Sir Bob Geldof, the mastermind behind Live Aid and the most successful artist ever to combine music and activism, stood onstage at Amnesty International’s “Bringing Human Rights Home” concert early Thursday morning to explain why he believed it was important for him to be there.
“This is the breakout gig,” he told the crowd at the Barclays Center early Thursday morning. “This is the one that’s going to ensnare the young people.”
Time will tell whether that turns to be true, though the five-hour concert marathon certainly tried hard to appeal to young music fans with appearances from Imagine Dragons, Tegan and Sara, and The Fray, as well as veterans Lauryn Hill, Blondie and The Flaming Lips.
It was certainly the intent of Tim Hayes, the concert’s executive producer and the co-owner of CBGB, which partnered with Amnesty International to present the show. He wanted to recreate the energy of the watchdog group’s groundbreaking concerts in the ‘80s, the ones featuring U2, The Police, Bruce Springsteen and others that doubled Amnesty International’s membership.
“We wanted to help bring back that glory,” Hayes said backstage before the show. “Amnesty International works. They get people out of jail. They free people. People need to know that. And there’s nothing like music to get people to stop and pay attention. That’s how it starts.”
Though he declined to discuss specifics, Hayes said “Bringing Human Rights Home” was the first in what he expects to be a series of concerts this year to spotlight Amnesty International. The Barclays Center concert is expected to be broadcast in March on a still-undisclosed network.
It was fitting that the concert was the first public American appearance for Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova since their release from a Russian prison for protesting against Russian President Vladimir Putin, since it was the activists’ arrest that began Hayes’ association with Amnesty International.
“They were so punk and so inspirational that it resonated with us at CBGB,” said Hayes, who worked to raise money and awareness about their arrests. “We wanted to help them.”
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When Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were freed in December after nearly two years in prison, Hayes said the concert organizers immediately wanted to have them appear. The timing of the show, on the eve of the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, also played a role in the planning. “It was a really good opportunity to really poke a stick in the eye of the Putin regime,” he said.
Hayes said he was excited about future collaborations with Amnesty International. “We need to interest a new generation,” he said. “This is the first step — one of many.”