Thousands attend star-studded 'homecoming' New York concert

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Thousands attend star-studded 'homecoming' New York concert
Spectators wait for the "We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert" in Central Park on August 21, 2021 in New York City. Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith and Paul Simon are set to headline a massive Central Park concert Saturday meant to signal New York City's "homecoming" in the wake of the pandemic's worst devastation there. Kena Betancur / AFP.

by Maggy Donaldson

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith and Paul Simon headlined a massive Central Park concert Saturday to mark New York City's "homecoming" in the wake of the pandemic's worst devastation there.

But a hurricane heading towards the US east coast along with a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases due to the highly contagious Delta variant threatened to dampen spirits at the star-studded event, expected to host some 60,000 people.

People streamed onto Central Park's Great Lawn Saturday afternoon, as the New York Philharmonic played rousing renditions of classics including "New York, New York."

Groups of revelers cheered and danced, snagging spots by laying down picnic blankets ahead of five hours of live music that kicked off at 5 pm (2100 GMT).

While attendees were thrilled to be at a live public event again, many were also 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.

"At least everyone is vaccinated" at the shows, said Ilana Gomez, who was most excited to see guitarist Carlos Santana's band play.

"Music is what I missed the most" during the pandemic, the 27-year-old told AFP, adding that it was "amazing" to be with so many people but that she thought it wasn't "the best idea" to have such a large event.

'We are back'

Speaking on local radio Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio 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 Saturday's 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 are free for Saturday's concert, which also features performances from Jennifer Hudson, LL Cool J and Barry Manilow.

Henri threats

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.

"My heart goes out to everyone who suffered," said attendee Laurie Ramirez, an educator in her 50s.

She won a ticket to the event because of her essential worker status during the pandemic.

"It's extraordinary. It's the most beautiful thing" to be here, she told AFP.

The threat of bad weather also cast a slight pall over the revelry, as US meteorologists upgraded storm Henri to a hurricane on Saturday, predicting landfall on the US east coast on Sunday.

Henri was anticipated to miss New York City by miles, but could still cause tropical storm conditions beginning Saturday night.

© Agence France-Presse

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