On a picture-perfect day and night at the iconic setting of famous concerts past, a loud and ambitious step forward was taken by musicians, celebrities, philanthropists, world leaders and ordinary people empowered in a modern way. Kings of Leon, Alicia Keys, Mayer, Elvis Costello, Janelle Monae and final act Stevie Wonder rocked the park in a festival like no other, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave words of hope, and Bono's presentation of the Global Citizen Award to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf -- Africa's first elected female president -- quite possibly stole the show.
Major League Baseball Advanced Media, while streaming a slate of live games on the final weekend of the regular season, powered the live stream of this second annual event around the world, timed to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly just blocks away this week. Fans were asked to take action in various ways, such as signing petitions, joining movements and using social media to help reach key objectives at globalcitizen.org. The overriding goal and theme of the night was to end extreme poverty by 2030 and celebrate the organization's successes so far.
"There is so much energy here tonight," the Secretary-General said after Wonder introduced him two songs into the final set. "We can empower the world. Together we can put every girl and boy in school. We can stop diseases. We can empower the world's women and protect our environment, this beautiful planet that is our only home. Tonight's festival and all of you are leading the way. ... Let's continue to build a better world for all."
In that pursuit, the Global Citizen Festival helped to draw attention to the issues of education, women's rights and global health to reach that 2030 goal. A total of 1.2 billion people survive on the equivalent of $1.25 a day, and this year's headliners were activists who are committed to furthering the mission of the Festival, part of the Australian-born Global Poverty Project.
"When citizens take action toward ending extreme poverty, there is enormous progress in that," said GPP co-founder and CEO Hugh Evans.
Actor Gerard Butler introduced Kings of Leon, who performed a shortened 10-song set. It included: "Supersoaker," "The Bucket," "Four Kicks," "Always The Same," "Family Tree," "Notion," "Beautiful War," "Be Somebody," "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody."
After performing "Beautiful War," frontman Caleb Followill told the crowd: "That's one of the first times we've played that song, so I apologize for our sloppiness."
After "Be Somebody," he said: "What a thrill it is to be able to be a part of this. We learned about this a while back from friends in other bands, and it was kind of the first thing we all agreed we wanted to be a part of. Thanks for having us, and hopefully today does something big and special."
Actress Bridget Moynahan introduced Costello, who played an acoustic version of "Tripwire."
Russell Simmons introduced Alicia Keys, and she told the crowd: "I'm so excited to spend this night with you. Global poverty is such a huge injustice. It's a huge injustice against our global families. To strip someone of their basic human rights to have food, water, healthcare and education, it's an injustice. That's what we're here to talk about, what we're here to fight for. We all believe in that."
Keys then dedicated "Better Me, Better You" to the issue, with a related video shown on the large screen as she sang. Keys also performed "New Day," "U Don't Know My Name," "Listen To Your Heart," "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart," "Fallin'," "When It's All Over," "Limitedless," "If I Ain't Got You," "Girl On Fire" and, of course, "Empire State."
After performing "Girl On Fire," Keys noted one of the night's main themes and said, "'Girl On Fire' is the way to empower us women. Change us girls, and we can change the world. We're in a special place tonight, so I thought we'd talk about it."
Mayer performed "Queen of California," "Wildfire," "Half of My Heart," a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Going Down The Road, Feeling Bad," "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," "Waiting On the World to Change," "Paper Doll" and "Gravity."
Wonder refused to leave on time, wowing the crowd with "How Sweet It Is," "Master Blaster," "Higher Ground," "Sir Duke," "Day Tripper," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," "My Cherie Amour," "Imagine," "Superstition," "Isn't She Lovely," "Do I Do" and "I Just Called To Say I Love You." He dedicated "Imagine" to the memory of John Lennon, who loved Central Park.
Introducing the U.N. Secretary-General, Wonder said, "As we both know, he cannot do it alone. It takes faith and all hands on deck. We are here tonight as brothers and sisters, united in our belief that together, all things are possible. And we will end extreme poverty in our lifetime. Because together, we can work it out, and we will reach our higher ground."
The highlight of the night was when Bono presented the second Global Citizen Award to President Sirleaf just before sunset. Bono introduced her as a "heroine for all kinds of reasons."
"She's a hero, because when she took office in Liberia, there really wasn't a country there," Bono said. "After nearly 20 years of civil war between men, Liberia was mostly rubble. Tonight, after 10 years, there is a country, oh yeah. There is hope of a future, oh yeah. And above all, there is peace, peace in a country in West Africa where they thought it was impossible. ... And the rich natural resources of Liberia are in her people's hands, which is where we want them.
"But even now, building takes time. Only one percent of her people have access to electricity. The Dallas Cowboys will use more power tomorrow than they have in a whole day. The lights are going on in Liberia. Sister Ellen, stopping her brothers from fighting; Mother Ellen, starting a fight for her children; global citizens give a New York City, welcome the toughest of minds, the tenderest of hearts, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf."
Her acceptance speech carried the night.
"I am extremely proud of the role women have played in the change and development of Liberia," she said. "Acting as a nonviolent political force, Liberian women were at the forefront of the efforts that ended the civil conflict, and they continue to be leaders in the community on issues from education, to healthcare to the economy. Liberian mothers, sisters and daughters are leaders in government, business, media and advocacy organizations. Women have been inspired and have inspired others in the region and around the world. They have done so to stand up for peace, to stand up for justice and to stand up for equality.
"Together, we must demand investment in girls' education, access to water and sanitation, affordable power. We must empower the next generation to continue to carry on this fight against poverty."