I owe a big, belated thank you to my California-based Twitter friend John Laurente. Early last month, he asked me if I wanted his tickets to a September 27 Jay Z concert in New York that he wouldn’t be able to attend. I’d already seen Jay Z twice, but I was up for a third concert, so I said, “Sure!” John transferred the tickets to me via Ticketmaster.
Between work and travel, I never looked into what the concert was all about. I came back from a trip to Paris two days before the show and was vaguely thinking, “I better find out where this thing is,” when I got an email from Ticketmaster. I wasn’t going to any old Jay Z concert — I was going to see Jay Z headline the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, which was also going to include performances by Alicia Keys, the Roots, Fun., Carrie Underwood and No Doubt. The event was general admission — no assigned seating — and 60,000 people were expected to attend. I was like …
I’m all about being right up front at general-admission concerts and I’m prepared to suffer to make that happen. But who would suffer with me? I contacted my new friend Jessie, veteran of many general-admission concerts, whom I met while waiting in line to see Eminem and Rihanna’s Monster Tour in August. As I expected, she already had a ticket, but it was one that required entrance on the west side of the park. The east-side entrance gets you closer to the stage, so we agreed to use my east-side tickets and meet outside the park at 8 a.m. for a concert that would get underway at 4 p.m. When we got there, there were maybe 50 people in front of us and a lot of cute dogs going for their morning walks. At about 1 p.m., the line was marched very briskly through the park to the Great Lawn where — thanks in part to Jessie’s Olympics-worthy sprint down the entire length of the lawn, past the security guards yelling “No running!” — I ended up in the second row. I can’t remember where this overhead shot of crowd came from, but the arrow shows where we were.
We sweltered in the heat until the show started with DJ Tiësto. At that point, all of us in the front learned an important lesson about the need for ear plugs on any occasion when one is standing right by the speakers while EDM is played loud enough for 60,000 people to hear. I like EDM but I’m positive no music ever needs so much bass that the air visibly vibrates. We were relieved when he went away and Alicia Keys came out.
In between acts, there were speakers — ranging from celebrities such as Jessica Alba, Olivia Wilde, Hugh Jackman and Katie Holmes, to the many world leaders in town for U.N. week — talking about Global Citizen’s efforts to end extreme poverty by 2030. I was impressed by the focus on the needs of women and girls and the fact that people cheered enthusiastically for that. The major fundraising topic of the day was running water and toilets. While health problems stemming from lack of sanitation are serious for everyone, there are special risks for women. The organization WaterAid reports on its website:
“One in three women worldwide risk shame, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. Sandimhia Renato from northern Mozambique … has no access to a toilet. She walks 15 minutes every day to defecate in the bush, having to cross a dangerous bridge where she knows women are attacked at night.”
There is also a big impact on girls’ education. As WaterAid says:
“Many adolescent girls … frequently miss school, or drop out altogether, because of a lack of private toilets. Sabina from Nepal told us: ‘Before the school had latrines we used to go to the bush – we used to hide under the bamboo. During menstruation it was really difficult, so we used to go absent and stay at home instead.'”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who has pledged to end open defecation by ensuring that every household and every school in India will have its own toilet by 2019 — spoke to reaffirm his commitment. Vaccinations were the other big issue: Erna Solberg, prime minister of Norway, pledged more than $1.2 billion over six years for vaccinations in poverty-stricken countries.
After the show, I came across some comments by self-identified right-wingers complaining about the festival, and I had to LOL. You’re against toilets? Really? We lefties are the only ones who want to poop privately? Okay then. No toilets for you conservatives! By the way — because I check these things — Global Citizen doesn’t spend all its money on the festival, which is now in its third year. The entertainers donate their time, while the big costs of the event are picked up by corporate sponsors and private donations. VIP tickets can be purchased but vast majority of the tickets are won in a drawing after people earn points by taking social actions on GlobalCitizen.org, including signing petitions and emailing world leaders. You can also earn points by buying Global Citizen’s IMPACK Action Pack for $27, which includes this sassy bathroom sign.
For more information on how Global Citizen spends its money, check out its annual reports here. (According to the 2013 annual review, admin and fundraising was a very reasonable 14% of the organizations spending.) In response to my emailed inquiry, Global Citizen’s director of communications told me that the organization isn’t yet on charity-evaluator Charity Navigator because that requires three years of audited accounts and Global Citizen hasn’t been around that long in the U.S.
Anyway, back to the show! You can glimpse Questlove’s hair behind the drums during the Roots’ performance.
Fun. did a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
And it was sometime after that — around 6:30 p.m. — that Jessie and I looked at each other in a “How are we going to make it to the 9:30 p.m. end of this” moment. I mean, I knew I WOULD make it, unlike the couple of fainters we had in the front rows early on, but I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen. Fortunately, Carrie Underwood gave me a second wind. She’s a performer I wouldn’t have gone to see normally, but I really enjoyed her.
Her No. 1 fan there was a 6’8″ guy (I asked!) who slept out overnight to make sure he could be up close for her. He had the decency to fall back a couple of rows early on rather than hang onto the first row where he would have blocked everyone’s view, but we all cleared a path for him to get up front for Carrie. You can hear him yelling, “I love you Carrie!” at the end of my video above. Earlier in the day, he yelled “I love you, Jessica!” at Jessica Alba so loudly that she looked right at him and said, “Thanks!”
I was super-excited for No Doubt. I’ve seen Gwen Stefani as a solo act, but never saw the whole group before. They opened with “Hella Good.”
I loved Gwen’s Terri Nunn-style platinum and black hair.
I also loved seeing bassist Tony Kanal emote next to Gwen, particularly because I once fell down a rabbit-hole of Internet comments that were slamming Gwen for writing songs about her relationship and breakup with Tony back in the ’90s and “forcing” him to perform them with her. To me, he looked like a guy who was fucking thrilled that he could play rock star rather than working a straight 9-to-5 job.
But the highlight was Sting coming out to perform “Message in a Bottle” with the band. I took this photo — like all the photos in this post — by zooming in to the stage. It is NOT from the big video screens! My inner photojournalist is proud.
You can see the rest of my good No Doubt photos here.
Finally, Jay Z came out with his instantly classic “Empire State of Mind.”
The audience went crazy for him.
All day, the kids around me (for real, some of them were 30 years younger than me) had been speculating about Beyonce turning up, and when she did, they nearly exploded.
Beyonce actually did explode right out of her shirt, but she handled the wardrobe malfunction calmly, like the pro that she is.
I’ve got some more Jay Z photos in this Flickr album.
When the show ended, Jessie and I walked back through the Great Lawn saying to each other, “I can’t believe how many people were here … I can’t believe how close we were!” A sea of concertgoers swept us out of the park and deposited us on 79th and 5th Avenue, right next to Jessie’s car, and she gave me a lift home. Our next concert is FKA twigs in November. That will be much smaller, but the weather will be colder, so it will be a new kind of general-admission challenge for me. I’m game though!