By Ron Arias
Updated December 21, 2003 12:00 PM

Some 3,000 people traveled by bus and car to Michael Jackson’s sprawling Neverland Ranch on Saturday as the pop star held an elaborate homecoming celebration to rally support in the wake of his child-molestation charges, PEOPLE reports.

Celeb friends such as pop singer Brandy, comics Tommy Davidson and Eddie Griffin, M.C. Hammer and troubled baseball great Daryl Strawberry joined Jackson, his parents and siblings (Jermaine was there, but Janet wasn’t) for the catered party.

For Jackson — who was formally charged Thursday with seven felony counts of child molestation, and another two felony counts of giving his alleged victim an “intoxicating agent” — it was his first time back at Neverland since his arrest Nov. 20. He had reportedly stayed in Nevada after posting $3 million bail.

Attendance on Saturday was by invitation only. Besides the celebrities, other guests included longtime Jackson intimates and fans — mostly from the Los Angeles African American community.

“It was a Jackson lovefest,” onetime Jackson defense attorney Brian Oxman tells PEOPLE. “The support he got here tonight was overwhelming proof that many people still love him and think he has done no wrong.”

Or as emcee Tommy Davidson put it while addressing the crowd: “We love you, Michael. You are the greatest. No one has done more for children than you have.”

With those words, Jackson stood up, raised both arms, his fingers in V-for-Victory signs, and waved his gratitude.

Earlier Saturday, guests waited for Jackson’s arrival and feasted on skewered salmon, fried chicken, vegetable chicken soup and an array of desserts. As vintage Jackson 5 hits played over the public-address system, a young girl stood on a chair and looked toward the rear of the crowd and suddenly shouted: “There he is — under the umbrella.”

With the pronouncement, the crowd stood to get a glimpse of Jackson, 45, dressed in a light blue sequined long-sleeve shirt and shielded by a black umbrella as he waded through the crowd of well-wishers. He stopped several times to shake hands and autograph copies of a pamphlet being dispersed: It read “You Are Not Alone” on the back cover, and the front featured a picture of a pensive Jackson (chin on gloved hand) with the words, “Michael Jackson’s Return to Neverland: December 20, 2003.”

Jackson took his seat in between his parents, Katherine and Joe, on a cushy brown sofa in front of the stage. Behind the stage: a mesh screen painted with a gigantic image of Jackson leading a parade of multiethnic children along a road as if he were the Pied Piper.

The crowd, too, was in boisterous spirits, with many people wearing giveaway red-white-and-blue “I Love M.J.” T-shirts and waving homemade signs of support. Early arrivals (everyone had to pass through several security checkpoints) could ogle Jackson’s elephants (Baba and Suzy), a flock of pink flamingos, a pair of adolescent alpacas and a 12-foot female yellow python named Madonna. They also could take a ride on the open-air cars pulled by a steam engine on the narrow-gauge railroad circling Jackson’s compound.