Manchester (USA TODAY) - The show went on. And it turned into a thoughtful party.
An estimated 50,000 people joined Ariana Grande, the Black Eyed Peas, Miley Cyrus and more of the world’s biggest musical superstars for an emotional but ultimately spirited and uplifting concert here Sunday to raise money for the victims and families of the Manchester suicide bomb attack that took place less than two weeks ago.
It was Grande’s first performance since the May 22 attack, which left 22 dead and more than 100 injured as they left the singer’s concert at Manchester Arena. The youngest victim was 8.
The concert took place despite — in spite of, actually — a terror attack in London on Saturday night that killed seven.
"We came to show our respect, not just for Manchester but also for London," said Jason Geal, who was attending with his wife and three daughters. The Geals were in the audience during Grande's performance in Manchester Arena last month. "We need to show that we are not scared," he said, before joining his family in a frenzied round of selfie-taking.
Summer was in the air and the concert had an atmosphere reminiscent of an outdoor music festival. There was beer and ice cream in ample supply and stalls selling T-shirts and other band paraphernalia. Families mixed with teenagers and young adults and groups of girls in bunny ears linked arms and sang along to their favorite songs.
"Oh, my God!" could be heard over and over again out the mouths of adoring fans.
But the all-star benefit was equally about Grande's determination to not let the bad guys win. As she and others took to the stage, the message was made repeatedly clear: Whether Manchester, London, Paris or Orlando, the terrorists won't win.
Grande bounced around the stage and never appeared to stand still for very long. From a distance, it looked like she fought back tears once or twice, but on the whole she was upbeat and energetic
"Manchester, I love you so much," she said.
Thousands of people, some as young as 5 or 6, sang along, danced, wiggled, got a little weepy at times, but ultimately found, as Grande’s manager Scooter Braun put it ahead of the event, a “greater purpose” in honoring and celebrating those who lost their lives to terrorism.
On stage Sunday, Braun paid tribute to the fans who turned out just hours after Saturday's London attack. "Manchester looked fear right in the face and said. 'No, we are Manchester,' and all the world is watching," he said. "Manchester, your bravery is our hope."
Pharrell Williams, Miley Cyrus and One Direction’s Niall Horan also performed and received rapturous welcomes from fans.
Each act sang a few songs and children from the Parrs Wood High School Choir performed a duet with Grande on My Everything. Two members of the choir were in the audience on May 22.
The show was held at the Old Trafford cricket stadium, just under four miles from the Manchester Arena. It was broadcast and streamed around the world and hundreds of millions of people from more than 50 countries were expected to watch the concert in some format.
Many music fans started lining up for the concert hours ahead of time, and security for the three-hour show that sold out within 20 minutes was exceptionally tight.
Police asked fans not to bring bags and there were lengthy searches of each person admitted to the cricket stadium amid fears that there could be yet another attack just 24 hours after the incidents in London.
"It felt pretty safe, although it was also a little unnerving being here, considering what went on last night,” said Cynthia Jared, who was at the show with her 10-year-old daughter.
The idea for the concert was Grande’s, according to Melvin Benn, a music festival organizer. “She was very traumatized after the attack but it was very important to her to support the victims and show a level of defiance that stands up to this bloodlust and tells the terrorists that they are not going to stop us,” he told Billboard magazine.
Grande arrived in Manchester on Friday morning. She spent the day meeting some of the families of her fans who were killed in Manchester. At Royal Manchester Children's Hospital, Jayden-Farrell-Mann, 10, who was left with fractures to her legs and shrapnel wounds, wrote on Twitter that she "got to meet my queen today love you @ArianaGrande xxxxxx."
Back on stage Sunday, Grande seemed heartened by the huge turnout.
"This evening has been filled with fun and brightness," she told fans. "And I want to thank you for that."
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