This past Saturday, the Global Citizen Festival returned to the Great Lawn in Central Park for its sophomore edition, treating the 60,000 New Yorkers in attendance to a perfect autumn evening of uplifting music. Similar to last year, this year's fest was timed to coincide with the convening of the United Nations General Assembly, and brought forth a star-studded lineup of celebrities, world leaders and philanthropists to help increase awareness on issues of global poverty, gender equality and education. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U2 frontman Bono, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, and actors Katie Holmes, Olivia Wilde and Gerard Butler were among those on hand to give presentations and lend support to festival founder Hugh Evans's continuing mission to eradicate extreme global poverty by 2030.
RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of Global Citizen Festival in NYC
On the music front, this year's festival attempted to one-up last year's stellar lineup that featured Neil Young, the Foo Fighters and the Black Keys. We won't go as far as to proclaim a winner (and yes, yes, it's not a competition), but any lineup that ends with living legend Stevie Wonder gets a ribbon (in the sky) from us. Southern rockers Kings of Leon kicked off the event with an amiable set, ending with their well-known crowd-pleasers "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody." Homegrown R&B superstar Alicia Keys followed and ratcheted up the energy in Central Park with her live renditions of "No One" and "Girl on Fire." Keys closed with her piano-driven version of "Empire State of Mind," and it's always a hoot to hear her belt out the chorus, "concrete jungle where dreams are made of," when you're standing smack dab in the middle of said concrete jungle.
Singer-songwriter John Mayer ran the third leg for the festival's headlining quartet, and delivered a solid set, punctuated by the wholly applicable "Waiting on the World to Change" and closer "Gravity." Then it was time for Stevie Wonder—or as presenter Bono called him, "Beethoven with a backbeat" and "the man with an understatement for a last name." Whipping the crowd into a dancing frenzy with "Higher Ground," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)," and "Superstition," Wonder also worked into his set our No. 25 best NYC song, "Living for the City"—another great jam to hear when you're grooving with 60,000 of your breathren in Central Park. The evening's most poignant performance was Wonder's cover of "Imagine," played in honor of John Lennon, who was tragically gunned down not far from the Great Lawn many years ago. Wonder prefaced the tribute with a heartfelt plea for gun-control legislation, and the lyrics of "Imagine" underscored many of the messages heard throughout the day’s festivities.
Janelle Monáe and Elvis Costello were also on hand to perform single numbers between the headlining sets. Monáe delivered a moving rendition of the Charlie Chaplin standard “Smile” (Michael Jackson’s favorite song), and later returned to the stage to duet with Wonder on “Higher Ground.” Costello delighted the audience with “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”—a cheeky but very relevant question to ask at this ambitious and charitable event.