Global Citizen Co-Founder on Chris Martin's 15-Year Fest Curating Gig

Beyoncé, Pearl Jam and more battle poverty in Central Park this weekend

Credit: Shane Wenzlick/Getty

Beyoncé, Pearl Jam, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Common and Bollywood singer Sunidhi Chauhan will perform in New York City's Central Park on September 26 for the 2015 Global Citizen Festival, a concert rewarding attendees for their actions promoting the goal of eradicating global poverty.

The lineup was curated by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, who has committed to the Global Citizen Festival until 2030. Bono, Stephen Colbert, Leonardo DiCaprio, Salma Hayek Pinault, Deborra-Lee & Hugh Jackman, Kerry Washington, Olivia Wilde, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill and Melinda Gates are all expected to share hosting duties for an event that drew 60,000 people last year.

As Saturday approaches, many final preparations fall to Global Citizen co-founder Ryan Gall, an executive producer of the festival. "The final week is always a little crazy," he says. "All sorts of opportunities come out of the woodwork, and it's sort of a juggle on which ones we can pull off last minute." In a conversation with Rolling Stone, he spoke excitedly about the event's challenges and the rewards of Beyoncé's retun.

How did you get Chris Martin to sign on to this until he's 53?
He didn't want to do just a one-off. He wanted to sink his teeth into it and really do some meaningful work. He literally has called up artists. He called up Ed Sheeran personally. He called up Beyoncé personally. When we come up with an idea like, "Hey, do you guys want to collaborate on a song?" it's just festival people trying to make it happen. But if Chris has an idea of collaborating and doing something unique during the performance, it's coming from the artist. It changes everything. That's been fun to see the set list behind the scenes and what the program throughout the evening is going to be. I think it's a step above what it was the last couple of years.

Will Coldplay always perform for the next 15 years?
No. We'll always be able to throw in artists that we like, but Chris is really the curator and he can work with the young and new and the old and amazing artists. It's up to him if Coldplay will play again in a couple years, or depending on where the organization grows. We feel like we're pretty lucky to get them right now. It's their first show in quite a long time.

What causes is he passionate about?
We actually brought Chris over to India, and had a chance for him to sit down with Prime Minister Modi. That's one that's evolving into a natural fit: A clean water initiative with an India focus for Chris.

How have you charted the growth of the Global Citizen Festival?
Our user database of people taking action on our website has jumped up to about six million. You really need numbers like that. We're hoping to grow to 15 million and bigger over the next year. Another way we can tell it's growing is the people involved. Not just the musicians, but the hosts, politicians, world leaders and corporate leaders who are coming. Zuckerberg, I don't think he does this type of stuff very often. Beyoncé, who came last year to do a couple songs, to have her come back. Any time you can have an artist do a repeat, it means they believe in what we're doing.

What did it take to get Beyoncé back?
That ask did come directly from Chris. We were able to work creatively to involve her Chime for Change organization. We like to work with the artists and look at the issues they really care about, and develop a campaign that's a natural fit. Chime for Change is now in a multi-year partnership with Global Citizen.

How did you get Central Park's blessing for such a huge show?
The New York City Parks have taken this event as something that they love. They don't do a lot of shows in Central Park, and they're very picky about the ones that they allow. They've taken us in, and love that people aren't just showing up for free. They have to earn their way in. They know what we're talking about onstage. It's the most peaceful audience you've ever seen. It's a great vibe.

Is this the final concert lineup?
You know, there will be a surprise or two.