Neil Young, Foo Fighters, the Black Keys, Band of Horses and K’naan will share the stage at the Great Lawn in New York’s Central Park on September 29th as part of the Global Festival, a concert designed to bring awareness and funds to the cause of ending global poverty.
“We wanted to make it different from other benefit concerts – we didn’t want it to be the same as, say, Live 8,” Hugh Evans, co-founder of the Global Poverty Project, tells Rolling Stone. The team organized Global Festival in conjunction with Goldenvoice/AEG, the veteran team behind the landmark Coachella music festival. “We wanted to do something unique for our generation.”
Adds Rick Mueller, concert promoter at Goldenvoice,”Central Park is iconic.” The venue has hosted legendary concerts from the likes of Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel, Diana Ross and, more recently, Dave Matthews, Bon Jovi and the Black Eyed Peas. “It’s a worldwide platform, one that few get to play, so it’s the perfect stage for a charity and a cause – especially considering the caliber of artists involved. I don’t know if there’s been a rock show this big at Central Park; it’s a cohesive lineup that really makes a statement.”
The Global Festival is timed to make an impact; it takes place while international leaders are gathered at the United Nations General Assembly Meeting to discuss commitments and solutions to significantly reduce worldwide poverty by 2015. While the high profiles of the Global Festival’s performers will certainly draw attention to the cause, the event also looks to create greater engagement among the public as well – even down to its unique ticketing system.
A quirk of using Central Park’s Great Lawn as a venue is that, as a public space, all tickets to each event must be free and distributed via lottery. According to Evans, that provision opened up a way to get attendees to further engage with the issues: to distribute tickets, Global Poverty Project developed an online and app-based platform called Global Citizen through which potential concertgoers get placed in the lottery by taking action for the various causes and charities represented by the event – from making donations to educating themselves in depth about various issues. The cost of the event is being funded primarily by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sumner Redstone Charity Foundation, along with partners like UNICEF and Rotary International.
“The standard model for this kind of event is you sell a ticket through Ticketmaster for $60 or $70 and a portion of that goes to charity,” says Evans. “We wanted Global Festival to be about action, not money. By thinking different about how we distribute tickets, we’re building a movement.”
“The ticketing approach definitely attracted us,” notes Goldenvoice’s Mueller. “People engaging [in] causes and taking action makes it more than just a free-for-all. In today’s social media-driven, viral age, it’s a fresh approach.”
The cause resonated as well across the generations of musicians slated to perform. “We are very proud to be lending a hand to such a creative, important event and are looking forward to adding to the noise in the big park and helping the effort toward reducing the global shame of deep poverty,” Foo Fighters said in an official statement. Fellow headliner Neil Young has always built social consciousness into his work, from songs like “Ohio” (which memorialized the Kent State massacre) to his efforts on behalf of causes like Farm Aid, environmental efforts and his own famous Bridge School Benefits.
For other artists on the bill, the cause behind Global Festival hits particularly close to home. K’naan, who was born in Somalia, has committed much of his activism and philanthropy to issues affecting Africa, which are often united and exacerbated by widespread poverty. “While eradicating poverty sounds like a lofty concept, to not move towards it is to suggest contentment with inequality,” K’naan tells Rolling Stone. “That’s because, while poverty suggests many things about the people who live in it, what it suggests most about those who don’t is a sense of complacency with injustice.”
The Black Keys, meanwhile, found a personal link in the downturn that’s long afflicted their hometown of Akron, Ohio. “All of us come from Ohio, so we grew up around working-class, hard-working people, but getting a global view makes you want to give back even more,” explains Black Keys manager John Peets. “It just seemed to make a lot of sense: this is a cause we all felt was universal enough to get behind.”
Evans and the Global Poverty Project are hopeful about their tuneful approach to activism. “Since 1981, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved to 25 percent. While progress has been remarkable, there’s still a long way to go,” he says. “Music and movements go hand-in-hand: from ending the slave trade in the 1800s through the freedom chant against apartheid in South Africa, music has been a key part of social change, and that’s still so true today. It gives us an outlet to express that which we care about in the most meaningful and passionate of ways, which is the whole point of the Global Festival: it’s equitable, so anyone can get involved in uniting so many people and non-profits around one cause. It’s become a lot bigger than any of us have ever dreamed.”