Boys II Men to pope: Pop precedes pontiff Concert at Pier Six draws 4,500 enthusiasts on eve of papal visit

Sure, Boyz II men were the headliners at last night's papal concert. And yeah, the screaming didn't let up for even one second of the 20-minute set.

But the loudest cheer of the evening was reserved for a 75-year-old from Rome who wasn't even there, a transplanted Pole who closed the concert not with a song, but simply by telling the crowd by satellite that he was looking forward to his visit to Baltimore.


So who was more popular at Pier Six last night, the pop singers or the pontiff?

For the 4,500 screaming fans who were lucky enough to land the free tickets distributed to parishes and youth groups by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, it was probably a draw.


"I'm not sure who I'm here more for," admitted 15-year-old Tanya DeBoard from Aberdeen. "I guess it's like a little bit of both."

After an hour's worth of music from Boyz II Men, Michael W. Smith and Kathy Troccoli, few expressed the emotion of the moment better than Laura Howe, a 14-year-old student at Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn whose 100-watt smile said it all.

"I loved it," was all an exhausted Laura could say, sweat pouring off her face after an hour of screaming and dancing.

Tracy Foy, 13, and Michelle Staley, 11, spent the entire hour standing atop two seats toward the middle of the pavilion,

waving their arms in the air and screeching at the beginning of every song. Both said they were here primarily to hear Boyz II Men -- "I like the way they sound," said Michelle. "It's not too rock" -- but she admitted that the pope wasn't a bad draw, either.

"I think it's wonderful that he's finally actually going to make it here," Michelle said, remembering Pope John Paul's scheduled visit last year, which had to be canceled when the pontiff was slow recovering from hip surgery.

For Josh Davenport, a 16-year-old member of St. Bartholomew's parish in Carroll County, front-row seats provided an opportunity both to expand his musical taste and to honor a leader he respects.

"Before I saw them in person, I really didn't think that much of them," he said of Boyz II Men. "But now, I think they're pretty good.


And while Josh admitted that he doesn't always agree with what the pope says, "Just to see the pope is a great honor. I have a deep respect for him. It takes a lot of courage to stand there in front of the world and say something."

Throughout the hourlong concert, fans young and old cheered, swayed to the beat and often sang along. And while the concert was being staged to honor the head of a single religious denomination, it was far from a Catholics-only affair.

Sharon McCrae and her 9-year-old daughter, Laura, began the evening outside the pavilion, using binoculars to try to see inside. By the time the show started, they were sitting inside about 15 rows from the stage.

"A very nice lady came by and asked us if we'd like tickets," Ms. McCrae explained. "What a blessing. Even though we're Methodists, we like being able to celebrate with the Catholics."

Added Howard Asch, who was sitting on the lawn with his 18-month-old daughter, "I'm Jewish, and I think it's great."

"It's bringing the young people together," he added, "which is something this city needs a lot more of."


Donna Huttenlock came down from Philadelphia with her 3-year-old daughter, Annie. Today, she'll be one of the lucky few sitting on the field at Camden Yards for the papal Mass. But last night, she was happy just swaying to the groove.

"This is wonderful, phenomenal," she said as Kathy Troccoli left the stage. "I think anything that brings young people and families together is wonderful."

Few discordant notes were struck. Some demonstrators passed out condoms on the parking lot near the pavilion and decried the Catholic Church's attitudes toward women, but they were largely ignored by a crowd that was far more interested in celebration than confrontation.

"We've got a few curious stares and some laughs from the police," said Keith McHenry, one of a group who was distributing condoms outside the pavilion.

Merchants selling papal T-shirts, fans, mugs and other souvenirs were also largely ignored. Business, they agreed, was slow.

"It's very slow today, but it should pick up tomorrow," said an optimistic Donnie Early, who was selling $3 papal fans. He planned to be set up near Camden Yards by 5:15 in the morning.


But those folks seemed about the only ones not having a great time at the concert. Luis Falcon, a 17-year-old student at Dundalk Community College, spent the evening sitting on a blanket with his friend Lauren Watson, 17. This papal visit, he said, is wrapping up what he called one heck of a month, both for him and for the city.

"It'll be something that Baltimore will always be able to remember," he explained. "There will always be this one special night, just like going to see Cal."