'We Love NYC' concert in Central Park stopped due to lightning

New York Philharmonic performs for spectators wait at the "We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert" in Central Park on August 21, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

This time, Barry Manilow didn’t make it through the rain.

Unlike the Grammy-winning recording artist’s 1980 hit, "I Made It Through Rain," the superstar-laden "Homecoming Concert" in New York City's Central Park was canceled because of dangerous weather as Hurricane Henri approached the Northeast on Saturday.

Manilow began performing "Can’t Smile Without You," as part of a medley of his hits when the announcement interrupted his performance, ordering concert goers to immediately leave the park and seek shelter. The singer continued on, not realizing at first what was happening.

Organizers repeated over public address for concertgoers to "calmly move to the nearest exits and proceed to areas outside of the park."

The five-hour concert, intended to celebrate New York City’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, was about halfway through when the weather became an issue. Heavy rain and lightning filled the sky.

Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Jennifer Hudson, Carlos Santana, LL Cool J and Andrea Bocelli were among the expected performers at the concert.


Spectators wait for the "We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert" in Central Park on August 21, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP)

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As the crowd — estimated at more than 60,000 — began leaving the concert area, there was a moment of optimism that the show might resume once the weather cleared. But a few minutes later, another announcement said it was canceled 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 mega-concert featured Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Jennifer Hudson, Carlos Santana, LL Cool J and Andrea Bocelli among the performers.

Fans intent of seeing Springsteen, Simon, and The Killers — who had not yet hit the stage — expressed disappointment as they were leaving. One man could be overheard belligerently yelling that he paid to see Springsteen. The majority of tickets for the show were handed out for free, providing you could show proof of vaccination. But high-priced VIP tickets that ranged from $399 to around $5,000 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. Afterward, Hudson told Gayle King that the performance felt like "an out of body experience."

The famed New York Philharmonic 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." The orchestra also backed Bocelli.

Earth, Wind & Fire was 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 lineup 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 backup singers hummed the iconic opening of "Mama Said Knock You Out" as a lively LL Cool J wearing mint green sweats and yellow kicks emerged through them with a rousing version of the song that sent the crowd in 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 Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Schumer praised New York City’s resilience for coming back after hard times, citing the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Superstorm Sandy, the financial crisis, and now, COVID-19.

"After COVID, New York is bigger, better, and stronger than before," he told the crowd.

He then thanked front-line workers, saying the city came back because of them.

Organized early in the summer, the concert was intended as a celebration of New York City overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. But on Saturday, the concert kicked off amid worries about the highly contagious delta variant of the virus.

Matt Schweikert, who came to the show from New Jersey, expressed concern about the uptick in cases, but wasn’t particularly worried about his health at the concert.

"They were great taking the proper precautions having you got through multiple checkpoints. 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," Schweikert said.

Native New Yorker Imani Duckette was "excited" to have the energy back in public.

"Everybody seems pretty safe, and I feel pretty comfortable," Duckette said.

New York City over the past week has averaged just under 2,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, according to state statistics. That’s 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 the face coverings as the concert progressed.