Star-studded comeback concert in Central Park is silenced by lightning

It was meant to be a glorious celebration of New York City’s re-emergence after more than a year of pandemic hardship – a concert bringing together thousands of vaccinated fans on Saturday night on the Great Lawn in Central Park to hear a star-studded lineup. .

And for the first two hours it was, with messages about New York’s resilience sandwiched between performances from the New York Philharmonic, Jennifer Hudson, Carlos Santana, LL Cool J and Earth, Wind and Fire, among others.

But shortly after 7:30 p.m., while Barry Manilow was playing “Can’t Smile Without You”, lightning interrupted the concert. “Please seek shelter for your safety,” an announcer sang, turning off the music, as people started to walk out of the park.

The crowds were sent home and the concert was abruptly interrupted. Even with Hurricane Henri expected to make landfall in the region on Sunday, officials remained hopeful of resuming the show if the weather permitted, and CNN, which broadcast the concert, delayed the time. Many headliners, including Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and Maluma, had yet to perform when he was cut short. But shortly before 10:30 p.m., the show was definitively canceled.

The concert had started with a ray of sun breaking through the clouds just before it started at 5 pm. Gayle King, host of “CBS This Morning,” began the evening by thanking the essential workers who had pulled the city through the darkest days. of the pandemic.

“We were once the epicenter of this virus, and now we have become the epicenter of the recovery,” she said. “We come together for a common purpose: to say, ‘Welcome to New York! “”

She presented the New York Philharmonic, which kicked off the concert with the opening of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide”, conducted by Marin Alsop, a protégé of Bernstein. The orchestra then played a mix of New York-themed music, including tracks from “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin, “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel and “Theme From ‘New York, New York. ‘”, the anthem made famous by Frank Sinatra, among others.

The concert, “We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert,” which aired live on CNN, was part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans to celebrate the city’s return from the pain and suffering of the pandemic.

When the concert was announced by Mr de Blasio in June, the drop in the number of coronavirus cases and the increase in vaccination figures had filled the city with hope.

But circumstances have changed dramatically over the past two months. The spread of the highly contagious Delta variant has led some businesses in the city to postpone the return to their offices, prompted the city to institute vaccine warrants for indoor dining and entertainment, and threatened to destabilize the city. concert activity in the broad sense.

On June 7, the day the concert was announced, the city had an average of 242 cases per day; the daily average is now over 2,000 cases per day.

With the Philharmonic still on stage, the concert continued with Andrea Bocelli, the Italian star tenor, singing “O Sole Mio” and Jennifer Hudson, the star of Aretha Franklin’s new biopic “Respect”, singing “Nessun Dorma” of Puccini – a beloved aria who teamed up with Franklin after performing her at the Grammy Awards in 1998.

As crowds poured in, the thought of New York’s return – whether it was a two-fisted defeat by a viral foe or an untimely declaration of victory – was apparently on everyone’s minds.

“This is our reopening – this is our invitation to come back to real life,” said Dean Dunagan, 52, of the Lower East Side, who had come to see Mr. Springsteen and had been waiting outside the park for four. years and a half. hours before the doors open.

“New York has been punched in the face every ten years, or whatever,” Mr. Dunagan said, “and we’re getting up right away.”

A few feet from him was Alexandra Gudaitis, a 24-year-old Paul Simon fan from the Upper West Side. “I’m afraid this is a mass spreading event, with the Delta,” she said.

Still, she was one of the first fans to walk through the door and rushed past the general admission section with a few friends. They were wearing masks and Ms Gudaitis said they chose their location because it appeared to have better access to fresh air.

Some of the acts had only tenuous ties to New York. But rap pioneer LL Cool J led a New York ode to old-school hip-hop with Busta Rhymes, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, French Montana, Melle Mel and Rev. Run of Run-DMC.

The Coming Home Show required anyone aged 12 and over to provide proof that they had received at least one dose of a vaccine; children younger than that, who are still not eligible for vaccines, had to wear masks.

“When it comes to concerts, they are outside, they are reserved for vaccinated people,” the mayor said on Wednesday. “We definitely encourage the use of the mask. But I really want to stress that the whole key here is vaccination. “

The Central Park show came after the city hosted a week of free hip-hop shows, featuring local heroes including Raekwon and Ghostface Killah in Staten Island, and KRS-One, Kool Moe Dee and Slick Rick in the Bronx. . Tickets were required to attend the concert on the Great Lawn – most were free, but VIP packages cost up to $ 5,000 – and the show was broadcast on CNN television and satellite radio on SiriusXM.

The concert was programmed by Clive Davis, the 89-year-old musical eminence, who, in an interview this week, highlighted the role music can play in shaping society.

“It is vital and important that New York is back,” he said.

Mr Davis, who joined Columbia Records as a lawyer in 1960 – without any relevant background in music – and rose through the ranks to become its president before arranging successful returns for label stars Arista and J , said he was contacted by Mr de Blasio in May about the show’s set-up. His first call was for Mr. Springsteen.

“I picked up the phone and told him we were going to celebrate New York,” recalls Davis. “He said he would introduce himself and he wanted to do a duet.” (The planned duet was with Patti Smith on “Because the Night,” a 1978 song they wrote together.)

From the scene on Saturday night, Mr Davis, from Brooklyn, appealed to the audience, “Tonight I only ask one thing: when you’re having fun, cheer hard – hard enough that they can get you. hear. to Crown Heights in Brooklyn.

The abridged concert came at an uncertain time for the music industry. While some top performers including Garth Brooks, BTS and Nine Inch Nails recently canceled tour dates, the show is largely set in the live music business – but it hasn’t been easy. Concert protocols, in New York and elsewhere, have fluctuated for months, as federal authorities, local governments and businesses have adapted to the changing realities of the virus.

Broadway requires masks and proof of vaccination when its theaters reopen, and Los Angeles County recently announced that it will require masks at large outdoor events such as baseball games at Dodger Stadium and the concerts at the Hollywood Bowl.

Mr de Blasio defended the continuation of the concert, noting that it was held outside and for those vaccinated, although some other events were canceled. For example, this year’s West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn, scheduled for Labor Day weekend, has been canceled.

The eyes of the concert industry have been on Chicago, where the Lollapalooza festival drew 400,000 people over four days in late July and early August, fearing it could turn into a “superspreader” event. The festival, which was held outdoors, required participants to present proof of vaccination or a negative test. Last week, the city said 203 people attending the show subsequently tested positive and no hospitalizations or deaths were reported.

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