Instead, around 8 p.m., when the show should have been about halfway through its dazzling lineup, Walsh and Pratt were drenched and shirtless, hiding from a storm under the narrow overhang outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, belting out Simon & Garfunkel hits themselves.
“We started with ‘Sound of Silence,’ then we did ‘Bleecker Street,’ ” said Walsh, 36. As lightning flashed overhead, the two men stood alongside dozens of other concertgoers with their backs against the museum facade, unsure whether they were supposed to be running for shelter from incoming Henri (which had strengthened to hurricane status, later downgraded to tropical storm) or just waiting out a weather delay.
Their shirts, said Pratt, 28, were stuffed in their pants pockets — where they thought, initially, they might stay dry enough to wear to the show’s post-intermission second act. That second act never materialized.
The Homecoming Concert, the grand-finale show of a week-long, vaccinated-only outdoor concert series held throughout the city, was planned as a celebration of the city’s triumphant return to form and the end of a long, catastrophic pandemic.
Which is to say, it was a concert planned for a timeline in which the delta variant never emerged, and never sent the city’s infection numbers soaring back up again or sent its restaurants and gyms scrambling to adhere to new vaccination-requirement protocols. At first, the Homecoming Concert felt like a stolen glimpse of that alternate reality: live music again, finally; exuberant crowds with few masks in sight. Fitting, then, that its abrupt, weird ending pulled the audience back into a chaotic, uncertain and disappointing world.
Before it all fell apart, the Homecoming Concert was nearly a great success. The lineup, dotted with millennials-and-up favorites, perfectly predicted the crowd that showed up: as diverse as any given car on the subway, but with sensible shoes and trim salt-and-pepper beards slightly outnumbering crop tops. DJ Cassidy, emcee for the event, introduced 22-year-old Polo G, one of the lineup’s few young performers, as “the future of hip-hop.” The crowd response, tepid compared to the roar that greeted a high-energy performance by LL Cool J and Run D.M.C.’s Rev. Run, made clear these ticket holders were far more interested in hip-hop’s past.
Attendees were similarly uninterested in the tongue-clucking chatter surrounding the decision to go forward with the event despite alarming numbers of new coronavirus cases. Ade Banjoko, 22, and Mina Park, 30 — two medical interns from Canada and South Korea, respectively, who work together at a clinic in Brooklyn — came to the show unmasked and unworried. “It’s outside, so that’s one thing. And everyone here is vaccinated,” Banjoko said. “That’s as good as it’s going to get.”
Peter Hayes, a 66-year-old Long Island resident, and his friend Ted Gruber, 62, from Queens, intentionally plopped down their blankets far away from other concertgoers, more to make an easy exit than to avoid virus transmission. “But I brought a mask, just in case anybody with covid shows up,” Gruber said, gesturing to his chest pocket.
Adelys Ferro, 53, who’s been visiting New York for most of the month with her boyfriend, wore a mask to the show — but she felt safer, she said, going to a crowded event in a high-vaccination area like New York than she would have almost anywhere. “I come from Miami,” she said. “So for me, this is like paradise.”
Concertgoers were getting back their long, lost pre-pandemic grooves just when it all came to a screeching, confusing halt. Under a few drops of rain, Barry Manilow received an enthusiastic response to “Copacabana” — “a song about the most famous nightclub in the world, which happens to be right here in New York,” he said — and “Mandy,” and had just begun “Can’t Smile Without You.” (The crowd sang along, a moment that was approaching euphoria; if you don’t believe it, well, you had to be there.)
That’s when a voice came over the loudspeaker and ordered all guests to “move quickly and calmly to the nearest exit” due to approaching severe weather.
As the sky turned orange, attendees did as they were told — until New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had been roundly booed in an onstage appearance a little while earlier, took the stage. “Move to somewhere indoors briefly, nearby. We’re going to get you an update shortly. We hope to bring it back shortly and finish the whole show. Okay?”
Hundreds turned around and hurried back toward the stage, apparently planning to wait out the thunderstorm inside the park. Security officers glanced at one another. A walkie-talkie clipped to one officer’s belt crackled to life with the words, “This is insane.”
De Blasio briefly maintained that the show would be back on by 10 p.m. Eventually, though, that fiction — just like the equally dubious premise that New York is “back” — dissolved with the rain. And several thousand New Yorkers fled for the puddling, dripping subway stations, their masks firmly back on upon entry.