Over 60,000 people came together in Manhattan’s Central Park on Saturday to sing, dance and sweat in early fall heat for the sixth annual Global Citizen Festival. More than six hours of music from acts like Stevie Wonder and Green Day was interspersed with speeches and calls to action from dignitaries and celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Priyanka Chopra and Senator Chuck Schumer.
Main headliner Stevie Wonder, sauntering onstage as the closeout act, drilled home the politically-charged nature of the festival by echoing NFL star Colin Kaepernick and taking a knee.
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“Tonight I’m taking a knee for America,” he said, receiving assistance from his son as he lowered himself. “But not just one knee, both knees. Both knees in prayer for our planet, our future, our leaders of the world and our globe. Amen. I wanted to say that prayer before I serve you my musical meal. Is that OK?” he asked. “Are y’all ready to have some fun?”
He prefaced his act with philosophy. “We could lose at the ultimate video game of life,” Wonder told the crowd. “I didn’t come here to preach. But I’m telling you, our spirits must be in the right place. All the time, not just now. Whenever you need to, [you must] interrupt hate, stand down bigotry, condemn sexism and find love for all our global brothers and sisters every day.”
His move was reflective of the evening, which matched political warnings and discussion of the goals to end world poverty by 2030 with celebratory music. There was Alessia Cara, kicking off the show with her brand of empowering pop; The Killers, bringing rock energy to an audience sweltering in the bright sun; and Andra Day, opening with a powerful, haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit.”
Other acts included the folksy Lumineers, rapper Big Sean and The Chainsmokers, using lights and pyrotechnics to good effect. But perhaps the most appropriate group to match the evening’s message was old-school punk rockers Green Day. As Billie Joe Armstrong launched into his set, the crowd converged toward the stage, creating an excitable mosh.
“I’m not a part of the Don Trump America,” he sang over the band’s classic rebel jam “American Idiot” from 2004. After playing an acoustic encore, the openly political Armstrong closed out with one message: “Keep fighting.”
Meanwhile Senator Chuck Schumer, who spoke early on in the festival, garnered a laugh for wearing shorts and brandishing a bike helmet onstage as he dissed the proposed border wall. (He had biked in from Brooklyn, he said.) Speakers like Coldplay singer Chris Martin, appearing in a video message, invoked the legacy of Nelson Mandela in fighting for the end of poverty. Jane Goodall, legendary scientist, delivered a chimpanzee greeting after noting the similarities between our primate brethren and ourselves. Demi Lovato revealed she’s Global Citizen’s new ambassador for mental health, formalizing her role as a voice for children.
“This is how we change the world: one person at a time,” Whoopi Goldberg announced at one point. (Attendees received tickets by taking social media actions, like tweeting at world leaders, to support poverty-ending initiatives.) She then led the crowd in a chant. “Can you say that: ‘I’m not gonna take the BS anymore!’ Scream it! Remember how that felt.”
Global Citizen reports that people participating in their campaigns took 1.6 million actions over two months, resulting in $3.2 billion worth of commitments and announcements set to affect 221 million people, all intended to forward the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.