Review: Global Citizens Festival

What do you get when you invite thousands of people from around the world and a handful of passionate celebrities to Central Park for a free, televised concert in support of a massive effort to end global poverty (among other policy objectives)?

A mess.

For as exciting a prospect as GCF presented, it was executed poorly—the festival was by design a pretty picture for the TV more than it was an event put on for the eponymous Global Citizens. Which is fine: the celebrities, artists, and changemakers involved seemed to have a sincere desire to spread awareness about important issues and the tickets were raffled for free to people who took the time to tweet, email, and sign petitions in support of good causes. On top of that, a live Snapchat story, an MSNBC broadcast, and a hefty dose of starpower in all likelihood pricked up many ears that would otherwise have gone un-pricked.

But for the average concertgoers, the group of friends who traveled from South Florida to New York to spend eight hours in Central Park with Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, and Neil Patrick Harris, the festival was woefully put together. They offered no food options beyond airport kiosk wraps and cheese, they sectioned us into pens (pens from which you couldn’t leave, even if your friend or significant other ended up in a different pen, as was the case with my group), lines were ridiculously inefficient, and a single stage meant spending those eight hours pinned to a specific spot like a car dealership airdancer.

On top of that, a handful of the speakers spoke recklessly, without care for the nuance and gravity of deeply complex problems. One such speaker scoffed at the government’s decision to spend billions of dollars on the military, suggesting the blindingly obvious solution of spending that money instead on ending poverty and school tuition. “Choose peace, not war!” he shouted. Unbelievable to think government officials dropped the ball on such an easy decision.

Given a television audience, such comments can be more damaging than they are helpful, motivating people to boil difficult issues down to oversimplified blacks and whites. Best case scenario, you temporarily mislead the kid watching at home; worst case, you energize the Trumps of the left.

So did I have a terrible time? You be the judge:

It takes a lot to spoil a Kendrick Lamar concert. Mine clearly was not spoiled. He and Rihanna compensated for all of the day’s troubles by being Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna, convincing me I possessed dancing abilities that do not exist and giving me the clumsy excitement necessary to show them off. The festival was a success in the sense that the right artists were picked for the job (Major Lazer, Demi Lovato, Yandel, and Metallica were fun, too, but this sentence is about as much as their collective performances deserve—apologies to their fans) and for that, I am grateful.

What’s more, New York City never stopped being New York City. I’d endure a lot worse for few walks underneath the twinkle of that New York skyline. And if all I have to do to get the tickets is email my congresswoman about very real, very pressing problems, then I say with confidence I’d do it all over again.

***Big ups to Bill Nye and Yusuf Cat Stevens for still existing. But extra big ups to Billy, can’t get enough of that guy.

-Champe Barton

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