New York’s ‘homecoming’ concert called off as hurricane nears
New York City shut down on Aug. 21 its star-studded concert meant to mark its “homecoming” in the wake of the pandemic’s worst devastation, over the threat of severe weather as Hurricane Henri churned closer.
Some 60,000 people were expected at the concert in Central Park, as the hurricane, packing maximum sustained winds near 120 kilometers per hour and heavy rains, was drawing closer to making landfall sometime on Aug. 22.
Sporadic lightning and thunder rolled in over the park as people streamed out of the grounds, with some taking shelter under scaffolding and building entryways.
The weather cut short a show that had begun with groups of revelers cheering and dancing, with seating marked out by laying down picnic blankets ahead of five hours of live music that kicked off at 5:00 pm (2100 GMT).
Even before the bad weather hit, many were still concerned over COVID-19, despite vaccination requirements.
All attendees aged 12 and over had to provide proof of vaccination, except for those prevented from getting shots for reasons of disability. Masks were not required at the outdoor event, except for unvaccinated children.
Speaking on local radio on Aug. 20, Mayor Bill de Blasio had said the concert was meant as a marker of recovery.
The celebration was planned “to really tell people New York City was back, to tell the whole world,” he said.
The pandemic hit New York hard in early 2020, and has left more than 33,000 people dead. But life-long New York resident Bill Thompson said he was “more guarded than ever.”
Despite lingering coronavirus concerns, the 69-year-old said “it’s a joy” to see the city coming back to life. “It feels so free to be able to enjoy what people have missed for so long.”
In the week leading up to the show, the city hosted a series of hip-hop concerts across the New York boroughs, featuring performances from Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, KRS-1, and Wu-Tang Clan members Ghostface Killah and Raekwon.
Except for VIP spots, tickets were free for the concert, which had been set to also feature performances from Jennifer Hudson and LL Cool J.
Some 68 percent of adult New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, though cases have ticked up recently to more than 1,850 a day, a 19 percent increase in two weeks.
The unvaccinated population continues to face risks of both contracting the virus and feeling its worst effects.
But the threat of bad weather cast a pall over the revelry even before the event was cut off, as U.S. meteorologists upgraded storm Henri to a hurricane on Saturday.
Henri was anticipated to miss New York City by miles, but could still cause tropical storm conditions.