The Global Citizen Festival brought together music superstars Stevie Wonder and Green Day with political leaders, including Miroslav Lajcak, president of the United Nations General Assembly, in Central Park on Saturday to help end extreme poverty in the world by 2030.
Wonder started with a gesture aimed at President Donald Trump’s remarks about NFL players protesting by taking a knee during the national anthem.
“Tonight, I’m taking a knee for America,” Wonder said, as he slowly knelt on the stage. “I’m taking both knees. Both knees in prayer for our planet, our future, our leaders of the world.”
He then delivered a sweet, warmhearted set, including “Overjoyed” and “Sir Duke,” even before Pharrell Williams joined him for a funky set that included “Get Lucky,” “Superstition,” and “Happy.” But it was Wonder’s gorgeous version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that will be the most-remembered moment from the evening.
Earlier, Whoopi Goldberg told the crowd of 60,000 on the Great Lawn, “This is how you change the world. You don’t have to wait for anybody. You can do it on your own.”
Green Day’s raucous set immediately brought the feeling to life. During “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” the crowd was screaming so loud it brought a smile to singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s face, saying, “That’s how it’s done in New York City, baby.”
Armstrong changed the lyrics to “American Idiot” to “I’m not a part of the Donald Trump America,” but the band’s main focus was to fight HIV and AIDS, dedicating the ballad “Wake Me Up When September Ends” to the battle.
It was all a part of the mix of music and social concerns that took place throughout the festival.
Andra Day brought activists from Uganda, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Jamaica onstage before her stunning soulful anthem “Rise Up.” She also discussed lynching after her version of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”
In the middle of The Lumineers’ uplifting Americana set, Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, made a plea for donations to help build his island nations after the devastation of Hurricane Irma.
The Killers also embodied the spirit of the day, ripping through a string of their best-known songs such as “Mr. Brightside” and those championing the power of youth such as “When You Were Young,” rather than doing any songs from their new album “Wonderful, Wonderful,” which was released Friday.
Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans said that including this year’s concert, the organization in the past six years had secured $30 billion in commitments from governments and businesses to help end poverty, improving the lives of more than 1 billion people.
“We need to be better and we need to do more,” said Lajcak, who also quoted “Imagine.” “I need to hear your voices all over the world.”