Stevie Wonder grabbed headlines all over the world Saturday night when he took a knee in support of Colin Kaepernick at the Global Citizen Festival, but his wasn’t the only statement made — or the only music played — during the six-hour long, nine-artist event. The sixth annual festival, held in New York’s Central Park on a glorious fall day, saw more than 60,000 people crammed into the Great Lawn in support of the event’s overriding message to end extreme poverty by 2030. Along with Wonder’s 80-minute closing set, the lineup of musicians and speakers included Green Day, the Killers, the Chainsmokers, Andra Day, Whoopi Goldberg and Hugh Jackman.
For the most part, Trump policy was not the focus of the festival, though #StoptheCuts was often displayed on the many video screens, referring to cuts in foreign aid. Sen. Chuck Schumer, dressed in shorts and fresh from a bike ride to the park, addressed that issue as well as the latest attempt to derail Obamacare, eliciting cheers from the crowd with his message, “We’ll continue to have the Statue of Liberty as our symbol, not that damn wall!”
The six-hour show, broadcast on MSNBC, mixed messages and music throughout, at times during sets when bands would stop to isolate a particular issue, such as when the Lumineers started with “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and segued into “Cleopatra” as a clip about lynching played on the screens.
Dignitaries from nations around the world came to discuss, in short speeches, a range of topics; health, education, food and water issues received the most attention. Among the speakers and hosts were actors Kal Penn, Whoopi Goldberg, Hugh Jackman, Priyanka Chopra and Lupita Nyong’o, primatologist Jane Goodall, singer Demi Lovato, radio/TV personality Wendy Williams and a host of Congresspeople.
The show progressed gradually with Alessia Cara, Big Sean, Andra Day and the Lumineers leading to more-established acts the Killers (currently on a mini-tour of New York), the Chainsmokers and finally to headliners Green Day and Wonder. The lineup was heavier on rock than previous years, particularly 2016, which was headlined by Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar.
“This is one of the most important things you can do with you lives,” Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong told the crowd during the band’s half-hour, eight-song set that leaned heavily on songs from the band’s 2004 opus, “American Idiot.”
Wonder led off his headlining set by “taking a knee for America,” but then tore into a crowd-pleasing set filled with songs suited for the day’s purpose and messages. “Higher Ground,” “Don’t You Worry About a Thing,” “Living for the City,” “Superstition” along with other lights like “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” “Sir Duke” and “My Cherie Amour.” He was joined by Pharrell Williams late in the set for a romp through “We Are the World,” Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and even Pharrell’s own “Happy,” interpolated with some of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” “I can’t believe what just happened,” Williams said toward the end of the set.