On Saturday (Sept. 24), Global Citizen Festival — which had its inception in 2012 — will take over Central Park for a celebration through music of impactful work and positive progress featuring sets from Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Demi Lovato, Major Lazer, Metallica, Usher, Coldplay‘s Chris Martin, Ellie Goulding, Eddie Vedder, Yandel and Yusuf/Cat Stevens. Thursday evening (Sept. 22), the organization held its first ever ceremony called “Global Citizen: The World On Stage,” an event that illustrated the inseparable intersection between music and a movement for change.
While the majority of the evening was dedicated to several prominent speakers, all of whom addressed various causes in dire need of help and support — such as the refugee crisis, education, poverty, hunger, gender equality and so much more — there were also a variety of affecting performances, and most notably of all, the presentation of the inaugural George Harrison Global Citizen award, which Paul Simon presented to Olivia and Dhani Harrison (George’s widow and son, respectively).
As a whole, the event not only celebrated the mission and hard work of Global Citizens but more so added meat to the meaning of the festival — as the organization’s founder and CEO, Hugh Evans, said best, the night offered a look “behind the scenes of what empowers the movement.”
The theme of empowerment trickled into each performance of the evening, as every song (primarily covers) was specially selected for its meaning and big-picture context. The most poignant song selection came from opening act Kesha, who dedicated her performance to “anyone fighting for their rights,” before diving into Bob Dylan‘s “I Shall Be Released.”
A handful of other performances from the likes of Warren Haynes (who performed U2‘s “One”) and Tom Morello alongside the Kenyan Boys Choir (who performed Woody Guthrie‘s “This Land Is Your Land”), were sprinkled throughout the first portion of the evening, providing momentary music relief from the heavier presentations such as a spoken word performance, Q&As, and video presentations.
Eventually, the evening’s pinnacle was reached as Simon took the stage. He spoke of the global influence and impact George Harrison had on the world, using The Concert For Bangladesh — a benefit concert Harrison organized with Ravi Shankar that took place at Madison Square Garden in 1971 — as evidence of how “music can build movement.” After Olivia and Dhani — who spoke briefly of his father — accepted the award, Simon proceeded to play “Here Comes the Sun,” followed by Haynes performing “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) and Morello’s heavy cover of Bruce Springsteen‘s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” — “a song by the only Boss worth listening to” — complete with a grueling guitar solo.
The celebratory event ended with an utterly explosive collaborative performance from Haynes, Morello, Jon Batiste, and Regina Spektor as they all delivered a mind-blowing rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” As intense instrumentals played on in the background, Spektor sang “I look at the world and I notice it’s turning,” a sentiment that encapsulates the mission of Global Citizens and served as a proper conclusion to an evening that aimed to celebrate such a a shift.