Presented by I.M.P., the D.C.-based independent promotions company led by Seth Hurwitz, the concert was staged to benefit two anti-gun-violence organizations: Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence. Gabrielle Giffords is a former congresswoman who was shot in an attempted assassination in 2011 and has been advocating for stricter gun laws since, and Everytown is the largest gun-violence prevention organization in the United States.
In the lobby of the Anthem, representatives of the musician-backed voter registration organization Headcount signed up new voters. Their presence was part of a nationwide drive by Headcount during March For Our Lives events.
Adding to the voices of the artists on stage were video statements of support from Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, NBA star Carmelo Anthony, songwriter Justin Tranter, Sam Harris of X Ambassadors, Samantha Bee, James Valentine of Maroon 5, Tom Morello and Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco. Two stars and activists from the LGBT community, Alex G and Miles McKenna, were on hand to introduce artists and lend their voices in support.
But the true stars of the night were the young people who took the stage to speak, including several students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where the mass murder of 17 people by a gunman on Feb. 14 ignited an unprecedented new movement against gun violence.
The show was introduced by Nza-Ari Khepra, the founder of the youth-led violence awareness organization Project Orange Tree, who explained how her activism began after the shooting death in January 2013 of her friend Hadiya Pendelton on the South Side of Chicago. Less than two weeks earlier, Pendleton had performed as a drum majorette at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. She was 15.
After a short, compelling set by the group Girl Be Heard, which seeks to empower young women through theater work, Cam took the stage wearing a white t-shirt emblazoned with the word BULLSHIT, an allusion to the viral speech of Parkland, Fla. shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez: "They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence -- we call BS!”
Lizzo opened with a stunning a cappella rendition of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come." She then linked her song “My Skin” to the killing of 24-year-old Jamar Clark by police in Minneapolis in November 2015, making the connection between the fight against gun violence to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This shit has to stop,” declared Rhexa. "We need our safety." During her set, Rhexa celebrated the rise of her Flordia Georgia Line collaboration “Meant To Be" to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, then returned during G-Eazy’s performance for their joint hit “Me Myself & I.”
"Music can be something powerful," said G-Eazy. "This is about ending the violence and spreading love and positivity. We have to protect each other."
The last of the students to speak to the crowd was Sheryl Aquaroli from Stoneman Douglas. "We are all marching because we know we have a voice. I plan to use my voice for my friend who can’t anymore,” she said, naming 17-year-old Helena Ramsay, who spent the final moments of her life helping to project a classmate from the gunman. "The way their voice can be heard is through ours."