Stevie Wonder And Friends Rock Global Citizen Festival


When Irish rocker Bono introduced American singer Stevie Wonder—who then introduced United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon—there was no doubt that the Global Citizen Festival, organized by Australian philanthropist Hugh Evans, was living up to its name.

“My friends, there are rock stars, and there are rock stars,” Wonder explained. “And I can assure you that the secretary general is a genuine rock star. He’s a rock star in his quest to bring hope to the hopeless, consensus where there’s conflict, and peace and rights to those who suffer from hatred and despair.”

“Stevie Wonder is an amazing United Nations messenger of peace,” added the secretary general, who then acknowledged the crowd. “Tonight, so are you.”

The concert drew 60,000 people to Central Park’s Great Lawn yesterday with the aim of raising awareness and funds to end global extreme poverty by 2030. In addition to a rousing finale by Wonder, the festival featured sets by Alicia Keys, Kings of Leon and John Mayer (introduced by FORBES editor Randall Lane). Janelle Monae, Elvis Costello and also made appearances.

Most of the attendees worked their way to a ticket. Instead of simply shelling out cash, they earned admission by volunteering and performing good deeds; these actions won them points that could then be applied to a ticket lottery. Monetary contributions were added by corporations, individual philanthropists, governments and NGOs; last year’s inaugural Global Citizen Festival resulted in a $1.3 billion pledged to worthy causes.

“This year, we wanted to focus the energy on four big outcomes: global energy, global health, women’s equality and private-public partnerships,” said Evans, who earned a spot on FORBES’ 30 Under 30 list for his efforts. “I think corporations are increasingly stepping up and saying, ‘We are global citizens ourselves, and we’ve got to do more.’ And I think that when the private sector stands up, government also stands up.”

This year’s festival might not have happened if it weren’t for Wonder. Evans remembers being thoroughly exhausted after wrapping up the 2012 edition, thinking a follow-up might be impossible.

“Then Stevie Wonder said he wanted to headline,” recalls Evans, who now expects the festival to become an annual event. “And I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness … we have to do it.’”

With Wonder on board, the other acts quickly fell into place. New York City made the Great Lawn available (last year’s festival was the first sanctioned concert there since Simon & Garfunkel’s 1981 benefit) and AEG-Goldenvoice produced the event. Backers included the Cotton On Foundation, HP, FedEx, Coca-Cola, Citibank and the Sumner M. Redstone Foundation. Media partners included FORBES, ReverbNation and Clear Channel.

The performers contributed plenty as well by foregoing a paycheck: according to Pollstar, each of the four headliners grosses at least $400,000 per night for paid gigs.

Just like last year, the festival was planned to coincide with the United Nations’ General Assembly meetings in order to amplify its message to global leaders (dignitaries such as Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf attended the concert).

This time around, specific goals include getting 57 million more children into school worldwide and 1 million community health workers to the global south by 2015.

“Together, we can put every girl and boy in school,” said secretary Ban. “We can stop diseases. We can empower the world’s women and and protect our environment, this beautiful planet that is our only home.”

Or, as Wonder aptly put it: “We can end extreme poverty in our lifetime—because together we can work it out, and we will reach our higher ground.”