01 October 2012

Global Citizen Festival Tries to Rock Global Poverty

New York - The Global Citizen Festival brought together some 60,000 people in New York City's Central Park to spark a movement towards ending global poverty to the tune of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the Black Keys, the Foo Fighters, Band of Horses and K'naan. As stagehands hurried to set up for each act, celebrities honored the achievements of activists around the world.

Over $1 billion in pledges were made ranging from the US Fund for UNICEF pledging to raise $500 million by 2015 to Malaria No More's pledge to provide $1.5 million in programming in Africa. The announcements often involved celebrity advocates like Selena Gomez who joined a UNICEF staffer to talk about her involvement with the organization and allow the staff member to tell his personal story about UNICEF.

However, with the Foo Fighters, the main draw for the event coming up next, chants for the band interrupted the remarks causing the UNICEF rep to assure the fans that the the Foo Fighters, "will be on in 20 seconds."

The free event required people to take action in order to win tickets. By signing up on globalcitizen.org and sharing two items on Facebook or Twitter a person gained one entry into the lottery. More shares meant more entries. According to the AP, "Organizers said more than 71,000 people had signed up online, resulting in more than 3.5 million page views. On average, they spent just over six minutes consuming content or sharing information. Nearly 200,000 pieces of information were shared on Facebook, and just a bit more than that on Twitter. About 170,000 people signed petitions via the site, and there were 98,000 videos viewed to completion."

Awards were given out to four activists who Global Poverty Project co-founder Hugh Evans characterized as representing the four pillars to ending extreme poverty. Long-winded celebrity remarks introduced the award winners, followed by a short video profile and very brief thanks from the recipient. Winners included Edna Adan, Somaliland's former Foreign Minister who is committed to training and placing 1,000 midwives in the country. "If we can put our hearts to it, we can do it anywhere," said Adan while holding her fist across her chest.

In introducing Adan, Colombia professor Jeffrey Sachs told the crowd that global poverty can come to an end. "Nothing is standing the way. We are gonna do it," he said. Other winners included Kennedy Odede for his work on girls education in Nairobi's Kibera slum and Wilfred Messina, a man who lost his leg during the Haitian earthquake who now works with other amputees through the sport of soccer.

The announcements and advocacy filled the time between the performances and it was clear that the audience were there to hear music. The organizers tried to create actions for the audience including sending tweets to President Obama and Mitt Romney demanding for an explanation of how they will end global poverty. When Hugh Evans asked the audience to sign up for the "Live Below the Line" campaign, one audience member yelled, "no one cares."
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29: Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys performs onstage at The Global Citizen Festival in Central Park to end extreme poverty - Show at Central Park on September 29, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Few people seemed interested in the actions requested and nobody seemed be on their phones following the requests to take actions by using a phone. Celebrities that were more well known got some cheers, but the ones that people did not recognize were largely ignored. The most impactful moment when the head of Rotary International said that Neil Young had polio when he was a child. An audible gasp was heard across the crowd with many exclaiming, "What?"

The event was a real treat for music fans. Band of Horses lead singer Ben Bridwell was likely the most star-struck person at the event remarking numerous times how unbelievable it was to play in Central Park. Very short sets from K'naan and Band of Horses primed the crowd for the what they came to see: the Black Keys and the Foo Fighters.

Fans nodded their heads along and some sang to the Akron duo, but the energy was reserved for Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters. A solo Grohl took the stage playing the first few verses of Times Like These before being joined by his bandmates in a set that was high on energy through the finale and Foo Fighters classic Everlong.

Grohl caused a bit of confusion in the middle of the set when he told the audience that they band would not be playing again for awhile so they planned on playing as many songs as possible as hard as they could.

The crowd thinned out as Neil Young and Crazy Horse took the stage to play a sprawling set that included newer tracks such as the epic Walk Like a Giant. A largely good set was punctuated by a grand finale with all the day's performers joining Neil and the boys for Rockin' in the Free World.

Music fans delighted in the well put-on event. The music got people in the door, but the awareness was the main thrust. A live-stream of the concert was available that made it much easier for members to participate in the actions requested by the event organizers and participants. It will take some time to properly look at how people partook in the event and its long-term impact.

Rotary International General Secretary John Hewko told the crowd that he hopped that another Global Citizen Festival can be held to mark the eradication of polio. He said he would bring Neil Young back so that he could play "Rockin' in a Polio-Free World."

Disclosure: I partnered with the Global Citizen Festival through DAWNS by providing news information to the dashboard that was then shared by users.