Once a year, renowned musicians and global leaders alike join together in Central Park to combat global injustice in what has been dubbed the Global Citizen Festival. Hosted by Stephen Colbert and Hugh Jackman, this year’s iteration of the day-long festival included musical performances by Pearl Jam, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay, as well as various speakers including Malala Yousafzai, Vice President Joe Biden and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Started in 2012 by the Global Poverty Project, Ryan Gall and Riot House, the festival aims to raise awareness of various sociopolitical issues that not only affect developing countries, but also industrialized nations. This year, the Global Citizen Festival established a 17-point system, their “global goals,” but focused this year’s festival around six key issues: global education, gender equality, water sanitation, hunger, financing global aid and universal health programs.
The concert is considered a free, ticketed-event, but there is a catch. To earn one of the almost 50,000 tickets, one must engage in various forms of social media, sign petitions and call politicians to raise awareness of the “global goals.” Examples include emailing world leaders to eradicate polio at the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, to tweeting the British Prime Minister to help 6.5 million females in the UK receive a basic education.
At the festival, various speakers shared their stories and support for the Global Citizen cause, stirring up a grandiose emotion amongst the whole crowd. Big Bird from “Sesame Street” shared his thoughts on bathroom sanitation, DiCaprio spoke on the impacts of global warming with emphasis on the dangers of fossil fuels and Bono from U2 discussed the importance of raising awareness of women’s education in developing countries.
But the speaker that moved the crowd unlike any other was Nobel Prize Winner Yousafzai, who spoke on the impact education has had on her life as well as the various Islamic young woman that she invited on stage. Yousafzai beautifully stated, “It is a book and a pen that can change the life of a child. It’s not a gun. It was a gun that hit me on the left side of my forehead, it was a gun that hit my two friends, but it wasn’t a pen. But it was a pen that really helped us in our lives,” leaving the audience in a thunderous applause and tears in the eyes of many.
While the event was primarily a platform to promote global issues through social awareness, it also supported a benefit concert that shook Manhattan to its core. While the four headlining musicians each boasted their individual flair, it was ultimately the surprise guests that took the audience by surprise with appearances by Ariana Grande and Sting of The Police.
Hosts Colbert and Jackman laid out a platform for laughter that immediately started once Jackman entered the crowd with Colbert on his shoulders underneath a large trench coat. While the hosts understood the importance of the event in the global eye, they kept their humor tongue-in-cheek as they poked jabs at one another and at global leaders.
While their role tended to dwindle by the end of the night, the two funny-men kept the audience entertained through the night as anticipation grew for each coming act.
The day kicked off in the early afternoon with an energetic set from the seminal English musicians, Coldplay. Doing the best with the half hour they were given, Chris Martin and company blasted through their hits which included “A Sky Full of Stars” and “Yellow,” despite Martin’s piano breaking before the set.
Martin knew the huge role he would need to fulfill as the opening band of the day-long festival, running across the platformed stage while blasting out vocal harmonies that could send shivers down spines. Notable in the performance was the sudden decision (plans were only made that morning) to have Grande join Martin on stage for an acoustic rendition of Grande’s “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart.”
When Martin sadly informed the crowd that the band was about to undertake their last song, everyone assumed the band to close with one of their more popular hits such as “Paradise” or “Magic.’ Instead, the band opted to perform “Amazing Day,” an original composition that had never been performed live before. As the ballad concluded, the bar had officially been set high by England’s finest.
Next up on the roster was England’s sweetheart, Sheeran; but, before the Englishman graced the stage, esteemed songstress Tori Kelly took the mic and blasted out a beautiful acoustic rendition of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” as well as a slew of her hits including the bass-driven “Should’ve Been Us” and the hip-hop drenched “Nobody Love.”
Once it was time for Sheeran to take the stage, a shrill scream from a sea of teens filled the air as the young man sang a heartfelt rendition of 2014’s “I’m a Mess.” Sheeran came prepared to wow as he announced that he will be a one-man band for a series of complex pop arrangements. As he slapped away on his acoustic guitar, Sheeran used a looping station to create complex rhythmic progressions that would have otherwise been impossible with one musician.
Sheeran busted through his short 45-minute set that included a number of hits including “Lego House” and a piano-driven version of “Thinking Out Loud,” featuring Coldplay’s Martin on keys. Most impressive about this performance was Sheeran’s extended version of his sentimental love ballad, “Photograph,” which included a looping harmony and acoustic jam session that brought the song out to a bombastic ending.
Indian artist Sunidhi Chauhan and rapper Common were set to follow Sheeran before Beyoncé hit the stage. But despite all efforts, they failed to grab the audience’s attention as most were still astonished by the vivacity of Sheeran’s previous performance as well as the impending anticipation of Beyoncé.
As the lights dimmed and Jay-Z filed in literally right in front of me, everyone knew that Queen B was about to grace the stage. And so she did in the most flamboyant way possible; a troupe of 10 dancers backed Beyoncé as she belted out the stylishly empowering “Crazy in Love.” The crowd couldn’t get enough as Beyoncé flawlessly invigorated the crowd with her lively stage presence and unprecedented vocals.
Beyoncé, though, came with not only a performance in mind but a message of femininity and women empowerment, which was effectively broadcasted as videos played of empowering speakers such as Ronda Rousey and Maya Angelou. Each costume change added a new dimension to her overarching theme of womanhood that reflected the overall feminist tone of her show.
Performance-wise, Beyoncé delivered on all aspects and even invited her friend, Sheeran, to sing an acoustic duet of “Drunk in Love.” Queen B strutted through her whole catalogue of music that stretched back to her days of Destiny’s Child with a well-suited version of “Survivor.” As Beyoncé closed out her set with “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it),” First Lady Michelle Obama came out to congratulate her on her performance and unveiled a new program called the 62 Million Girls Program, which aims to bring basic education to females around the globe through social media awareness.
For the final act, Malala and Bono joined forces to stress the importance of Beyoncé’s previous message of feminine empowerment and to introduce the final headliner of the night, Pearl Jam. An unlikely choice to headline after Beyoncé, Pearl Jam pulled out all the stops as they tore through their set of straight, raw energy.
The set started with 2013’s “Mind Your Manners,” which showed that these 50-year-old rockers can still perform just as well as their ‘90s personas. Eddie Vedder, who commented that this was the first time they played in front of a 100 percent activist crowd, seemed humbled by the sheer energy in the park as he fed off the seamless flow of positivity. “Given to Fly,” a live staple of theirs, was dedicated to Yousafzai, who graciously introduced them, and in turn, the band honored her in the most passionate way possible.
While the crowd consisted of mostly younger individuals who didn’t know much about the band, Vedder and his band connected so deeply that it became almost too impossible to not fall in love with their roaring charm. “Better Man” had the crowd come together as if they were one giant family to sing the all-too-familiar chorus and “Alive” boasted the proficiency and passion that encapsulated their main set.
For their encore, Pearl Jam decided to pay tribute to John Lennon, who would’ve turned 75 this year, with a heartfelt cover of “Imagine.” Suddenly, the show took a turn as the band left the stage, leaving Vedder by himself to welcome back Beyoncé. The two, who seemingly don’t pair well together, performed Bob Marley’s powerful political number, “Redemption Song,” which included a video of Nelson Mandela in the background addressing the apartheid issue after his release from prison in 1990.
To close out the evening, Pearl Jam invited everyone on stage to sing Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” which summed up the total energy of the evening and the importance of the free world that we have to make the most out of.