Fans flock to the Corniche and Yas Island to hear singers from Haifa Wehbe to Kanye West.
For many, music is F1's main course
ABU DHABI // For thousands of people having picnics on the sand and grass bordering the Abu Dhabi Corniche last night, the Formula One weekend is more about music than cars.
And for Mohammed, Ismail and Rashid, three 19-year-old students taking a break from the rigorous caseload of their first-year engineering course at Abu Dhabi University, the entire weekend is about Haifa Wehbe. The Lebanese singer was part of the diverse lineup of local, regional and international singers performing as part of Beats on the Beach, one of many Yasalam events held across the city this month.
"We are so excited that she is performing," said Ismail. "I think she is the most beautiful woman of the world."
For some fans, the entertainment factor is a bonus to the main show. The Formula One race brought Adrian de Mello, 37, all the way to Abu Dhabi from London, with his wife and two-year-old son, Max. Last night, he and his pal, Casey Read, who has a one-year-old daughter, took their children to the Corniche while their wives headed to the Kanye West concert on Yas Island.
"It's fantastic what they've done with the Corniche," said Mr De Mello, as his son danced to the live music and tried to sing along. "It's an entire package of fun for every age group. They've really made sure there's something for everyone."
Out on Yas Island, Camelia Bojtor, 26, from the UK, was eager for West, the controversial US rap artist, to perform hits such as Gold Digger and Stronger.
"I am so excited, I have been totally waiting for Kanye to come to Abu Dhabi for ages, I absolutely love him," said Ms Bojtor. "Of course, I want to see the racetrack, but what's so fantastic about the racing is that all these great artists come to town to perform."
Earlier in the day West was looking forward to the show as well, sending the following Twitter message from Dubai: "Bout to rip down this Abu Dhabi stage tonight".
Back down on the Corniche, Melanie Silvas, 41, from the Philippines, made sure to pack enough food to last her 10-member family through the night.
"We don't care about the racing," she said. "It's not as much fun as having live music on the beach like this for us to enjoy."
The night began with the Dubai-based artist Kamal Mussalam, a Jordanian guitarist with a distinct Arabic jazz-fusion style. Beat Antenna, a group of young Irish and British men living in Dubai, gave the night a rock-music edge.
Neil Harrison, lead singer of the band, said it was "fantastic" to get the chance to perform in Abu Dhabi.
"The Formula One is a big event, and the chance to be a part of it is really great," he said.
The US rapper Fabolous and the UK singer Sophie Ellis Bextor were also part of last night's lineup, paving the way for the crowd favourite: Ms Wehbe, who replaced another Lebanese singer, Nancy Ajram, who could not perform as earlier scheduled.
Motaz Abdelnour, 32, and his wife have been attending all the concerts at the beach and had planted their foldable chairs firmly in the sand last night.
"We wait for this all year long," he said. "It makes us feel so lucky to be living in Abu Dhabi."