The William J. Clinton Foundation’s Decade of Difference concert, celebrating ten years of the Foundation along with the former president’s 65th birthday had relatively few snags (read on about Usher’s pants), yet kicked off with a few tears—from the guest of honor himself. Stevie Wonder opened the evening with his classic, "Sir Duke," and capped his funky set with "Superstition." Forget warming the audience: Wonder had everyone on their feet and Clinton tearing up in his seat.
Next, presenter Laura Ling (the journalist who was famously imprisoned in North Korea along with Euna Lee after unwittingly crossing into the country from China) paid tribute to President Clinton for his public service and literally saving her life. Kenny Chesney followed and took the stage, opening with his fun singles, "Somewhere With You," and "Beer in Mexico."
Tongues started wagging when Chesney welcomed the talented and leggy Grace Potter (of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals), and the two sang their hit single, "You in Tequila."
Next up: K’naan, who moved the crowd with his personal story of growing up in Somalia and being personally affected by Clinton’s peacekeeping efforts in 1992. K’naan closed his set by fueling an audience sing-along to “Wavin’ Flags.”
The evening seamlessly sequed into a film starring the Clinton Foundation’s global efforts to help fight the presence of HIV and AIDS, and it was Real Man Ashton Kutcher’s turn to present the next artist (Usher). He spoke about the Demi and Ashton (DNA) Foundation, which he formed with wife Demi to help fight the sex trafficking of young girls.
Of course, Usher took the stage and quickly stole the show by splitting his pants. After covering, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” Usher bounced around the stage as he sang, “Yeah,” and encountered his wardrobe malfunction. “I work hard,” he said, shrugging it off. Apparently.
It wasn’t hard to keep the evening’s upbeat momentum, because icon Lady Gaga followed Usher by working the crowd and singing direct messages to the entire Clinton family. Bill, Hillary and Chelsea were all on their feet as Gaga incorporated each of their names into lyrics.
Channeling Marilyn Monroe with her dusty blonde wig, Gaga worked some “Happy Birthday’s” into the intro of “Born this Way” and continued by saying, “Bill, I’m having my first Marilyn moment.”
Actually, by then it was more like her fourth or fifth. Gaga kept doling out the love, telling the former president she was, “…on the edge with” him and that she wished he was, “playing sax with me, baby.” It was all in good fun, and the entire Clinton clan smiled and clapped along. Gaga sang right through her exit.
After Gaga's performance, Jason Segel introduced a "Funny or Die" original. In it, Ben Stiller led a gathering of Sean Penn, Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen as they all tried to drum up new ideas for the Clinton Foundation. Wiig suggested a ban on breathing, to have everyone in the world hold their breath for a minute, and Penn pushed a “simple initiative” to stop folks from stealing his lunch. It was a light way to look at the hard issues the Foundation tackles, and even Clinton himself joined in on the joke. The former president spoke to the group via conference call, but the camera soon revealed the voice on the other line was Kevin Spacey donning an Arkansas accent. Clinton burst into the room, and asked Spacey to stop making prank calls from his office—all while holding a brown bag marked PENN.
Pause. Intermission rolled in. But if you missed it, you didn’t get to see the celeb-studded video featuring the likes of Maria Bello, Robbie Robertson and Geena Davis and many others, all thanking Clinton for his public service efforts.
Daughter Chelsea was up next—thanking her father and sharing that her parents and grandmother ranked among her heroes. And finally, the former president himself grabbed the mic and ran through his roster of thanks, personally acknowledging all of the personalities in attendance. “How cool is it to be 65 and you get Lady Gaga. C’mon,” he said. “She said she was going to have a Marilyn moment and I thought, ‘God, I’m going to have a heart attack.’”
Jokes aside, Clinton continued to charm, in spite of his self-proclaimed “un-cool” glasses, and thanked his A-list friends, including Ling, about whom he noted, “I can say, ‘There’s a girl I picked up in North Korea.’”
Finally, the moment many may have been waiting for: Bono and The Edge, who kicked off their set with the eponymous “Desire.” The duo continued with their U2 hits, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and perhaps most poignant, a slow, acoustic version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” To be sure, not much changes with the U2 folks: Bono and The Edge sounded just as good as ever, but they included a string section for “Staring at the Sun” and “One.”
Another new bit for them was likely Clinton's re-introduction of the duo for their encore, “Miss Sarajevo,” a song all the more relevant because of the timing of Clinton’s presidency. “This president rode in during the siege of Sarajevo,” noted Bono.
The classic was slow and beautiful, even sans Pavarotti, though Bono held his own with the opera vocals. Colin Farrell quickly jumped on stage at the song’s close to introduce Will.I.Am for the ever-groovy “Feelin’ Alright,” which heralded the close to the evening.
The music ended, the Hollywood Bowl began to empty, and members of the audience could be heard singing, “Happy Birthday,” to Clinton, who was, after the evening of accolades, surely feeling alright.
- Kenny Chesney
- William J. Clinton Foundation