NetAid combats poverty via cyberspace concerts

It's the Yellow Pages of aid in cyberspace," said U2's Bono at a recent press conference in New York to publicize the world's largest Web site, www.netaid.org. The site is unique. It allows 10 times more hits than any other site, with a capacity for more than 1 million hits per minute.

Launched by Cisco Systems and the United Nations, the philanthropic Web site aims to fight hunger and poverty worldwide by educating people about the conditions that foster extreme privation.

Singer Bono will be one of many rock stars playing in simultaneous concerts tomorrow in Geneva, London, and East Rutherford, N.J., to highlight the Web site as a tool to combat world hunger. The impressive lineup includes Sting, David Bowie, Jewel, The Eurythmics, George Michael, Puff Daddy, the three Crows (Sheryl Crow, The Black Crowes, the Counting Crows), and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page.

NetAid's organizers are stressing the differences from other benefit concerts because it is just the beginning of a long-term project. "This is the biggest thing I've ever done," says executive producer Ken Kragen in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. Mr. Kragen also co-produced 1985's seminal Live Aid concert and Hands Across America the following year. The NetAid concert is expected to set records as the world's largest ever webcast and live radio broadcast. VH1 will telecast the event live from each location tomorrow from 2-10 p.m.

The producer says that by encouraging people to log onto the site and read about what they can do about the environment, human rights, world hunger, and third-world debt, "it is going to enhance the Internet as a force for social change. It could become one of the more significant events of the century."

Kragen admits that the public, as well as the artists, are wary of such concerts. "There were so many of these events in the mid-'80s, because one success breeds another. The artists who were being asked time and time again to do it began to insulate themselves against it and not respond," he says.

It was Bono's enthusiasm for the project, Kragen says, that helped draw in other artists. Bono even collaborated with Wyclef Jean of The Fugees to produce a new song and video, "One Day," for the event. The song premired on the floor of the United Nations last month, and the theme song will be sung at the same time by the performers at all three venues via satellite link.

In addition to documentary presentations about anti-poverty programs narrated by Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, David Boreanaz, and Ashley Judd, among others, Kragen says that viewers can expect some surprises. "George Michael is opening the show in London with orchestras and dancers. He's created something huge for it."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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