We weren’t going to go.
We didn’t feel like dealing with the crowds. And I didn’t want to stand four blocks away watching a screen when I could do the same thing from the comforts of home.
In all honesty, I don’t think we realized how big of a deal it would be. I had grown up knowing about Live Aid and watching clips of it, but there wasn’t any way this would be as momentous, right?
A night or two before the show, we were on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway heading towards the Art Museum and the enormous scaffolding and stage loomed in the distance. At that point, my (now-) wife said, “You know, I kinda want to go.” So did I. People from all over would be coming to town to experience this and I couldn’t be bothered to drag my ass out of bed and hop on the El for a few stops?
We took one of the earliest trains that Saturday morning, July 2, 2005, and emerged onto the streets of Center City. There were four of us in my group, but we were joined by scores of others, all cutting through Love Park in the early morning light, making our pilgrimage towards the Art Museum. Our backpacks were full of blankets and 64 oz. “Wawa cocktails” – half-filled with iced tea or lemonade, the other half vodka – a late-teens to late-twenties staple around the area. The weather was already humid and sticky. Those two elements would combine into a nearly lethal combination, particularly for me since I’m a beer snob but have never been that great at consuming the hard stuff.
We weren’t in the front, but we got much closer than I thought we would, snagging a spot in front of the George Washington monument (see red arrow below). We had plenty of room and I naively thought it would remain that way.
It was 7 a.m. and we were all set up. Now we just had to wait for five-and-a-half hours. I hadn’t brought a book. None of us had smartphones. We had vowed that we wouldn’t start drinking until the show started, but by 8:30, I caved.
In a situation such as that, everyone is friendly. We lounged around, cracking jokes with those next to us and bantering with people walking past. A few more friends showed up, some that would remain with us, others that would move on to stake out their own plot of land.
People continued to stream in. Periodically, I would turn around and see people stretching into the horizon with no end in sight. Later, of course, we’d learn that the crowd was about a mile long. It quickly became crowded and I quickly became drunk.
I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t remember much of the actual concert.
By noon, I was feeling good but also knew it was about to get worse. The temperature continued to rise and, in my stubbornness, I hadn’t packed any nonalcoholic beverages, so the more I tried to quench my thirst with my Wawa martini, the more drunk (and dehydrated) I became.
I remember everyone losing their minds when hometown heroes DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince appeared, first performing the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and “Summertime” among their other hits…
…and I was just drunk enough to want to profess my undying love and allegiance to Beyoncé…
…but I was near comatose by the time Jay-Z and Linkin Park hit the stage. My friends and girlfriend, well aware that Jigga was one of my absolutely favorite artists, tried their best to get me to wake up and appreciate the show. I eventually stood up and tried rhyming along, my words slurred and about a half-bar slow, but at least I was moving!
After the set, I crumbled back on the ground and slept for a while.
By late afternoon, we had had more than enough. While I felt badly that we were leaving just as Rob Thomas – one of my girl’s favorites – was about to perform, it was time to bounce. We needed food and water and air conditioning.
I have great memories from that day. They’re like a series of snapshots, very clear but very brief:
- insisting that my girlfriend put more sunscreen on me because I was “still so hot”
- our female friend sitting on my buddy’s shoulders flashing the crowd while yelling “Tits for Africa!”
- making a human circle while she peed in a Pringles can – after I had suggested she pee in a brown paper bag because I didn’t want her to ruin the chips (they, of course, moved the chips to the bag, an idea that seemed genius to me)
- attempting to make the trip to the port-a-potty but turning around halfway while my friend was determined to keep going like he was Frodo and I was Sam
- Sway walking right past us, saying what’s up, and giving my man a pound
- my roommate taking a dump and, since there was no toilet paper, using his underwear to clean himself
There are more, but the effects of age and alcohol preclude me from recalling them at the moment.
At the time I worked at the United Way, which was also on the Parkway, just a few blocks east, very close to where the crowd finally petered out. I worked with a guy that had an impressive amount of social and political connections in the city and we spent that Monday talking about the show. A few days later, he came by my desk and dropped off a glossy eight-by-ten photo. It was a shot of the Parkway taken from the observation deck of City Hall – the same spot where I would propose to my wife three years later – filled with people, three figures in white (Destiny’s Child) visible on the stage. It was signed by the mayor.
I framed it that night and hung it in the hallway of my home in Philly. It now is on the wall of my home office. Whenever it catches my eye, I flash back to that time of my life: 25 years old, living with friends in a city I adored, in the early (perfect) stage of a relationship, all options and opportunities in life available to me.
Whenever I think about it, I am always glad that we decided to attend and participate in one of the biggest events in the city’s history.
Even if I don’t remember most of it.
Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.