Everything about the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park Saturday afternoon broke the mold of the benefit concerts that came before it.
It's not just because Beyoncé's hourlong performance was as stunning as a concert of her own, moving between inspirational ballads and rousing anthems of female empowerment. Or because teenage Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai's plea for educating girls received as big an ovation as the entrances of Beyoncé and first lady Michelle Obama.
The festival operates under the idea expressed by Coldplay's opening number, "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall," a nod to the consciousness-raising concert's plan to leverage the support of millions of individuals to help end extreme poverty. However, Saturday's concert also made the most of high-profile help, with Vice President Joe Biden encouraging attendees to keep up the fight. "This is all about possibilities," he said. "It's within our reach. We can change the world . . . I refuse to believe that we're not going to try."
President Barack Obama sent a taped message, while Michelle Obama delivered a short plea for educating girls around the world. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg told the crowd, "We can no longer be a generation of bystanders." Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven introduced himself as "the head of the first feminist government."
"With your efforts, we can achieve the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030," "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert told the crowd after taking the stage on Hugh Jackman's shoulders. "That is a noble goal and may I point out that it is before many of you will pay off your student loans."
The concert's surprises began early, as Ariana Grande joined Coldplay for "Just a Little Bit of Your Heart." Later, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin joined Ed Sheeran for a pretty version of "Thinking Out Loud," while Sting joined Common for "Every Breath You Take" and a medley of "One World (Not Three)" and "Love Is the Seventh Wave." And they lasted until the end, with Beyonce joining Pearl Jam for the Bob Marley classic "Redemption Song" and an all-star jam on "Rockin' in the Free World."
Pearl Jam's hour-long headlining set was raucous, starting with a powerful punk version of "Mind Your Manners," before rolling into more familiar sing-along territory with classics like "Daughter" and "Alive."
However, it was Beyoncé who offered the biggest surprises, starting with a run of powerful ballads such as "XO" and "Halo" and bringing on Sheeran for an acoustic version of "Drunk in Love."
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"Events like today make us feel like, 'Wow! Loads and loads of people care about the same stuff' and it gives me hope," said Martin, who has signed on as the curator of the festival for the next 15 years.
Though the event was free, the 60,000 or so concertgoers first had to take steps to fight against global poverty before being entered in a lottery for tickets. It also aired on MSNBC and streamed live on MSNBC.com and YouTube.
The festival also hopes to publicize a new set of Global Goals from the United Nations that will also tackle climate change and fight inequalities worldwide.
"We are running out of time," Leonardo DiCaprio told the crowd. "Please get involved. The environment and the fight for the world's poor are inherently linked. The planet can no longer wait. The underprivileged can no longer be ignored. This is truly our moment for our action."