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The Global Citizens Festival: Central Park Overview

The Global Citizen Festival held in Central Park this past Saturday was quite possibly the hottest ticket in town — mostly because it was impossible to purchase tickets unless you shelled out for the VIP package.  The only way to get free tickets was to participate in a series of “global initiatives” that included watching videos, signing petitions, and posting links to Twitter and Facebook.  And even then, it all came down to a multi-phase raffle.

K’naan opened up the show by only playing a three song set, which may have been a blessing to some as he was the only hip-hop artist on the bill.  The set ended with guaranteed crowd-pleaser “Wavin’ Flag,” which was prefaced by a NY-centric freestyle.  The night was intercut with speakers from various organizations talking about how we could make a difference.  If anything, a difference was made to the Great Lawn, which by the end of the night was covered in trash.

Up next was Band of Horses who also played a short set, but was greeted more enthusiastically than K’naan.  Surprise guest John Legend also stopped by to perform a quick cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  After that, it was all about the bands that people were really there for: the Black Keys and the Foo Fighters.  You may be thinking to yourself, “what about Neil Young?” I’ll get to that.  The Black Keys tore through their hit-packed set, which was a little rough around the edges except for a rousing jammed out version of “I Got Mine.”  If people were excited to see the Black Keys, it’s only fair to say that it seemed as if the reported 60,000 attendees had been waiting their entire lives to see the Foo Fighters.

Dave Grohl embodied a level of easy-going showmanship that had been absent from the previous acts, joking that he would love to play all night but would “…really rather watch Neil Young!”  The Foo’s also tore through their set, but it was a much more polished affair than the Black Keys.  The Crowd absolutely ate up “One by One,” “Times Like These,” and “Everlong.”  And then, at around 8:40, Neil Young took the stage.  It was immediately evident that a good portion of the crowd — perhaps not enough to make a visible dent from the stage — were not interested in Neil Young and Crazy Horse.  Fortunately the exodus of the non-believers allowed for much more breathing room.  This is when the show really began.  Young and Crazy Horse thundered their way through a monstrous set, relying on jams and heavy noise.  Young did pause for a moment to grab his acoustic for “The Needle and the Damage Done,” which over 40 years has not lost its power.

Then the moment came that everyone was expecting, but that certainly didn’t take away from it; “Rockin’ in the Free World.”  Dan Auerbach and Dave Grohl joined the band, and over ten minutes practically tore the place apart while images of people and places in need flashed on the screen behind them.  It’s too early to tell if the concert will achieve its main goal, but it certainly did provide a night that thousands of people will always remember.

-Reuben Levine

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