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Thousands turn out for Prince's 'Rally 4 Peace' benefit concert

Prince “Rally 4 Peace” benefit concert is the artist's first time playing in Baltimore in 14 years

Devoted fans like Luther Washington said Prince's "Rally 4 Peace" concert Sunday was just what Baltimore needed to heal after massive protests shook the city in recent weeks.

Outside Royal Farms Arena, Washington was part of a celebratory crowd of thousands who waited peacefully for the doors to open.

Washington and his wife, Beate — who paid about $200 apiece for floor seats to the show — felt the expensive tickets were worth the price to see the mercurial and unpredictable artist, who pledged a portion of the proceeds would go to Baltimore-based youth charities.

"This city could use a little joy, a little healing; Prince will do that," said Washington, a 44-year-old broadcaster from Odenton. "Music is medicine. People want to reflect a little bit. His message has always been in his lyrics, if you just look deep enough."

Many adhered to the Purple One's request to wear gray "as a symbolic message of our shared humanity and love for one another." But plenty in the audience wore colorful outfits that reflected the full swing of spring — a red strapless dress, T-shirts and cargo shorts, and an L.A. Dodgers jersey.

Nikki Harris, a 36-year-old mother of three boys from Baltimore's Northwood neighborhood, said she spent three days crocheting an image of Prince in purple and white yarn on the back of her camouflage jacket. Harris said she participated in a peaceful protest about a week ago as a way to force the city to become a better place to raise her sons.

"I didn't know it was a rally for peace," she said. "When I found out, it only made me happier to come."

The audience spanned a wide range of ages and backgrounds, much like Prince's fanbase. Many were surprised to see Baltimore's State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby invited on stage shortly after Prince began to perform around 9 p.m. A spokeswoman for Mosby — an avid Prince fan — said late Sunday the tickets were a Mother's Day gift from her husband, Councilman Nick Mosby.

Earlier this month, some applauded Mosby as she announced charges for all six officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray. Prosecutors say he died after sustaining a spinal cord injury while in police custody. Mosby has faced criticism about rushing to her decision to charge the officers. Others have accused her of having a conflict of interest. She denies those claims.

Lifelong friends, Catherine Tipton, of Ashburn, Va., and Amy Fanning, of Washington, D.C., said they first bonded over Prince 30 years ago, and they've seen others unite around his music.

"His genre of music is so diverse, and so, too, are his fans," Tipton, 46, said.

Added Fanning, 46, "That's why we weren't nervous to come, because we knew everyone was coming for good reasons."

The two-and-a-half-hour concert — announced on short notice last week — followed a tumultuous time in Baltimore in the weeks since Gray's death. The demand for answers in Gray's death sparked unrest that led to about 150 vehicles being set on fire and 15 buildings burned on a single night in late April.

Noche Diaz joined about a half-dozen protesters who called on those gathered to continue to push for social justice, and handed out literature for the Revolutionary Communist Party. Diaz, who said he moved to West Baltimore from New York City about three weeks ago, said the public pressure is what led to charges against officers involved in Gray's arrest.

"We're here to remind people that just because there are charges, there's not justice," Diaz said. "People can celebrate tonight, but the fight has to continue."

Prince — whose performance was the first time he's played in Baltimore in 14 years — surprised many when he announced the concert and released a song, titled "Baltimore," an upbeat toe-tapping ode to ending police brutality.

He played the song shortly after taking the stage, and invited Mosby to join him, where she waved to the crowd but didn't offer remarks.

The song opens with a cheery "Baltimore" before moving onto heavier lyrics: "Nobody got in nobody's way, so I guess you could say it was a good day, at least a little better than the day in Baltimore. Does anybody hear us pray, for Michael Brown or Freddie Gray? Peace is more than the absence of a war." Portions — such as, "If there aren't no justice than there ain't no peace" — recall the chants heard around the city during the weeks-long peaceful protests.

Prince had previously said he wanted the concert to be a "catalyst for pause and reflection following the outpouring of violence that has gripped Baltimore and areas throughout the U.S."

He made brief remarks from the stage, telling the crowd: "The system is broken. It's going to take the young people to fix it this time. We need new ideas, new life. ... The next time I come to Baltimore I want to stay in a hotel owned by you."

As promised, the concert featured special musical guests with rapper Doug E. Fresh and R&B singers Estelle and Miguel joining Prince on stage. Prince delivered many fan favorites with hits, including "When Doves Cry" and "Little Red Corvette."

It's unclear what portion of the tickets — which cost between $22 and $497 before fees — will be donated or to which charities the funds will go.

The first hour of the show was offered for free online on Tidal, the music streaming service backed by entertainment mogul Jay-Z. Tidal committed to match money donated through its website to the "Baltimore Justice Fund." That fund, created by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, says its mission is to improve police accountability and increase racial justice.

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