UPDATED: Although a falling security fence received the initial blame, a different culprit has been officially identified as the source of the startling sound that created panic at Saturday’s seventh annual Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. The event nearly turned into a catastrophe when attendees, thinking that gunshots were fired at 7:35 p.m., stampeded away from the stage.
Initially, reports indicated a security barrier had toppled, while a producer of the show had it as a fallen bike rack. Sunday afternoon, though, Global Citizen issued a statement blaming the unnerving boom on… a beverage container. “While NYPD originally advised that a fallen security barrier caused the noise, NYPD informed us today that it was the sound of an attendee(s) stepping on and popping a drink bottle(s),” said the statement, attributed to Hugh Evans, the founder of Global Citizen.
Earlier, seven injuries had been reported, but organizers upped that estimate in the statement: “A few dozen people reported injuries and sought treatment for injuries sustained as they were moving away from the area. To those who were injured or frightened by this experience, we sincerely apologize. We recognize how traumatic this was for many of you.”
In the wake of the mystery sound, New York police raced to the stage and took over the mic, attempting to calm the fleeing concertgoers. “The fence fell,” a female captain stated. “We’ve got to get these barriers open. We’ve got to get these people out. People are getting crushed. Please move backwards!”
Global Citizen veteran Chris Martin of Coldplay tried to help, telling the crowd: “A barrier fell down. There’s no need to rush. Nobody is trying to hurt anybody. You’re all safe. When you guys are all ready, we can watch Janet Jackson.”
At 8:15, about 40 minutes after the commotion and with some of the crowd returning to the area where the fence collapsed, Jackson hit the stage, performing a seamless set of her hit songs from the ’80s and ’90s, including “Rhythm Nation,” “Nasty,” “Miss You Much,” “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” “When I Think of You” and “Control.”
Toward the end of her set, Jackson weighed in on the key issue of the day: women being sexually assaulted by men. “I’m sick, I’m repulsed, I’m infuriated,” she said. “Injustice, bigotry and prejudice has to stop.”
This echoed the opening message from Janelle Monáe, who kicked off the show at 4 p.m. “I dedicate this to Dr. Ford,” she said, referring to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified Thursday at a Senate Justice Committee hearing about being sexually assaulted by Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 1982. “I dedicate this to Anita Hill… Let the vagina have a monologue!”
Following sets by John Legend and Shawn Mendes, Bronx-born rapper Cardi B made a pitch for the 60,000 attendees, mostly in their teens and twenties, to vote. “Last election, everybody took it as a joke — even me, I’m not even going to front,” she admitted. “Because I thought, ‘Man, that person ain’t going to win,’ and look where we at now.”
Cardi B’s kinetic set consisted of snippets of her hits – “Bodak Yellow,” “I Like It,” “She Bad” and “Be Careful.” “We need to tone it down for my health,” she said mid-set. “It’s asthma season. I can’t breathe.”
The overriding Global Citizen concern is to end world poverty by 2030. Many foreign dignitaries and sponsors (Proctor & Gamble, Cisco) pledged money and campaigns to contribute to that effort. Sub-topics throughout the day included stopping ocean pollution created by plastic — one speaker warned of an island made of plastic the size of France — and putting a halt to cash bail.
“The cash bail system violates justice,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared. “If you can’t make bail, you sit in jail.” He called for the closing of New York’s notorious Riker’s Island prison where 70% of the inmates “have not been found guilty. I’ve closed more prisons than any governor in the history of this state. I’m not done yet.”
Due to the fence fall and ensuing pandemonium, the show was extended an extra half hour to allow The Weeknd to finish it up, albeit with a shortened set of his hits – “The Hills,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” “Party Monster” and “Secrets.”
“Can we go all night, New York?” the Canadian singer asked rhetorically. But, a few minutes later, he announced, “I have to cut it short.”
It was an anticlimactic ending to an unsettling day.
Sunday’s statement included instructions for recovering lost property, adding, “we regret some attendees were unable to re-enter the Park, and for that we apologize… We regret that this incident married an otherwise impactful event. In the run-up to the Festival, Global Citizens took 2.1 million actions, which resulted in 37 commitments and announcements totaling $7.75 billion, which are set to affect the lives of 254 million people by 2020.”