Henri cuts short Barry Manilow set at New York virus recovery concert
A star-studded concert intended to celebrate New York City’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic had to be called off halfway through as Hurricane Henri approached the north-eastern US on Saturday.
Barry Manilow was singing Can’t Smile Without You in Central Park as part of a medley of his hits when heavy rain and lightning filled the sky.
His performance was interrupted by an announcement ordering concert-goers to immediately leave the park and seek shelter.
The Grammy-winning recording artist initially continued, not realising what was happening, but organisers repeated the message for people to “calmly move to the nearest exits and proceed to areas outside of the park”.
As the crowd – estimated at more than 60,000 – began leaving the concert area, there was a moment of optimism that the show, due to last for five hours, might resume once the weather cleared. But a few minutes later, another announcement said it was cancelled as the downpour intensified.
Mayor Bill de Blasio later tweeted: “While it’s disappointing that tonight’s concert had to end early, the safety of everyone in attendance had to come first.”
The highly-promoted We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert featured Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Jennifer Hudson, Carlos Santana, LL Cool J and Andrea Bocelli among the performers.
Fans intent on seeing Springsteen, Simon, and The Killers – who had not yet taken to the stage – expressed disappointment as they were leaving. One man could be overheard yelling that he had paid to see Springsteen.
The majority of tickets for the show were handed out free of charge, providing people could show proof of vaccination. But VIP tickets ranging in price from 399 US dollars (£290) to around 5,000 dollars (£3,670) were also sold. There was no word on whether there would be refunds.
While the headliners were not able to perform, the abruptly-ended show still provided some standout performances.
Jennifer Hudson, backed by the New York Philharmonic, performed a spine-tingling version of Nessun Dorma from the Italian opera Turandot. Equally impressive was that her performance followed Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. Afterwards, Hudson told Gayle King that it felt like “an out-of-body experience”.
The orchestra had opened the show with many New York-themed pieces, including George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, Leonard Bernstein’s New York, New York, and Billy Joel’s New York State Of Mind. It also backed Bocelli.
Earth, Wind & Fire were joined by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds for a two-song set. And Santana with Wyclef Jean performed Maria Maria, before Rob Thomas reprised Smooth, and their new collaboration, Move.
The eclectic line-up also featured some “old school” hip hop, with Melle Mel dusting off the Grandmaster Flash classic The Message. Busta Rhymes performed Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.
In one of the evening’s most spirited performances, a group of backing singers hummed the opening to Mama Said Knock You Out as a lively LL Cool J, wearing a mint green tracksuit and yellow trainers emerged through them with a rousing version of the song that sent the crowd into hyperdrive. He was then joined by Rev Run of Run DMC for a snippet of It’s Tricky.
Special guest speakers included Stephen Colbert, Gayle King, Clive Davis, and New York Senator Chuck Schumer.
Mr Schumer praised New York City’s resilience for coming back after hard times, citing the September 11 terror attacks, Superstorm Sandy, the financial crisis, and most recently Covid-19.
“After Covid, New York is bigger, better, and stronger than before,” he told the crowd.
He then thanked frontline workers, saying the city had come back because of them.
Organised early in the summer, the concert was intended as a celebration of New York City overcoming the pandemic. But on Saturday it kicked off amid fears about the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.
Matt Schweikert, who had travelled to the show from New Jersey, expressed concern about the increase in cases, but was not particularly worried about attending the concert.
“They were great taking the proper precautions having you got through multiple checkpoints,” he said. “I’m confident that everyone here is vaccinated. They’re sober too, so that’s great, and I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Native New Yorker Imani Duckette was “excited” to have the energy back in public.
“Everybody seems pretty safe, and I feel pretty comfortable,” she said.
New York City over the past week has averaged just under 2,000 new Covid cases a day, according to state statistics, up from just under 200 cases per day in late June. Only about 54% of all city residents are fully vaccinated against the virus.
Before the concert on the grass, audience members were mainly socially distant. And while many were wearing masks, some ditched their face coverings as the concert progressed.