It’s easy to get people’s attention when you’re playing fucking great music. The Black Keys, Foo Fighters and Neil Young and Crazy Horse proved that Saturday night, drawing more than 60,000 people to Central Park’s Great Lawn to take part in the Global Citizen Festival and raise awareness of extreme poverty.
“It feels good to be here for reasons that feel good,” Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl told the crowd after pausing to catch his breath deep into an electrifying set that nobody seemed to want to end. “Without making a big deal out of it, we don’t have any shows after this, this is it, man. I don’t know when we’re going to do it again, and this is the perfect place to do it right now tonight.”
Celebrities including Selena Gomez, Olivia Wilde, Sophia Bush and Katharine McPhee rallied against poverty in between sets and dropped some heart-wrenching statistics about the deplorable conditions that still exist around the world – like how every 90 seconds a woman dies giving birth, and how 67 million children are unable to attend school. Fittingly for a concert where fans signed up for free tickets by sharing info through social media, nearly every speech ended with a call to visit a cause’s website such as charitywater.org, malarianomore.org and theendofpolio.com.
The speeches and brief videos about malaria, polio and other afflictions lent a somber mood to the concert, but Olivia Wilde helped remind everyone why they were in Central Park (and also why we love her): “I’m here for one specific reason, the Black Keys,” she joked.
Not that anybody could blame her if it were true. The Black Keys and an expanded cast reeled off song after song of their growling, bluesy sound and somehow turned Central Park into an intimate show. Dan Auerbach’s thundering riffs filled the air as everyone clapped along to “Howlin’ For You” and “Lonely Boy.” By the time the final notes on “I Got Mine” faded into the cool fall sky, there was a collective exhale from the crowd. It felt like nothing could top their performance, but then the Foo Fighters took the stage and the cheers grew even louder.
Dave Grohl was clearly feeling the show’s cause. “I wrote this song for nights like this,” he said before launching into “Times Like These,” whose lyrics – “It’s times like these you give and give again” – took on added significance with the festival’s message fresh in everyone’s mind. The Fighters held nothing back in what amounted to a farewell show with Grohl’s announcement that the band was determined to take an extended break. But before that could happen, they made sure fans went home happy with anthems like “All My Life” and “My Hero,” before finishing with “Everlong.”
Somali-Canadian musician K’naan kicked off the concert to a rousing start in the late afternoon as rolling clouds gathered overhead but fortunately failed to deliver on their threat of rain. Indie rockers Band of Horses also got in a quick set and were obviously ecstatic to be a part of the festival. “Even if you don’t know who we are, I just want to say thank you,” frontman Ben Bridwell told the crowd with a big smile.
Neil Young let his guitar do most of the talking as he and Crazy Horse put the finishing touches on the epic night with a free-spirited performance that included mostly “newer” tracks, including “Fuckin’ Up” and “Love And Only Love” from 1990’s “Ragged Glory.” Those who stayed to the end were treated to an all-star send-off when Dave Grohl and Dan Auerbach returned to the stage to belt out “Rockin’ in the Free World” alongside Young and Crazy Horse. It was a fucking sweet end to an amazing festival.
Photos by Andrew Boyle
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