GARY | Longtime friends Joe Jackson, Erick Thomas and Perry Smith all grew up on the music of Michael Jackson in his hometown of Gary.
So the three decided to join the festivities outside Jackson's boyhood home Wednesday on what would have been the singer's 54th birthday.
“I used to put on my penny loafers and do the dance moves every time he came on,” said Smith, 31.
While city and area officials waited for what turned out to be a brief appearance by two of Jackson's children at Majestic Star Hotel & Casino, a more festival-like atmosphere developed outside the home at 2300 Jackson St. hours before an 8 p.m. candlelight vigil.
Wednesday kicked off four days of Jackson-related festivities in Gary, including visits from Jackson's mother and his three children, best known as Paris, Prince and Blanket.
On the streets outside the Jackson home, people danced to Jackson family music, children played and fans dressed in tribute of all phases of the late singer's career, from crews dancing as The Jackson 5 to individual people dressed as later M.J.
Dressed in a pitch-perfect replica of Jackson's outfit from the cover of the album “Bad,” Jackson tribute artist Carlo Riley, 30, came from Denver, Colo., for the birthday celebration.
“I consider myself a fan more than anything else,” Riley said.
Riley planned to wear the outfit from “Dirty Diana” on Thursday and one from “Moonwalker” on Friday.
The Katou family was visiting the area from the Bronx when they heard about the celebration.
“He's a good dancer and singer,” said Emma Katou, 7.
Her brother Curtis, 11, is old enough to remember 2009, when Jackson died at age 50.
“I was at home,” he said. “I felt very sad about it.”
Jeremy Horn, 27, of Forest Park, Ill., also attended a recent visit by Jackson's brothers, the other four of what was The Jackson 5, “to honor the Jackson family, not just Michael.”
Across town at the Majestic Star Hotel & Casino, the city's official welcome to the Jackson family was delayed when the children were reluctant to enter the room crowded with media on their late father's birthday.
On Gary Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chuck Hughes' announcement of “the most celebrated offspring in all of the world,” a representative of the Jacksons, who were visible from the press conference in an SUV in the Majestic Star lot, came in to say the family was not yet ready.
Nearly an hour later, Paris and Prince Jackson entered, accepted Gary T-shirts and pins, stood for some press photos, and left.
“We just wanted you to know how much (Michael Jackson) meant to each and every one of us,” Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told Paris and Prince.