For most attendees, Global Citizen Festival meant a carefree Saturday afternoon in September at New York City’s Central Park with thousands of fellow concertgoers. A picturesque sunset, cool breeze, and vivacious energy pulsating from a crowd all here for the same reason: music. But while the renowned festival advertised a flawless event that raised over $3.2 billion towards ending poverty, attendees of the concert were left feeling less than impressed.
Since 2012, the goal of the self-proclaimed “social action platform” has been to work towards the eradication of extreme poverty and social injustice. This put Global Citizen Festival, or GCF, at a disadvantage in comparison to other festivals, such as Lollapalooza and Coachella, because it accepted optional donations when purchasing a ticket. With the combination of last-minute advertising and a desperate marketing plan, tickets were made free to the general public, and from that point forward, Global Citizen’s global citizens were nowhere near important in the way the show played out.
The day began early with free-ticket-holders lining up at the stroke of midnight along the fence surrounding Central Park. I personally arrived at 4AM, eagerly awaiting the gates to open at noon. Compared to other concerts, nothing was out of the ordinary: an organized line of pop and rock fans wrapped in blankets along the streets of New York. However, noon came around all hell broke loose. Police officers and festival staff explained to the sleep-deprived young adults that to reach their spots in the venue they would have to run twelve blocks through a barricaded walkway. When noon hit, a concerning mass of people sprinted in 90 degree heat with no water bottles. After the 20-minute sprint, we arrived at the right side barricade, in less ideal spots than the number system we wrote on our hands had promised. But nevertheless, there was still a whole day ahead of us filled with entertainment from pop idols and notorious bands. Not that bad, right?
Wrong. As the next two hours painfully crept by with the rest of the concertgoers filing into their respective sections, those in the close-quartered pit were regretting even attending the show. GCF had promised water refill stations around the entire event, permitting each attendee to bring one empty water bottle. However, for each of the six sections of the show, there was a singular refill station with one faucet. Upon arrival at the barricade, one person volunteered to fill friends’ plastic water bottles, and proceeded to not return for an entire half hour. One whole half hour in the sweltering heat, shoulder-to-shoulder with sweaty strangers, getting a dangerously low amount of fresh air; and the entire time no one cared. Staff ignored pleas for water when a girl fainted from heat exhaustion, and technicians laughed when a man turned gray from the little amount of water in his system. Meanwhile, those leaning on the barricade were subject to the extra ten degrees of heat radiating off the considerably large equipment planted right in front of them. Scalding to the touch, black monitors, speakers, and seemingly pointless cases, prevented those standing even six feet tall from seeing any aspect of the stage. It became obvious that the set-up for the live broadcast was more important than the people who had spent their day waiting to see live music. Global Citizen’s quest for world peace suddenly seemed less important than the people making the event happen. And I won’t even mention the fistfight with the NYPD.
However, after the dreadfully slow two hours were up, the show was ready to begin, and celebrities began taking the stage to introduce the show. And low and behold, it was conducted in a considerably unprofessional manner with backstage managers coaching last-minute presenters using the conveniently placed teleprompter sat directly in front of my line of vision. A man in a baseball cap with a clipboard chock full of papers tapped microphones obnoxiously, pushed people on and off stage, and yelled angrily from the side. Mark Cuban and the Sharks fumbled drunkenly over lines they had yet to memorize. Wendy Williams read flustered off a piece of computer paper before dismissively introducing Big Sean as “Little Sean” and promptly exiting the stage. Demi Lovato spewed a heartfelt scripted speech about mental health with a fake smile and “places to be” as soon as this little PR stint was over with. If you had no idea what Hollywood was before today, the half-committed celebrities really drove it home.
In terms of music, this year’s Global Citizen Festival was a drastic change from the previous year’s, however nothing atrocious. 2016 brought R&B and hip-hop stars like insightful Kendrick Lamar and “pop queen” Rihanna. 2017 brought classic 90s and 00s bands like Green Day and The Killers, and music legend Stevie Wonder, but were accompanied with a questionable assortment of musicians. The first choice was The Chainsmokers, a pop duo with a number of three-chord hits sweeping the nation. In a lineup of artists with pure commitment to their craft, this mediocre two-man act with some overused melodies really did not fit the atmosphere. Another less than ideal, yet understandably necessary lineup decision was renowned rapper Big Sean. While the announcement of his attendance brought another demographic of rap fans to the festival, the live performance was stale and forced. Being one of the first artists to perform, and having only one or two major hits, the crowd was focused more on their dehydration than the background noise coming from the stage. All that some of these pop stars brought along was a passive presentation, which surprisingly included The Lumineers, the folk rock band responsible for the hit singles “Ho Hey” and “Ophelia.” Their placement directly before the main acts were supposed to go on later in the night contributed to the flop of the acclaimed band. Desperate attempts by their front man, Wesley Schultz, to get the crowd clapping to the simple-beated songs brought second-hand embarrassment all around, and I eventually resorted to sitting down during their set in exhaustion. However there were surprisingly good performances from up-and-coming pop stars like the young and talented Alessia Cara and resonant and soulful Andra Day. Both women brought powerful shows that touched upon self-image (“Scars To Your Beautiful”) or struck home with racial injustices (Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit” cover). Chills were sent down tens of thousands of concertgoers as the sunset turned the sky orange and Day’s voiced echoed throughout all of Central Park and Midtown, reminding everyone of why they came in the first place. Following the poignant performance from Cara and Day came Green Day with a dynamic set that rocked everyone from the mosh pit at barricade to the carefree parents sitting on blankets in the back lawn. Billie Joe Armstrong’s energy captivated all of New York and got actors like Whoopi Goldberg and Hugh Jackman jamming out on the side stage with Tré Cool. “Basket Case” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” provided enough diversity in music that it made the whole day of waiting worth it.
Despite the inhumane corralling of the General Admission ticket-holders, permission of dehydration and heat exhaustion, last minute planning, and mediocre lineup decisions, for the immense size of the festival, it did well. However, I do not recommend this festival for those who are accustomed to waiting in line all day to get a good spot near the front. This is for those who want a relaxed Saturday afternoon to listen to music in a laid-back environment under the warmth of the sun; a good way to say goodbye to summer. While I most likely will never see Global Citizen again, I wish the event luck in its journey to resolve issues around the world. Next time, I’ll just be watching from the comfort of my home rather than the sweaty underneath of a concert stage.