Sunday, May 23, 2004

ROME- Diane Williams thought the crowd making the scene at Rome’s famous Hostaria dell’Orso looked familiar, and no wonder. With Washington restaurateur Franco Nuschese welcoming her at the door and local moguls Jim Kimsey and Joe Robert sidling over to chat alongside Colombian Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno and his wife, Gabriela, Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ wife felt right at home as she joined local friends for a weekend of festivities centering around Quincy Jones’ mammoth “We Are the Future” concert.

It may have looked like the same group Mrs. Williams might see on a Friday night at Cafe Milano in Georgetown — but that was early on. When the Italian guests started sweeping in stylishly late along with some of the featured entertainers and presenters — including Latino singing sensation Juanes and Oprah Winfrey-cum-entourage — there were plenty of new faces to note.

Mr. Nuschese’s exclusive May 14 dinner in one of the Eternal City’s oldest and most charming dining spots was a fitting way to welcome those who had worked on the concert or were participating, including Mr. Williams and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, in its interconnected Glocal Forum (i.e, global +local) initiative to provide humanitarian services to children in the world’s most war-ravaged cities.

It also was an opportunity for Mr. Jones, 71, to relax a bit after months of financial and logistical nightmares putting the project together. With a giant stage and minicity of outbuildings finally erected in Rome’s famed Circus Maximus and only one rehearsal to go, the musical impresario deserved a bit of fun.

“I wasn’t just on the edge, I thought I was gonna die,” he told pals over pasta while discussing some of the big names — Natalie Cole, LL Cool J and Sting, among them — who wouldn’t be making it for whatever reason.

“But we got Carlos Santana,” Mr. Jones said, a huge smile spreading across his face. “He’s been my friend for 30 years. He saved my life.”

A few of the Washingtonians made it to the final rehearsal on May 15; others took in the sights or did some shopping along famed via Condotti, close by the Spanish Steps. Later in the day, supermodel Naomi Campbell swanned in at the very end of the evening reception she supposedly was hosting for VIPs in the gardens of the Hotel de Russie, but it didn’t matter — the acrobatic antics of the Cirque du Soleil performers were a lot more interesting. Afterward, there were several dinners from which to choose, including those hosted by Count Brando Crespi and the Italian jeweler Bulgari.

Rome was clogged May 16, the day of the concert, and not just because of the 400,000 people expected at the Circus Maximus. That morning, the Race for the Cure attracted several hundred thousand participants; and in St. Peter’s Square at noon, an estimated half-million spectators turned out for the canonization of six new saints.

U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson spent four hours at the ceremonies, but that didn’t deter him from turning up at the concert later with special guest credentials allowing admission to the reserved bleacher seats, bar and buffet situated to the right of the massive stage where Alicia Keyes, Patti Austin, Herbie Hancock, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli and a host of other musical stars from the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America entertained throughout the night.

Mr. Williams stood out among the 30 mostly suit-and-tie-wearing mayors attending from around the world. His low-key blue sweater and D.C. Central Kitchen cap were more in keeping with the event, as was World Bank President James Wolfensohn’s attire.

Mr. Wolfensohn, who wisely traded in his Savile Row threads for a brown leather bomber jacket, has had his share of trouble from anti-globalization protestors in the past, but he bravely mounted the stage along with other organizers to take credit for helping sponsor the event and its related charities.

“I can make all the speeches in the world about our efforts and never reach a group like this,” he told a reporter during a break in the show. “Bankers can’t do it; only musicians can.”

By the concert’s fourth hour, rain and a sudden drop in temperature succeeded in thinning out the crowd. Those without backstage passes braved it out in their seats until the grand finale with all the stars, or made an early beeline for the (equally cold) after-party in the Market of Trajan, with its spectacularly illuminated views of the Roman Forum and Victor-Emmanuel monument.

After May 17’s Glocalization conference promoting socio-economic and cultural ties to cities where children are victimized by war and poverty, organizers gathered at a hillside villa outside Rome for a farewell dinner attended by Mr. Jones, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other notables.

It was a significant indicator of the success of the endeavor that Mr. Sharon would sit at the same table as Palestinian-American businessman Hani Masri, who helped organize and finance the event with Mr. Wolfensohn and former Israeli diplomat Uri Savir.

“We decided that ‘We Are the Future’ was about children, not politics,” Mr. Masri said, noting that the partnership’s goal was to use music to bring attention to the plight of young people in areas where violence is an everyday part of life.

Having any funds left over for charity after the concert’s bills are paid may be difficult, especially because organizers didn’t refute rumors that Mr. Jones had been forced to guarantee costs with $9 million in personal funds.

“Quincy made it happen with his own money, but he’ll be paid back,” said concert producer Scott Painter, who revealed that at least $5 million had been raised the previous week from various angels, including the city of Rome (one million euros), Starbucks (which will distribute the concert CD), BCBC fashion designers and Swedish Vodafone heirs Jann and Max Steinberg.

Mr. Masri wasn’t talking numbers, but he swore the concert’s financial problems would not affect the greater goal of expanding assistance to the world’s war-torn children.

“We’re in six cities today,” he said. “We’ll be in 20 cities tomorrow and 50 after that.”

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