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Living it up in New York

Margaret Wise In New York, Us
Thursday, October 03, 2013

A LOT can change in a New York minute, this I found out the first day I arrived in this wonderful, frenetic and overwhelming city.

From a casual walk in Central Park - the literal and spiritual centre of Manhattan - came the monumental opportunity to watch a star-powered concert where Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Bono, Kings of Leon and Janelle Monae performed with a mission to help spread the word and call for an end to global poverty.

And in a show of international solidarity for the Global Citizen Festival, world leaders who attended included United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon and Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The Global Citizen Festival, organised by Australian philanthropist Hugh Evans, handed out free tickets to the 60,000 fans who earned admission by volunteering and performing good deeds.

These deeds earned them points that were then applied to lottery tickets.

Last year's inaugural festival raised $US1.3billion ($F2.413b), the monetary contributions made by corporations, philanthropists, governments and NGOs.

The performers played free, and like last year's festival, it was planned to coincide with the United Nations' General Assembly meetings to amplify its message to global leaders.

Arriving two days early in New York for the East-West Center supported Disaster Management and Resiliency Fellowship, I was fortunate to have the company of Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Bruce Atkinson and U-T San Diego's Morgan Lee.

The plan last Saturday morning was to walk half an hour from our West 42nd Street hotel to Central Park, and then take a leisurely stroll exploring the 843 acres of meandering paths, tranquil lakes and open meadows.

Believe me, there is no shortage of yellow cabs in this city.

We just wanted to be like a New Yorker for the day, not just talk the talk but also walk the walk!

Bruce had read the paper on Friday so he excitedly told us that a five-hour concert would be held at the Great Lawn, Central Park, that afternoon.

Once we heard the names of the performers, the urge and desire to watch the concert became more overpowering.

We just did not know how to get the free online tickets.

All attempts to access the website offering the free tickets failed.

Bruce tried emailing the organisers but he never got a response.

We figured it was too late in the day and by 3pm had resigned ourselves to the fact that securing a pass was just plain impossible.

Now don't get me wrong.

Central Park is a landmark in itself, an oasis of fresh air and greenery, lakes, ponds and meadows.

We were thoroughly entertained and enjoyed all the attractions on offer - the jazz orchestra, dancers on skates, giant bubble blowers, the painters, magicians and the mesmerising and hilarious Afro Bats gig.

But, come 3.30pm and people started pouring in from every direction.

Shoulder to shoulder crowd, rushing for 72nd street.

A cacophony of languages made up an expansive collection of people, we could feel the underlying energy in every step they took.

Half-heartedly we discussed catching a ride or a cruise to see the Statue of Liberty.

We were on our way out when a man in the queue started flapping a ticket in the air, calling out for takers.

We all stared at him but not one of us moved to grab it off his hand.

In hindsight, I guess we knew one ticket meant two of us would be left behind.

But miracles do happen.

Just as we were checking the bus timetable, a man approached us with two tickets.

And within the few seconds that we started to debate who should watch the concert, another man walking past offered one more ticket.

We were blessed, no doubt.

The show started with strong presentations in support of the cause by actors such as Gerard Butler, Katie Holmes and Debbie Lee Furness before Kings Of Leon came on stage for the opening act. Will.I.am Maxwell, Elvis Costello and Olivia Wilde were also among the celebrity attendees.

Guitar-slinging rock crooner John Mayer was a favourite with his blistering solos and performed several songs including Waiting on the World to Change, Slow Dancing in a Burning Room and Gravity.

So by the time R&B singer songwriter Alicia Keys made her appearance at the musical marathon event, the crowd was already warmed up.

She did not dismay and belted hits like If I Aint Got You and Empire State of Mind.

The night though, belonged to Stevie Wonder, whose name understates the rock star that he is.

He headlined the concert and gave an electrifying one-hour performance while playing the piano and harmonica .

His songs included Superstition, Signed, Sealed, Delivered and Isn't She Lovely and he had the crowd singing along throughout his gig.

Wonder has been a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a special focus on disabilities since 2009.

New York is the city that never sleeps, and as expected, we had found our fuel and energy just by watching this star-studded show.

After the concert, we walked and watched the lights of Broadway before ending up at the razzle and dazzle of Time Square.

New York was what I heard it was, and more.