Just when you thought we were ready to fall back in love with big live concerts again — Hurricane Henri had other plans for New York City.
The ominous HH washed out what was supposed to be a triumphant night for NYC — more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shook the Big Apple — at the We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert on the Great Lawn of Central Park on Saturday night.
Midway into the concert — as Barry Manilow belted out “I Can’t Smile Without You” — the heavens opened up and pre-Henri arrived several hours earlier than expected, with the rain and lightning threat putting an end to what was turning into an epic event.
It was as if Mother Nature was saying it was “too soon” to be celebrating overcoming COVID with cases rising due to the Delta variant. Mother was very much telling us, “We’re not home yet.”
In fairness, when the star-studded concert — produced by music industry legend Clive Davis and concert-biz behemoth Live Nation — was announced last month by Mayor Bill de Blasio, things seemed to be trending in a much more positive direction for New York, but with COVID cases rising — even with some breakthrough positive tests among the vaccinated — there was some concern that we were not ready to be partying in the park like that quite yet, even if proof of vaccination was required for entry.
But when the sun came out just before the concert started at 5 p.m. — with a yellow-dressed Gayle King pretty much symbolizing it — it truly seemed as if brighter days were ahead. The “CBS This Morning” host introduced the New York Philharmonic, who added a level of gravitas and grandeur to the proceedings: We were coming together to have a serious moment of recognition of all that we had survived before all of the fun began.
Then when Andrea Bocelli — the Italian tenor who himself battled COVID early last year — sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” backed by the Philharmonic, it rang a resounding note throughout Central Park. It was as if he didn’t even need a mic as he implored us to “Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart.”
And as if to show us all the challenges that we have overcome, the blind singer even played the flute before telling us, “After a storm comes always the sun.”
After that emotional moment came Jennifer Hudson, who, fresh off of her Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” opening last week, showed that she was not to be outdone by Bocelli. Paying tribute to the Queen of Soul, she performed “Nessun Dorma,” the aria that Franklin famously sang at the Grammys in 1998 as a last-minute replacement for Luciano Pavarotti.
It was a regal performance for the ages — with a final high note would surely make it hard to top.
Still, the concert was just getting started. And there were plenty of other early highlights, from an ageless Carlos Santana “Smooth”-ing it out with Rob Thomas — and a Great Lawn full of concertgoers grooving in the grass — to Journey reminding us, even in the face of a global pandemic, to “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
And then came what, in any ol’ regular Central Park concert, might have been the finale: LL Cool J and a host of other New York hip-hop legends — including Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe and Rev. Run of Run-DMC — rocked the stage in a performance that ran from Busta’s “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” and Fat Joe’s “Lean Back” to LL’s own classic “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
In an aqua velour sweatsuit, LL, at 53, was still the epitome of cool in the late-August humidity.
Then de Blasio came out to a chorus of boos before introducing the legendary R&B band Earth, Wind & Fire. And the elements truly took over after their performance, with Hurricane Henri stopping the night before the Killers, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon could even take the stage.
While CNN teased that the concert might begin again — perhaps with no audience and some holdouts who refused to leave — eventually Anderson Cooper called it a wrap: The Homecoming was officially gone. And in what is probably the worst-case scenario, the drenched — and drunk — concertgoers flooded the subway, many without masks, wondering when they could feel home again.