Global Citizen Festival Books Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Kings of Leon - Rolling Stone
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Global Citizen Festival Books Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Kings of Leon

All-star charity show returns to New York’s Central Park on September 28th

Alicia Keys performs in Paris, France; Stevie Wonder performs in Gulf Shores, Alabama; Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon performs in Napa, CaliforniaAlicia Keys performs in Paris, France; Stevie Wonder performs in Gulf Shores, Alabama; Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon performs in Napa, California

Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon.

David Wolff - Patrick/Redferns via Getty Images; Erika Goldring/Getty Images; Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

On September 28th, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Kings of Leon and John Mayer will headline the second annual Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park. The artists are playing without compensation to support eradicating global poverty. “These four headlining artists are willing to play for free because they believe this generation wants to see the end of extreme poverty,” explains Hugh Evans, co-founder and CEO of Global Poverty Project, the organizers of the event along with AEG/Goldenvoice and a host of corporate supporters and altruistic organizers. “They’re all committed to that goal – in partnership with tens of thousands of global citizens.”

PHOTOS: Neil Young, Foo Fighters, Black Keys Rock Central Park

Last fall, Neil Young, Foo Fighters, the Black Keys, John Legend, K’Naan and Band of Horses inaugurated the first edition of the Global Citizen Festival, which took place in front of over 60,000 concertgoers on Central Park’s iconic Great Lawn, which will also host this year’s event. The Global Citizen Festival was timed to coincide with the meeting of the annual United Nations General Assembly Meeting, which had convened to consider its members’ actions and goals on behalf of reducing worldwide poverty – putting pressure on world leaders via a media spotlight while at the same time raising money and awareness for the cause. The results transcended expectations: over $1.3 billion in funding to fight poverty worldwide was announced onstage. As well, awareness over poverty issues reached record highs. The event resulted in over two billion media impressions, with 800 million views across social-media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram alone. The millions of viewers who followed the event on television and online turned the Global Citizen Festival into the biggest syndicated music charity broadcast ever. “That’s never happened before in the movement to end extreme poverty,” Evans says. “It brought the issues straight into the mainstream.”

Despite that success, the return of the Global Citizen Festival wasn’t certain, according to Evans. “At the end, we were exhausted,” Evans admits. The prospect of a second edition, however, came up while Evans was developing another charity/awareness project with Pearl Jam managers Kelly Curtis and Michele Anthony: the Global Citizens Ticket Initiative, in which numerous artists from Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Neil Young to Bruno Mars and Beyoncé have agreed to donate two tickets from each concert they play, distributed via the Global Poverty Project’s Global Citizen website as direct rewards for supporting various causes.

As Evans held committee meetings with high-profile managers, artists, and music industry executives around the Global Citizens Ticket Initiative this past February, the possibility of a second Global Citizen Festival kept coming up.  “One of the managers asked, ‘Are you going to do another Central Park show again?” Evans recalls. “Then [CAA booking agent] Rob Light said, ‘Stevie Wonder would love to do it.'” According to Global Citizen co-founder and executive producer Ryan Gall, “Getting interest from Stevie really kicked it into gear.” “Then [Mick Management’s] Michael McDonald said John Mayer would want to play,’ [Vector Management’s] Andy Mendelsohn said Kings of Leon would definitely want to be involved, and [Red Light Management’s] Will Botwin said Alicia Keys would love to be one of the headliners,” Evans adds.

“About five minutes into meeting Hugh, I realized that what he was doing with Global Poverty Project was something different and real,” says McDonald. “There are few people who can change the world, and he’s one of them. I immediately offered support for whatever they needed.”

Many artists have released statements in support of their upcoming appearance at the Global Citizen Festival, which is once again scheduled to coincide with the influx of world leaders and policy makers that takes place during the United Nations General Assembly. “We’re happy to take part in an amazing organization’s show that brings awareness to such an important global issue,” Kings of Leon said in a joint statement.

“I’m so proud to join these incredible artists as we come together through our music in support of The Global Poverty Project,” said Alicia Keys. “The number of people around the world living in extreme poverty is staggering. They are humanity’s most vulnerable, and as global citizens, we must work to be their voice so that they can live with the same human rights we are privileged to have.”

“What the Global Poverty Project and its Global Citizen movement have accomplished in just five years is really inspiring,” wrote John Mayer. “Their mission to end extreme poverty is one that we can all agree on, all support. I’m excited to be part of this year’s program, alongside musicians I admire and working to end extreme poverty within a generation.” 

According to McDonald, what attracted him and Mayer was the festival’s unique ticketing system established around the original event: Other than a small number of VIP tickets which will be put on sale, the only way to acquire admission to the Global Citizen Festival is to take actions and support a variety of causes dedicated to eradicating world poverty via the Global Poverty Project’s GlobalCitizen website. Once a certain threshold is attained, contestants are then entered into a lottery for the approximately 54,000 tickets to be distributed. “It’s a novel concept – do something good for the world to get a ticket,” McDonald notes. “You’re doing something which gives you personal satisfaction, and then you get to go to a show you want to go to.”

While the innovative ticketing system for this year’s Global Citizen Festival remains, Evans and Gall both point out that much about the 2013 edition has been revamped – from the apps designed to communicate concertgoers’ concerns to world leaders, to a more strategic focus on specific issues impacting global poverty concerns. “This year, we’re focusing on four key issues for maximum impact – education, women’s equality, health, and global partnership – all of which are interrelated,” Evans says. “32 million girls remain without education in the developing world; one in five children globally don’t get most modern vaccines. The only way to think about these problems is through worldwide solutions from global citizens.”

One way to do that, Evans says, is to use technology to grow an ever-expanding worldwide audience beyond the thousands collected in Central Park. “We’re exploring making the festival truly global by having live sites around the world broadcasting the event and local artists performing,” he says. For Gall, the festival’s increasing profile and annual presence serves as an ideal extension of the consciousness-raising possibilities offered by large-scale music gatherings that span from Woodstock to Coachella. “I’ve loved music festivals my entire life – I’m obsessed with what people like Bill Graham and Michael Lang were able to achieve,” Gall says. “Now we get to weave in the latest technological innovations to spread the message and get people involved. When I met [Goldenvoice/Coachella director/promoter] Bill Fold, I told him I’d been to every single Coachella, and how impactful it was for me. That was a big part of our inspiration, and we want to keep making this event bigger and better until we get extreme poverty down to zero.”


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