Jackson tribute show goes on despite setbacks

LONDON Thu Oct 6, 2011 6:41am EDT

A demonstrator with a tattoo of Michael Jackson stands outside the Los Angeles Superior Court during the opening day of Dr. Conrad Murray's trial in the death of Jackson in Los Angeles September 27, 2011. REUTERS/David McNew

A demonstrator with a tattoo of Michael Jackson stands outside the Los Angeles Superior Court during the opening day of Dr. Conrad Murray's trial in the death of Jackson in Los Angeles September 27, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/David McNew

LONDON (Reuters) - A Michael Jackson tribute concert will go ahead this weekend in Wales despite squabbling among the late singer's siblings, a backlash from fans, a headline act withdrawing at late notice and tickets still unsold.

Chris Hunt, head of Global Live Events which is staging the Saturday "Michael Forever" gig in Cardiff, admitted that preparations had been challenging, but blamed "misinformation" for some of the negative headlines.

"I've never been in a situation in my entire career like it where so many false rumors emerged as if from nowhere," Hunt told Reuters in a telephone interview.

He denied reports that the promoters had fallen out with Jackson's estate and said that any large family like that of the "King of Pop" was bound to have disagreements, particularly one that lived in the bright media glare.

"It's going to be a huge and spectacular event," Hunt said of the gig at the Millennium Stadium, where there will be room for over 60,000 people.

Taking part in the concert will be Jackson's brothers Marlon, Tito and Jackie and his sister La Toya, who will be performing live in public for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Also expected to be present are his mother Katherine, three children and several other close family members.

Brothers Jermaine and Randy, however, criticized the tribute because it coincided with the involuntary manslaughter trial in Los Angeles of Jackson's doctor. Janet Jackson has declined to take part citing the same reason.

The "Thriller" singer, one of the most successful yet troubled artists of the pop era, died in 2009 aged 50 while rehearsing for a series of comeback concerts.

Experts on the Jacksons said such rifts were common in the famous family, but would do nothing to enhance the standing of the tribute concert in the eyes of the public.

But Hunt played down their significance.

"If you can get any family of that size to agree about everything then it's a wonderful day. We've got nearly all the family here," he said.

"A couple of them decided they didn't want to do it and they cited a reason which, to my mind, and indeed to most of the rest of the family, has no logic to it whatever."

LINEUP HICCUPS, ANGRY FANS

Divisions in the family have not been the only hurdle for Hunt and his team.

In September, some fan websites protested over reports that ticket prices had been slashed in a 2-for-1 offer that did not apply to those already purchased.

A month earlier, a group of 35 fan clubs had lobbied for the concert to be canceled due to concerns ranging from confusion over charitable donations to its timing.

Hunt said a portion of the profits would go to two charities with links to Michael Jackson -- the AIDS Project Los Angeles and Prince's Trust -- as well as a trust fund for the singer's children.

"Not all the money goes there (to charity) because we have investors and they would like to get their money back, and if they get a little bit more than their money back they would be delighted," he explained.

"I don't think it's going to do beyond that."

Some commentators said that, despite contributions to charity, the Jackson family stood to benefit financially, a point some fans might find distasteful.

"This (concert) is something they could have done a little bit later when it (the trial) was over with or even before this started," Stacy Brown, a journalist and Michael Jackson biographer, told Reuters.

"This is not about charity. This is about lining the bank accounts of the Jackson family."

Hunt said he was "happy" with ticket sales, although he did not have precise numbers, and that they had picked up "hugely" in recent days.

Wednesday's announcement that the Black Eyed Peas were withdrawing had not dented demand for tickets, he added, although they were arguably the biggest act on the bill.

In addition to Jackson family members, the lineup includes Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson, and among British stars appearing will be Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, JLS and Diversity.

Beyonce will appear in a video performance.

"This is a Jackson family evening," Hunt said. "I think it's easy to underestimate this. I think it will be a hugely emotional evening. Mrs Jackson and the children will be very visible."

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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