This weekend's Central Park Homecoming Concert—the star-studded finale to the week-long celebration of NYC's "reopening" which was planned well before the surge in COVID-19 cases that has blunted said reopening—came to an abrupt, almost poetic end on Saturday evening midway through Barry Manilow's set.
Read More: Central Park Homecoming Concert Cut Short And Evacuated Due To Severe Weather
Tropical Storm Henri brought lightning and historic amounts of rain to the city, preventing the biggest headliners of the evening from performing, including Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Patti Smith, and Elvis Costello. And while it was a hoot getting to see Santana and Rob Thomas perform "Smooth" together, I think Frances McDormand speaks for all of us about how deflating and disappointing the whole thing was.
Mayor Bill de Blasio reflected on the show during his press conference on Monday morning, saying it was "profoundly sad" to see the concert grind to a halt just like that.
"It was really sad to see such an amazing, amazing moment cut short," he said. "It was almost literally the exact halfway mark when the rain came. This is the definition of glass half full, glass half empty. It was really sad to see that show have to end, profoundly sad, because it was getting stronger and stronger."
De Blasio went on to call the first half the show—which included performances from Earth, Wind & Fire, Andrea Bocelli, LL Cool J, Jon Batiste, Journey, and more— was "one of the best shows I've ever seen," and "magical."
He also addressed criticisms over his actions when the Great Lawn was being evacuated, and he got on stage and told people the show would resume eventually, despite announcements declaring the show was definitively over; it was a move some critics called "an incredibly boneheaded, impossibly naïve performance" from the mayor.
When questioned about this moment during Monday's press briefing, de Blasio said, "My thinking was the same as everyone involved in the show, [organizers] Clive Davis and Doug Davis and performers—everyone wanted the show to go on. The initial information we got from our emergency management department and from the weather analysts was there was gonna be an end to the thunderstorms. A summer thunderstorm is a pretty common thing, and a lot of times is brief. We understood they would pass and then we'd have good long stretch where things would be clear, and we were hoping to be able to bring the show back in that instance."
It seems a bit disingenuous to downplay a dangerous tropical storm as a "summer thunderstorm," particularly considered it prompted multiple press conferences, and de Blasio himself calling a state of emergency as Henri approached.
"Unfortunately, we had one of the greatest concerts in New York City history, we also had the kind of weather that shut it down," de Blasio added. "Anyone who was a part of it will remember it for the rest of their lives, it was an amazing, amazing concert, and really sent the message to the whole world that NYC is back."
Incredibly, the city didn't have any sort of backup plan in place in case the show was interrupted. But there was one positive piece of news: de Blasio said he is still in discussions with Clive and Doug Davis about "options" regarding a possible follow-up event to complete the show, featuring some or all those headliners.
"Anyone who saw it, anyone who was there, is feeling a great sense of loss because we were watching something magical and an unbelievable statement about NYC, and there's unfinished business there," de Blasio stated. "We've got to look at options now."
It certainly seems like many of the performers who didn't get to go onstage would be up for something: Barry Manilow and Patti Smith both called into CNN on Saturday night saying they were disappointed they couldn't perform, and The Killers ended up livestreaming a performance of "Mr. Brightside" from backstage.
Others stayed around for hours just in case the weather abated: “Bruce did come and was in his dressing room — he was there for a while,” Doug Davis told Variety. “Paul Simon lives across the street from the park, so he was in his apartment. Jimmy Fallon was in his car. We had so many people on site on standby to see if we could pull it off.”
Davis added that there was talk of moving the headliners to the VIP tent later in the evening, with presumably no live audience, and broadcasting it over CNN: "We lost the main stage to lightning, but the VIP tent was [safe]. So on the fly, I was rejiggering the show, picking the songs, getting CNN to go commercial-free…We all had a mentality that we had put together a once-in-a-century event and we should we should keep it going. We knew the world was watching."
But it was not to be. And maybe it never should have been, as some critics said that the event—announced in July—shouldn't have taken place at all, despite the mandate of vaccinations for those in attendance. As the Hollywood Reporter wrote, there was a glaring lack of discussion of the pandemic that continues to rage.
"The absence of any acknowledgment of the number of people who have died during the pandemic was utterly baffling," they wrote. "The entire enterprise seemed like a way to bolster collective amnesia about the past 16 months, to move quickly past the traumatic events, to declare unearned triumph and to sidestep the responsibilities we still have to each other."