Close to 450,000 people spent the day at a Toronto airfield as the Rolling Stones headlined the country's largest-ever rock concert, all to help the city shake off the effects of the SARS outbreak.

The crowd roared in delight as the Rolling Stones took to the stage. Wearing a hot pink coat, frontman Mick Jagger energetically bounded across the stage as the band launched into Start Me Up, followed by Brown Sugar.

"This is the biggest party in Toronto's history, right?" Jagger shouted to the crowd. "You're here. We're here. Toronto is back and it's booming."

The Stones' 90-minute set included Ruby Tuesday, Honkey Tonk Woman and Satisfaction.

Before the Rolling Stones, Australian rock band AC/DC whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

The crowd grew louder with each tune in the band's set, which wrapped up with Let There Be Rock and Highway to Hell Lead guitarist Angus Young dropped his pants during the band's performance of The Jack and revealed a pair of Maple Leaf boxer shorts.

Canadian prog rockers Rush topped the native talent at the 15-act, 11-hour SARS benefit concert. Winnipeg rock legends The Guess Who took the stage before them as the concert went into its seventh hour.

The band played some of its classic songs such as No Sugar Tonight and American Woman, and borrowed Taking Care of Business from Randy Bachman's other band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Pop star Justin Timberlake got a few boos, but also a lot of cheers from the crowd as the evening program of the concert started.

Timberlake, of the boy band 'N Sync, was something of an odd man out in the lineup dominated by hard rock acts.

He donned a trucker hat and used some blue language to try to ingratiate himself to the rock audience, but some in the crowd still threw water bottles and other debris onto the stage.

Later, Timberlake said the crowd's reaction was understandable.

Blue Rodeo and the Isley Brothers brought the concert into its fifth hour Wednesday as temperatures soared above 30 degrees and Toronto health officials handed out free bottles of water to keep people hydrated.

Montreal's Sass Jordan and guitarist Jeff Healey had the challenge of following the giant balloons and animal dancers of Oklahoma's The Flaming Lips.

Dancers don SARS masks

The Lips' set raised a few eyebrows in the crowd, though, when some of the dancers appeared wearing SARS masks.

Lead singer Wayne Coyne said the masks would be removed during their set, but the symbolism was apparently lost on some in the audience.

Following The Tea Party's set in the third hour, security hosed down the scorched crowd gathered in front of the stage.

Hundreds of people were treated for heat-related conditions as temperatures rose well over 30 degrees, but no serious injuries were reported.

The music started shortly after noon with Jann Arden singing the national anthem and Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi and the Have Love Will Travel Revue leading off the performances.

Aykroyd shared hosting duties with comedian Mike Bullard.

Montreal rocker Sam Roberts and Ottawa singer Kathleen Edwards and Quebec's La Chicane took the stage in the second hour.

Roberts later said he'd never been so nervous since his early violin recitals.

"It's intimidating to get involved in something that you know is so much bigger than what you feel like you can actually contribute to," said Roberts.

Edwards faced the crowd with dry humour.

"Too bad they didn't sell enough tickets," she later told CBC Newsworld.

Edwards said it was "fantastic" to play before such a large crowd, but said it was "unfortunate that more money wasn't going toward the charities."

Largest-ever Canadian concert

Predicted to be the largest paid music event in North American history, the concert also attracted a host of politicians including Paul Martin, Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief and Health Minister Anne McLellan, who were on hand for a fundraiser for the hotel industry.

Premiers Ernie Eves of Ontario, Ralph Klein of Alberta, Lorne Calvert of Saskatchewan and Gary Doer of Manitoba were alongside them.

The gates were supposed to open at 8 a.m., but actually opened at 8:15. The assembled fans were starting to get mildly rowdy as a result, said CBC reporter Amanda Singroy.

One person was arrested as a result and charged with assaulting a police officer.

Security a concern

As they entered, the concert-goers were being checked by security guards equipped with metal detectors. A long list of items were banned, from pocket knives to umbrellas.

To keep a lid on any alcohol-fuelled behaviour, the beer tents were shut down at 8 p.m.