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The Global Festival in Central Park

The Black Keys

 

It’s the reason Neil Young signed on. And the Black Keys. Foo Fighters too. Organizer Hugh Evans promised The Global Festival wasn’t going to be “just another Live Aid,” but that it would actively encourage and educate people about what he regards as the critical issue facing our time – extreme poverty. That the festival did, but it was also a rocking good time too.

60 000 fans took to the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park on Saturday evening for the event, which made history as the largest syndicated music charity webcast and broadcast. Streamed live online, and with input from around the world, the show really did become the global event it was intended to be, fusing the power of social media with socially active fans – even if some of those fans originally came just for the music, as evident in one music-lover screaming out for Foo Fighters during a UNICEF presentation.

 

Run by Evans, CEO of The Global Poverty Project, the Global Festival was created as a way to get music fans involved in the hype and buzz of the United Nations General Assembly, currently taking place in NYC. 120 of the world’s leaders have been gathering in the city for talks and discussions around crucial issues for the past week and a bit. Evans wanted to direct some of that energy into renewed efforts and commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), specifically with regard to eradicating extreme poverty.

“The only way this will be relevant to our generation is if it is sustainable,” Evans said in an interview before the event. He and his team set about creating a kind of “digital dashboard” for navigating the issues at hand – like how polio is almost entirely wiped off the planet but still needs attention in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria; or how education in India is being driven by women-led organizations.

What better way to entice people into engaging with the issues than offer them a free concert with top musicians? As some concert-goers said, it was a small price to pay. After having signed up to become “global citizens”, which entailed watching and sharing video content, emailing links to their friends and thereby scoring the points needed to gain entry into the concert, fans watched as, on the night, more videos were shown and celebs like Olivia Wilde and Selena Gomez came out on stage to highlight various initiatives around the world.

 

So the evening was a celebration too of these efforts being made to rid the world of poverty-related diseases. I liked how the rousing applause from the audience wasn’t only reserved for the rockstars on stage, but it was heaped on the philanthropists and activists who’re working to create change within their own spheres too.

The medicine went down with the music though, and the bands provided a welcome soundtrack to these efforts. From K’Naan, who “re-claimed” his World Cup anthem Wavin’ Flag to surprise guest John Legend who performed John Lennon’s Imagine, there was passion in droves. Band of Horses performed too – their new track Knock, Knock, before the heart-searing No One’s Gonna Love Yourang out across the park. The Black Keys played a tight, urgent set, before Foo Fighters, who told us this would be their last show “for a while”, powered through tracks like Times Like These, Best of You and Everlong. Neil Young and Crazy Horse capped off the evening’s highlights, playing facing each other, almost as if around their own campfire of sorts, in which they created their wall of sound. It was amazing to behold the anthemic Keep on Rocking in the Free World in all its glory, which ended the festival just before the park’s curfew kicked in and Young, who tried to speak to the audience, was Springsteen’ed.

Ultimately though, after 5 hours of standing in enclosed pens, the messages did begin to feel a bit of an overload. Sometimes all you need is Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl at the end of his set to say, “remember why we’re here.” And most of us do.

Pics: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

 

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