“I got the tickets,” is what she was trying to type to me, but what came out in the text was “I GOTJTICK JADFAJ”. I propped myself up out of my bed and stared at my phone as a string of texts came flooding in.
“The tickets” meant nothing to me since Val and I pretty consistently spent every weekend (and many weekdays) at a concert or event of some sort. What tickets she was referring to could have been anything, but then she clarified: we would be attending the 2018 Global Citizens Festival.
What a lot of people fail to realize is that the festival was doomed even before it began. When they announced this year’s line-up I was unimpressed with not just the quality of artists, but what one of the artists represented. Choosing CardiB to represent a network of progressive change in the world was a great travesty to our generation. Selecting an artist who had, on countless times, been exposed as being a rape apologist, homophobe, and transphobe left a bad taste in my mouth.
That being said, Shawn Mendes would also be in attendance and I hadn’t seen him since 2015, so when Val said “ASFDJLDF” I typed back “OMFGASFD”, which clearly meant: “I can’t believe I’m seeing Shawn again; I love him with my whole heart.”
I knew this day would end in disaster, it almost inherently had to. Before going to bed the night before the show, I checked my Twitter, where live tweets were pouring in. My friends had been in line since 10 am the day before the show, but they were already reporting on the sort of mischief occurring on the line. They noted the clear lack of security involvement as 40-year-old fans attempted to cut in front of the 17-year-olds who had spent all day hiding in a cocoon of sleeping bags waiting for the show. Suddenly, tweets began to pop-up noting how “messy” the event (which had yet to start) was and noting the safety of the individuals involved. I sent the tweets to Val and went to bed… doors were at 2 pm the next day, we were going to need some rest.
Val and I were never ones to be on time, but we were ones to camp out for concerts to get to the front. That being said, we had a rather off morning and didn’t arrive at the line until around noon, which sealed our fate. As we approached the ticket checkpoint of the event, I could begin to see the validity in last night’s online chatter. People began cutting the line, dodging around those of us who had been waiting for hours. Security split Val and me up through the checkpoints, not allowing for us to wait for each other when we would reach the other side. We could handle being on our own, but the preteens who were being separated from their moms had me a bit more concerned.
Once we were finally reunited in the sea of people, we made our way toward the stage, knowing we wouldn’t be too very close, but expecting a great show at the least. It quickly became apparent, however, that the security was determined to prevent us from just that.
They corralled us into what they called “pens” which reminded me of the kennel my grandfather would take his dogs to when he was out of town. Security demanded a head count, which I couldn’t figure out how it would be helpful since thousands of people were passing them every second and the ticket checkers had a digital way of keeping track. As they ushered us toward one pen, another guard began to shout “go back, go back”, no explanation further. We assumed the pen in front of us was too full, so Val and I made our way to the front, knowing that holding onto a barricade is always the safest bet at any show, no matter how far from the stage that barricade would be.
We stood there for hours, but we were no strangers to long waits for extraordinary performances. The unfortunate part, however, is that we were growing hungry, so we decided as soon as Shawn Mendes was off the stage, we would abandon our spots in line in pursuit of food.
What makes Global Citizen unique is that its set up as a hybrid between a political rally and a music festival, which contributes to a strange dynamic as they usher political leaders on and off the stage to speak in front of fangirls who are typically too fed up with the way the world is going at that moment to listen.
The girls around me groaned… again. What was interesting was that they weren’t groaning over the fact that there were speakers, but instead over the fact that they all seemed to be saying empty words and half promises. Some rolled their eyes as a discussion of prison and bail reform took over, a story that was almost too personal. When the Governor of New York took the stage, everyone nearby booed. The anticipation for Shawn Mendes was clearly on the forefront of their minds, but that almost seemed to be a disguise for the underlying problem– even at an event about motivating the next generation, somehow the voice of the youth was lost.
That was until Shawn eventually took the stage and the life was poured back into their eyes. He even sang the song “Youth” which has, since its release, reminded our generation the importance of embracing our younger years with full force without becoming complicit. The contrast in energy was unreal. Quite honestly, this performance was really the peak of the show from what I saw, but my satisfaction was fleeting.
After Shawn, we made our way out of the crowd and toward food. Despite the excellent performance I had just witnessed, this is where the true chaos for me started. The mob around the food tent was confused and disheartened– there was no more food left, only small bags of Lay’s chips. Catering directed us to check other stands to see if there was any more food, but security quickly noted to us that the other stands were in other pens, where we were not allowed to be.
Standing by the barricades that separated the pens, security avoided eye contact with any of us who asked for help. They ignored the needs of helpless concert attendees who simply requested access to the food tent in the other pens, which we could see was fully stocked. One girl rushed over and practically begged to be allowed to get food since she needs to take medication for her seizures and it had to be taken with food. The head security guard wouldn’t look at her or acknowledge her existence.
Another guard very clearly explained to me, as I advocated on this girl’s behalf, that their concern was security and it was none of his business if she were to have a seizure. Apparently, some people didn’t know that safety, health, and security nearly become interchangeable at these sort of events. I, myself, feeling my own blood sugar dropping and becoming faint, went to speak to a police officer who was stationed nearby. I was then rudely told that they were not in charge and was directed back to the security.
I knew in my stomach then that something bad would happen. If your police force and security can’t even coordinate, how can you expect an event to run well? As CardiB played on in the background, Val and I decided it was time to leave. For such a well-known event, we assumed it would have been better organized. However, we knew our limits and knew when to leave a mess behind for our own sake.
In the end, I’m so thankful that we did. My friends began calling me in a panic. People online were live tweeting pure chaos. Rumors of a shooting erupted and, from what I heard, the live stream on television cut out, leaving people across the nation stunned.
As Val and I walked down Fifth Avenue and learned about the false alarm shooting, I remember looking at her and saying, “I’m not surprised.”