Some 60,000 people congregated on Central Park’s Great Lawn on Saturday (Sept. 23) for the sixth annual Global Citizen Festival, a free outing that united politicians, activists and some of music’s biggest hitmakers for a day of thrilling performances and calls for political and social change around the world.
The best acts of the day effortlessly blended showmanship and activism, delighting the masses while also inspiring them to make a difference.
Check out the five best moments from 2017’s Global Citizen Festival:
The Killers’ Shockingly Early Performance
No small feat rousing tens of thousands of scorched festival-goers from their mid-afternoon slump — but then again, The Killers have always preferred outsized gestures. Throngs of fans leapt to their feet and sprinted to edges of their respective quadrants on the Great Lawn as frontman Brandon Flowers humbly introduced the Las Vegas foursome, who played the third set of the day at 5 p.m. despite their supposed co-headline billing. It proved wise counter-programming on Global Citizen’s part, as the group’s brisk, hit-filled set — “Mr. Brightside,” “All These Things That I’ve Done,” “Read My Mind,” “When You Were Young” — revived the audience and mounted excitement for several dynamic performances to come.
The Lumineers’ Tasteful Ode to Hurricane Survivors
Lead singer Wesley Schultz couldn’t help but geek out during The Lumineers‘ rousing set, saying sheepishly, “I never thought I’d share a stage with Stevie Wonder and Jane Goodall.” The folk-rock revivalists whipped the crowd into a dancing frenzy despite the oppressive heat, but they also used their time to advocate for greater hurricane relief aid across the Caribbean. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda — which was devastated by Hurricane Irma — joined the band onstage and implored international leaders to help rebuild the island. Following Browne’s message, the group closed out their set with a tasteful, inspiring cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”
Andra Day’s Show-Stopping Covers
Artists often have to eschew emotional nuance and dynamics in lieu of immediate crowd-pleasers at such massive festivals, but Andra Day ditched those rules the second she took the stage Saturday. The powerhouse R&B singer opened her four-song set with a breathtaking, slow-burning cover of Billie Holiday‘s “Strange Fruit,” as the names of lynching victims flashed on the screen behind her, courtesy of Google and the Equal Justice Initiative’s Lynching in America project.
Amidst a slew of performances and speeches addressing social justice and racial inequality, Day’s performance registered as the most simplistically poignant. “I want to encourage all of you today to stand up for something,” she told the audience, before pivoting and closing her set with a thunderous rendition of Queen‘s “I Want it All.”
Green Day’s Masterful Blend of Politics and Pop-Punk
“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we’re gonna make the world great again!” Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong roared to rapturous applause at the beginning of their speed-of-light, decade-spanning greatest-hits set. The Bay Area punk heroes transitioned seamlessly between adrenal protest anthems “Know Your Enemy” and “Holiday” and tender stadium ballad “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” a testament to Armstrong’s incredible pop savvy and unwavering sincerity. The 45-year-old singer raced across the stage and jabbed his finger into the sky like a tattooed mega-preacher leading a congregation of misfits to salvation. (It was all the more powerful when considering almost five years to the date, he ended the band’s set at iHeartRadio Music Festival with a profanity-laden tirade and subsequently checked himself into rehab.) Just when it seemed like Armstrong would make it through the whole set without a single political name drop, he flexed his ad-libbing skills on “American Idiot”: “I’m not a part of a dumb Trump America!”
Stevie Wonder’s Uplifting, Political, Star-Studded Performance
What’s not to say about Stevie Wonder‘s mesmerizing headlining performance? The 67-year-old pop icon could’ve easily coasted on his staggering catalog of hits: He whipped through classics such as “Higher Ground,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” “Living for the City” and “Sir Duke” with impeccable precision and an infectious sense of humor, his voice perfectly intact and propelled by a virtuosic backing band. But Wonder is far more than a consummate showman: He’s a tireless civil-rights activist and a global citizen in the truest sense, and he made that immediately clear by “taking a knee for America” before starting his set. “It is only through life that we can make life happen, for ourselves and for each other,” he exhorted the audience, before leading them in euphoric singalongs of “My Cherie Amour” and “We Are the World.” One gets the sense that Wonder’s transcendent songs and steadfast spirit could solve the world’s problems alone — they certainly reduced Pharrell Williams to a flustered fanboy as he joined the legend onstage and flubbed the lyrics to his own hits, “Get Lucky” and “Happy.” Wonder humored him and played the latter song a second time, ensuring that the audience left Global Citizen Festival feeling — that’s right — happy.