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Woodstock pioneer planning huge Toronto concert

Artie Kornfeld

bette marshall The Globe and Mail

Whether rock music can actually change the world remains open for debate, but the team planning the largest music festival in Toronto's history might actually have the credentials to put it to rest.

"The world is now in an even deeper position than the Cold War and Vietnam. There's trouble in every country … this is a chance to give hope, and who'll do it if not the old Woodstockers?"

So says Artie Kornfeld, the music executive and promoter who co-organized the original famed festival back in 1969 at Max Yasgur's farm in upstate New York. The Florida resident has teamed with Montreal artist David Kam to put together a show unlike anything the city has seen before, combining music with efforts to achieve world peace and fight poverty and climate change.

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Like 2003's "SARS-stock," the Imagine Music Festival will be at Downsview Park, but this time the crowds would commune for two days, on July 10 and 11.

Organizers had hoped to schedule it during the G20 summit in late June but, perhaps a bit too caught up in the good vibes of it all, didn't take into account the logistical challenges, particularly securing police officers, who will be busy protecting the planet's most powerful leaders.

But can he really bring the Age of Aquarius to the Era of Anxiety?

"Not that again, but something as important again? Yes," says Mr. Kornfeld, who says he's discussed the show with everyone from Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine to the Foo Fighters and Lady Gaga.

More like the muddy, back-to-the earth ecstasy of Woodstock '69 than the silicon boobs and bonfires of Woodstock '99, this festival will aim to tune in to the world, not drop out of it. Attendees can compete in sustainability contests, visit the green expo or participate in a mass release of butterflies. Technology will create a true Global Village, Mr. Kam hopes, with Internet voting allowing users across the globe to voice their concerns. Mr. Kam hopes to present a million-signature petition to the G20 leaders. Three re-recordings of John Lennon's Imagine (an all-star affair, a club mix and one for local markets) are planned. Artists such as Damien Hirst are being drafted to paint guitars used in the recording sessions to be autographed and auctioned off, said Mr. Kam.

The organizers expect to donate 50 per cent of proceeds to a who's who of NGOs, from Save the Children to World Wildlife Fund and Amnesty International.

Though the dates at Downsview are not yet officially set, Mr. Kam and Mr. Kornfeld are expected to announce headliners, ticket prices and other details by mid-March.

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Mr. Kam had the original vision for the festival three years ago and chased down Mr. Kornfeld, who has promoted everyone from Vanilla Ice and Tracy Chapman to Tom Petty and the Tragically Hip.

The impresario admits he gets several calls a year to put on large-scale festivals but what attracted him this time, beyond Mr. Kam's persistence, was the confluence of the G20 and the perfect site in Toronto.

"We both want to change the world for the better … we've become spiritual brothers," says Mr. Kam, who founded the Thinkism Art Movement, a post-9/11 effort that sees art as a means to bring social issues to light.

Mr. Kam chose a familiar song to invoke their message.

"John Lennon's song is about gathering dreamers to change the world," he says.

Mr. Kornfeld, who actually met the man, admits Imagine is "dated," but don't think that means he's given up on the dream of what hundreds of thousands of people can do when they gather to listen to music.

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"People ask me for advice, and I tell them it all starts with a song."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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