TORONTO - Tens of thousands of sun-drenched revelers gathered Wednesday for a star-studded outdoor bash - headlined by the Rolling Stones - aimed at showing Toronto is free of SARS and ready to rock.
Organizers hope the concert will revive tourism in Canada, particularly in Toronto, where two springtime outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome devastated the crucial industry.
"We're bringing this city back," said actor Jim Belushi, who joined master of ceremonies Dan Aykroyd - a Canadian - for a set by their Have Love Will Travel Revue blues band. "We're celebrating with music and it's one of the most joyous and communal experiences."
With more than 400,000 tickets sold - at $16 each - organizers billed the 11-hour show as one of North America's largest ticketed events.
Fans camped overnight to get near the stage at a former military airfield north of downtown Toronto. Police said one man was detained for assaulting a police officer as hundreds of people rushed in when the gates opened.
Jennie Gilstrap, 32, said she drove more than 600 miles from Louisville, Ky., with her husband and sister to add the show to their list of Stones concerts.
"We thought it would be nice to check out Canada - it's our first time," said Gilstrap, wearing mirrored shades and a white Stones T-shirt.
Estimates put Toronto's tourism losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars since the first SARS outbreak in March, along with health care costs of about $700 million. SARS sickened almost 250 people, killing 42 of them, in Canada's largest city - the biggest outbreak outside of Asia.
The World Health Organization removed Toronto from a list of places affected by SARS on July 2, but 10 cases remain active, including six people in critical condition.
The concert lineup featured a dozen acts, including The Guess Who and Rush - both from Canada - AC/DC and Justin Timberlake.
The Downsview Park venue was the site of a Mass last year by Pope John Paul II that drew an estimated 800,000 people.
Rolling Stones tour promoter Michael Cohl said the gig would cost $7 million. Canada's federal government put up $2.45 million, and the Ontario provincial government kicked in $1.4 million. Canadian brewery Molson, the chief sponsor, is contributing $4.55 million, a company spokesman said.
Any profits, plus 70 cents per ticket, will be split between two funds helping health care and tourism workers affected by SARS and the ensuing economic downturn.
The Rolling Stones have a long history in Toronto, rehearsing in the city for the group's last three world tours and known for surprise club gigs. Guitarist Keith Richards was arrested in Toronto for heroin possession in 1977, and when ordered as punishment to play a benefit concert for the blind in nearby Oshawa, he was joined by the other band members.
During Wednesday's concert, some provincial premiers also will take part in a barbecue of Canadian beef intended to offset another problem - the lone case of mad cow disease detected in May that has caused the United States, Japan and other nations to ban Canadian beef products.
The bans have cost the cattle and beef industry million of dollars a day.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome emerged in November in Guangdong province in China's south. It killed more than 800 people worldwide, most of them in Asia, before subsiding last month.