The Black Keys, Foo Fighters and Neil Young rocked New York’s Central Park with a free concert highlighting efforts to combat extreme poverty around the world.
An estimated 60,000 people flocked to the Manhattan park’s Great Lawn on Saturday, for the event organized by the Global Poverty Project. Unlike past benefit concerts, the main aim was to raise attention, not money.
Tickets were free, but to qualify, online concertgoers had to accumulate points by watching videos on globalcitizen.org about various elements of extreme poverty, ranging from malaria to mothers dying in childbirth.
Points also added up when those applying passed on information via social networks like Twitter.
The Global Poverty Project says it has more than met its goal of securing pledges worth more than $500 million this year from aid agencies and other donors, some of which were announced between sets at the concert.
But the concert itself was about bringing the anti-poverty message to ordinary people.
With the United Nations wrapping up its annual General Assembly, this was the perfect moment to push for mass participation in the cause, Global Poverty Project CEO Hugh Evans said.
“Politicians, you know what they do?” Evans licked his finger and stuck it in the air. “They look to see where the wind is blowing. Civil society decides where that wind is blowing,” he told journalists near the stage, with the Manhattan skyline in the background.
“We want to build a movement. It can’t be just one concert.”
In addition to the concert headliners, there was a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” by John Legend and performances from K’naan and Band of Horses.
Rockers used the stage to promote the poverty awareness message, helped by short videos on huge screens showing the work of anti-poverty campaigners.
“We believe these problems are solvable. All it takes is the will of the leaders, the will of the people, and that’s why we’re here,” Legend said.
Karen Sullivan, a 43-year-old teacher attending the concert, said she agreed there was a need to get people talking about extreme poverty around the world, and accused the media of failing to spread the word.
“I think people want to know, but don’t have the avenues,” she said. “People say Americans don’t care and I get very angry about that. I think Americans do care. They just don’t know what to care about.”
Perhaps many in the huge crowd, though, were at least as excited by the one-off opportunity to see their rock gods as by the idea of helping the world’s poor.
“Mostly we just wanted to see the Foo Fighters. We got lucky,” said fireman Stan Kowalski, 30.
Organizers say they want supporters of the Global Poverty Project to Tweet President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney with requests for a detailed discussion on foreign policy during the upcoming presidential debates.