The state of mind at this year’s Global Citizen Festival, held on Saturday, took a very local spin thanks to hometown girl Alicia Keys.
When you’re in the heart of New York City — in the middle of the Great Lawn of Central Park, on the perfect Indian summer evening — it’s going to be hard to beat Keys doing her piano-woman take on Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” that segued into her Jay-Z-free version of “Empire State of Mind.”
With iconic images of New York flashing on the video screen behind her, Keys sang about the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” as everybody on the Great Lawn “put one hand in the air for the big city.” As the energy seemed to lift to the Manhattan sky above it all, stretching out to the top of the Empire State Building and beyond, it was the kind of pinch-me moment that gave you straight-up chills.
It’s got to rank with one of the most memorable moments at the Global Citizen Festival since it was first held at Central Park in 2012. And that’s saying a lot considering Keys — in her third appearance at the event, which raises awareness for global issues such as poverty, education and the environment — wasn’t even the headliner.
That honor belonged to Queen + Adam Lambert, who, still riding the runaway success of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie, ascended to regal heights during an hour-plus set that included all of the can’t-skip classics. But what really rocked emotions was “Love of My Life,” when a solo Brian May sat down with his acoustic guitar to take the lead while Lambert took a break. His touching turn cut even deeper when the late Freddie Mercury appeared on a video screen to share the stage with his bandmate from the afterlife.
Another killer Queen number was “Under Pressure” — the 1991 single uniting Mercury and David Bowie — which found Lambert and drummer Roger Taylor assuming the vocal parts of the late legends who weren’t there to sing for themselves. Spirits were channeled — and lifted.
Two other stars of the show represented two different generations. First there was Brooklyn homegirl Carole King — proudly still an activist at 77 — in her first performance at Central Park since 1973. After being introduced by Kelly Clarkson — who she would later duet with on “Where You Lead” — King brought O.G. realness to all those who have only seen her embodied by actresses on the Broadway stage in “Beautiful.”
When a 1971 video of King singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” — her song made most famous by Aretha Franklin — introduced her performing the classic 48 years later, it proved just how timeless the tune and her artistry are.
Then there was Grammy-winning soul songstress H.E.R., who probably won the most new fans from this year’s Global Citizen Festival. After her own set — during which the 22-year-old born Gabriella Wilson went from gospel belter to guitar goddess — she joined Keys for a stirring rendition of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” that woke up every spirit that needed it in Central Park.
By Chuck Arnold