The Black Eyed Peas & Friends
The Great Lawn, Central Park
Thursday, June 9
Better than: Sitting in Central Park and waiting for nothing to happen before the heat broke.
The confusion started at around 5:15 p.m. last night, when NY1’s Pat Kiernan tweeted that the Black Eyed Peas show in Central Park—an hours-long, sponsor-spangled extravaganza benefiting the Robin Hood Foundation that was to be preceded by appearances by the likes of Zach Braff and Tony Bennett, and was rumored to feature a Taylor Swift cameo—had been delayed because of the thunderstorms rumbling into the New York metropolitan area. It was like a bizarro snow-day announcement, with the wry Canadian newscaster breaking the news that things were too wet and wild out there in the early evening on the Internet instead of in the early morning on TV, and coming as it did on a day when the mercury was causing people to drop Do The Right Thing references instead of complaints about how their radiators weren’t working. Twitpics of people being herded out of the park and told to come back later started percolating out, and eventually things became official: The gates would open at 7:30 and the show would start at 8:30, because the worst of the storms would have passed by then.
I showed up to the press gate at 7:30 on the dot (after hitting the Upper East Side’s Shake Shack outpost, which played host to quite a few people looking to kill time/fill up before the gates reopened) to pick up my lanyard identifying me as media and was eventually led to an area to the right of the stage where there were risers and a bench. (Hooray, a bench!) The park looked gorgeous in the gloom, the green of the trees and plants popping against the gray dusk, and I made a mental note to leave the house on days when the weather seemed lousy more often.
The music started pumping from the speakers at approximately 7:50—”Smooth Criminal” was first, which seemed appropriate given that Michael Jackson is one of the artists whose broad-stroke popularity the Peas continually aspire to with their corporate synergies and willingness to recast songs entirely in order to make their hit probability more likely. It was at around this time that the rain started back up—not the downpour that had greeted my exit from the subway an hour earlier, but a light, pleasant drizzle that washed away any memories of the upper-90s temperatures from earlier in the day.
And then, an “ooh” from the crowd—but it was only because the stagehands were testing the lights that shone in the audience’s direction, which were bright enough to illuminate the fact that the rain was starting to come down a bit harder. The first streak of lightning streaked across the sky shortly after, and one of the writers sitting next to me said to her friend, “Let’s go under that tree.” I was too tired to point out that during a lightning storm “under that tree” is probably the worst place to be, and plus I was sitting right next to a lot of metal courtesy of risers that had been set up for media to watch the show so I really couldn’t talk.
Each lightning strike after that was accompanied by an “ohhhh” from the crowd, although I was pretty mesmerized—it’s not every day that you get such a great view of apocalyptic weather, and the clear skies proffered by the Great Lawn allowed me to watch the lightning bending and choking across the sky. If it wasn’t potentially deadly, it would have been a great addition to the Peas’ pyro.
After about the seventh strike or so I noticed a burly security guard yelling into his headset “We’re shutting it down, we’re shutting it down.” Meanwhile, the crowd was getting excited because an actual person holding an actual microphone had come on stage, a milestone that some people had been waiting for since approximately 3 p.m. Alas, he had only bad news, first telling the crowd to listen to the instructions that were about to be doled out—always a bad sign. And then the hammer dropped: The concert was canceled; everyone had to head back out into the Midtown rain in as orderly a fashion as they possibly could.
“How was the show?” a couple of security guards smirked as we tripped out of the park. People on Twitter were similarly wocka-wockaish, thinking that the Peas being held at bay by Mother Nature was hilarious (the words “act of God” were used a lot), but I was kind of bummed out. Not because I was desperate to see will.i.am and Fergie and The Other Two Guys, although quite a few people in the crowd were; it was more that I’ve never seen a show on the Great Lawn, despite growing up in the New York area and living in the city for nine years and change. Perhaps Robin Hood and the Peas will try again—”Organizers are hoping to reschedule, so ticket buyers should hold onto their tickets,” said a statement from the Robin Hood Foundation. I should probably invest in a poncho if they do.
Critical bias: As a kid who spent a lot of time in waiting rooms, I’ve read quite a few Readers’ Digest true-life lightning-strike tales.
Overheard: “They’re not rescheduling this for tomorrow. The Black Eyed Peas aren’t Diana Ross.”
Random notebook dump: The Calvin Klein ad that played on the screens above the stage, in which rich people shot in black and white stalked around an expensive-looking house, seemed like something of an odd fit to precede a show benefiting a poverty-focused charity. Perhaps it was deemed appropriate because it didn’t contain much nudity?