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As legendary crooner Barry Manilow commanded the stage singing his classic “Can’t Smile Without You” during Saturday’s “We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert,” officials interrupted the show with an urgent message for 60,000 attendees looking on from the Central Park lawn: Go home.
“Due to the approaching bad weather, all event participants should calmly move to the nearest exits and proceed to areas outside the park,” was the message as dangerous weather pummeled Manhattan due to Hurricane Henri. Throngs of people rushed the exits while hundreds more raced for cover inside the VIP tent, located behind the stage.
Guests who purchased platinum or gold VIP tickets (ranging from $3,450-$4,950) were allowed to access the custom structure where they could order libations from an open bar and sample premium hors d’oeuvres, among other amenities. But what could’ve been a comfortable lounge space to wait out the storm turned into a chaotic if not confusing scene for revelers and staff, according to a well-placed employee on site.
“A tent like this can hold maybe 1,500 VIPs, and basically what ends up happening at an event like this is that you never have that number in the tent at one time,” explained the worker. “In between sets you may have an overflow, and it was pretty steady on Saturday. But when they made the announcement to evacuate and seek shelter, the general public scattered. The sky opened up to the most insane storm I’ve ever seen. At that point, all the VIPs run into the tent, and you don’t want that to happen. The tent is not made for every single person who has a ticket to be in there at the same time.”
“It was really gross, sticky, hot and just nasty,” the source relayed of conditions with that many bodies hovering closely together. Still, people stuck it out for several hours after a special announcement from Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Thank you, everybody, for showing incredible New York City spirit,” said de Blasio, outfitted in a transparent rain poncho, as he took a microphone to address VIPs. “You have shown how much we love this place.” He went on to suggest that despite the furious conditions outside, the night was not over as organizers were in talks with artists to see if performances could happen in some form.
Manilow, Jennifer Hudson, Journey, LL Cool J and Carlos Santana had already taken the stage earlier in the day, with other artists like Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, The Killers and Elvis Costello, among many others, waiting in the wings. The event, produced by legendary mogul Clive Davis and airing live on CNN, was part of a weeklong program designed to promote New York’s recovery efforts amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
While everyone waited, the staffer said there was chaos behind the scenes due to an order, presumably from the top, to shut down food and beverage service, “which was a stupid idea because now you have a ton of people in this tight space who are uncomfortable, and now you won’t feed them or let them order drinks?” The source said they watched as servers and bartenders started breaking down the bar and carrying on with closing duties while guests waited for an official word from de Blasio or concert organizers.
But that didn’t last long. Staff were then instructed to fire up the kitchen and open the bar back up, causing frustration. “The mayor was saying, ‘We need to have food going and we need to open these bars — it’s for the city of New York, it’s for the city of New York,'” the source overheard. “Meanwhile, he’s standing in a puddle in the kitchen and it becomes clear that the performances are not going to happen. The staff was livid.”
— Ryan Field (@RyanFieldABC) August 22, 2021
Because of the conditions outside, the call was finally made to pull the plug and send everyone home. “When it looked like the weather would clear, then we got another thunderstorm pop up. So, we kept trying, a lot of artists hung with us, but at this point, we’ve run out of time with the artists, I’m sorry to say it,” de Blasio said, per a video posted on Twitter and YouTube. “I was hoping they could come over here, they just can’t. We had an amazing two and half hours, but we don’t have any more. I’m really sorry. But I want to thank you all because I hope together you had a good time. Thank you for believing in our city. And now, everyone, we got to get people going home because the rain keeps coming.”
It did. The staffer said that once people started rushing the exits, workers on site continued with their closing duties and, at one point, they were sloshing around in water from a torrential downpour. “The tent was flooded. There was a point when we were breaking down that the police made us evacuate so they could make sure the tent wasn’t going to collapse on top of us,” the source said. “It’s insane to me that this happened in the first place. It was super dangerous, and we were working inside a metal tent. We were expected to carry on because the mayor said, ‘This is for the city.’ Every other event was canceled.”
“It seemed like nothing was going to stop this concert from happening,” the source concluded. “We all knew a hurricane was coming — it just seemed insane from an events perspective. I’ve worked thousands of events and this was, by far, one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. It was insanity.”
Meanwhile, in a private area backstage, The Killers did not let the night go by without putting on a show. They performed “Mr. Brightside,” “Read My Mind” and “Human,” a portion of which was live-streamed by host Gayle King to CNN’s Anderson Cooper while he was live on air.
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