NEW YORK -- Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Elton John, Billy Joel joined other performers Saturday in a "Concert for New York," which served as a benefit for the city while celebrating its resiliency in a time of crisis.
David Bowie kicked off the mammoth concert with a poignant rendition of Paul Simon's "America," then rocked a crowd that included thousands of firefighters, police officers and rescue workers with the appropriately titled "Heroes."
"It's an absolute pleasure to play for you tonight," Bowie told the crowd at "Concert for New York," which was broadcast from Madison Square Garden live on VH1.
Despite the tragic circumstances that led to the concert, the star-studded event was anything but somber -- instead, it was a raucous celebration.
One of the biggest ovations was reserved for the 6,000 firefighters, police officers and rescue workers honored for their heroic efforts in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
"Tonight is dedicated to you," comedian Billy Crystal said as the crowd roared its approval. Many in the audience held up pictures of police officers or firefighters who died.
"I met children who lost their daddies and I met a lot of people who survived," former President Clinton said backstage. "This is the first time they've had a chance to clap their hands and shout and dance. This is a great gift to them."
Celebrity presenters including Harrison Ford and Susan Sarandon brought rescue workers on stage and lauded them for their heroics. The guests then introduced performers.
Firefighters and police officers laughed and danced in the aisles. "Saturday Night Live" cast member Will Ferrell got laughs with his impersonation of President Bush, and Adam Sandler reprised his Operaman character in a risque segment that mocked Osama bin Laden.
"There's not a day that goes by that people don't want to laugh," Sandler said backstage. "People are in great pain and you want to just laugh and feel good for a minute and that's what comedy is trying to do right now."
When Joel sang the first few lines of "New York State of Mind," the crowd went wild.
"You look out from the stage, and you see a sea of blue," Joel said backstage. "You see firemen, you see cops, and these guys risk their lives everyday. They do this all the time ... to be able to see a smile on some of these people's faces -- they've gone through so much, they've lost so many of their friends."
Among the evening's most inspired performances included The Who, which energized the crowded with renditions of hits such as "Baba O'Riley," and "Behind Blue Eyes," and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who sang "Salt of the Earth" and "Miss You."
The evening also had its somber moments. Destiny's Child performed a stirring gospel medley after singing their hit, "Emotions," while the Backstreet Boys dedicated their performance to one of their tour crew members who was on the plane that hit a tower of the World Trade Center.
Interspersed with the performances were short films celebrating the spirit of the city by directors including Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. In addition, the concert featured appearances from New York sports figures, including the Knicks' Allan Houston, Yankees manager Joe Torre and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
Paul McCartney was the night's final act. Wearing an American flag pin and T-shirt with "FDNY" printed on the back, the former Beatle sang five songs, including "Lover to a Friend," a new single he said would raise money for the Sept. 11 Fund, "Yesterday," and "Freedom," which he wrote in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. It's lyrics included the line, "I will fight for the right to live in freedom."
"This is one of the greatest nights for me," he told the crowd. "I want to thank you guys for everything you've done, on behalf of the British, on behalf of America, on behalf of the world."
The finale featured McCartney leading members of the night's all-star cast singing "Let it Be," joined by a few police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers, then a reprise of "Freedom."
A telephone number was featured so viewers could phone in donations; all proceeds are going to charities to benefit the victims of New York's terrorist attacks, organizers said. James Dolan, president and CEO of Cablevision, which helped put the concert together, said ticket sales had already raised $14 million.
A two-disc CD set featuring music from the show is expected to be released by Columbia in November with much of the proceeds going to charity.
The concert is one of three all-star concerts this weekend. On Sunday, Michael Jackson, the Backstreet Boys, Mariah Carey, 'N Sync, Aerosmith and others will perform during an eight-hour concert in Washington. CMT will broadcast a 21/2-hour live concert from Nashville, Tenn., featuring Tim McGraw, Sara Evans, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson and other country stars Sunday night.