1/29/01 |   |

WITH THE CLOSE OF RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS' set January 21st, Brazil wrapped up the world's biggest music festival since Woodstock '99. In contrast, Rock in Rio saw no flames andno reported sexual assault or vandalism. Also unlike the New York concert, Rio de Janeiro saw only one naked musician onstage, and he got arrested.

If the event saw any violence, it came from the audience hurling plastic bottles, most notably before and after Guns N' Roses' set January 14th. Fans apparently grew antsy at preceding entertainer Carlinhos Brown and then tossed bottles at a traditional Rio samba school playing in the band's wake. (Rose did his part to avoid crowd violence, stopping the band's first song and requesting that security remove an unruly fan.)

It was apparently difficult to locate other major incidents. Maybe that is to be expected from a festival that began with three minutes of prayerful silence and then with Brazilian pop artist Gilberto Gil singing John Lennon's "Imagine." There was also a special "For a Better World Tent," but critics said that discussions of peace were noticeably absent from the main stage.

The festival drew an estimated 1.5 million fans plus an estimated 1 billion viewers on pay-per-view television and the Internet. Organizer Roberto Medina told The New York Times the event pumped $180 million to $300 million into the local economy and generated $40 million in media coverage.

More than 150 acts played Rock in Rio, including R.E.M., James Taylor, Neil Young, Sheryl Crow, Beck, Foo Fighters, and Oasis. The average attendance per night was 150,000 with an estimated 250,000 for the closing. Medina said he is planning another festival for 2003 and hopes to get Rush, Pink Floyd, and Carlos Santana.

Despite the good vibes, the festival was criticized in the Times as a "music-booking triumph and a musical insult; a social-improvement project and a giant corporate advertisement."

One of the most telling contradictions reportedly came during the opening moment of silence: 60,000 concert-goers quietly waved white handkerchiefs in a display of unity, but each handkerchief was emblazoned with a logo from $17 million sponsor America Online.

According to the Times, complaints included the usual fare: difficult navigation of the site, expensive but inedible food, litter and messy toilets. Brazilians complained that American and British acts headlined while Brazilian musicians that normally outsell foreign acts in South America played earlier in the day.

A group of rap acts held a protest concert in Sao Paulo because they had been excluded, according to Reuters. Organizers believed their fans to be too violent for the festival. Some of Brazil's biggest bands dropped out, saying organizers favored foreign acts.

The seven-day event spanned two weekends, beginning January 12th. During the second weekend, some first-week headliners played at the Caracas Pop Music Festival in Venezuela, which wisely piggy-backed on the success of the Brazilian event.

For the most part, performances were grouped by genre. Peaceful headbangers if there ever was an oxymoron rocked out to Iron Maiden, Rob Halford and Queens of the Stone Age January 19th while 200,000 attendees, mostly teen-agers, saw Britney Spears and 'N Sync the previous evening. (In actuality, most headlining acts began their sets well past midnight.)

Queens of the Stone Age bandleader Nick Oliveri was arrested after he went onstage naked. Oliveri was escorted offstage by officers after a judge apparently ordered his arrest. He was cited and asked to put on a pair of pants before being allowed to continue. Oliveri achieved star status the next day when his face appeared aside Spears' on the front page of the local paper.

Not even "teen night" was free from controversy. Aaron Carter ended a short set by thanking the Portuguese-speaking audience in Spanish. Then the crowd reportedly hissed at a video-screen display of the American flag during Spears' set and was ambivalent toward her over-rehearsed performance. Her head-set microphone apparently made suspiciously little noise during her songs but cracked loudly during her banter in between.

The live mic became more problematic during a costume change. Upset at the lack of entrance music to her set, her spicy language was picked up by the headset accidentally left on and fed live to television viewers. It didn't take long for her F-words to be traded on Napster.

The first Rock in Rio took place in 1985, just as the country was making the transition from a military dictatorship to democracy. It, like the 2001 edition, was a landmark event, putting Brazil and Latin America on the international rock tour circuit.


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