Lightning, rain put damper on crowd size for outdoor concert, but the show goes on
I’ve attended hundreds of concerts and know there’s always a risk involved when you’re see an outdoor show, especially in the heat of the summer. Overall, I’ve been fortunate and the weather gods have been on my side, but you never know what could happen.
In the mid 1990s, a huge summer storm roared through Raleigh, N.C., leaving me and a friend stranded in a foot of mud on the lawn as Hootie and Blowfish played on their “Cracked Rear View” tour. Six years ago, in late July, my wife Jill and I found ourselves in a downpour as Billy Joel played at Nationals Park after a two-hour delay due to lightning.
On Thursday, we almost were trapped again, this time at The Bullpen, an outdoor venue near Nationals Park that is in the middle of its first summer concert series. Afternoon temperatures reached the mid 90s with stifling humidity — the heat index reached 105 at one point— with a prediction for heavy early evening storms.
The rain and lightning arrived as the concert — a triple bill featuring the Band of Heathens, New York alt rock/Americana musician Alex Cano, and The Last Real Circus, an indie folk group from Richmond, Va. — was scheduled to start. For more than an hour, the area was bombarded, overwhelming the drainage system around the venue. (Three miles away, two people were killed and two were seriously injured in a lightning strike in Lafayette Plaza across from the White House.)
The storm passed quickly, but the concert was delayed by more than an hour as workers scrambled to make the stage safe. In lieu of an opening set, lead singer Jason Farlow and members of the Last Real Circus played three songs for a tiny but appreciative crowd. Cano and his two-piece band followed soon after on the stage, the crowd off to the side because the water still had not receded. Cano also truncated his set by a couple of songs.
Only 20 minutes late, a remarkable feat given what had just happened hours before, the Band of Heathens were on stage. They played for 90 minutes, with a scorching version of “Look at Miss Ohio” serving the centerpiece. At the beginning, it started to drizzle again, and you occasionally could see heat lightning in between the multi-story buildings that now surround the baseball stadium. By the end, the drainage system had caught up and the water receded, allowing the few who came and stayed to stand in front of the stage.
I’m sure the bands were disappointed by the light attendance and the weather, but you would have never known it. If anything, Thursday’s show was an exerceise in professionalism, with each group giving the same show to a crowd of 100 — and that’s likely generous — that they would to an arena of thousands.
What I appreciated was being able to take Jill and two members of my extended family — “adopted” sons Ginno and Elie — to see one of my favorite bands. Watching them groove to the music at various times during the night was a delight. In the end, despite everything that threatened to derail the evening, it turned out to be a lovely night for music.