Margaret Ramirez and her daughter, Dahlia Olivo, before the show was canceled. Photo via Margaret Ramirez

In the end, Juanes only sang two songs. 

The Grammy award-winning musician from Colombia was headlining SummerStage in Central Park last night when the crowds outside more than doubled those inside—and the show was canceled

Juanes in Central Park “drew a capacity crowd of 5,000 attendees inside the venue with an estimated overflow of 12K additional fans outside the gates,” according to a statement from SummerStage organizers. “For the first time in 30 years SummerStage was required to stop a concert in progress for a non-weather related issue,” said Heather Lubov, Executive Director at City Parks Foundation SummerStage. “The safety of fans and concert goers was of paramount concern and at the request of the NYPD, (we) made the decision to cancel the show.”

Images shared online show fans trying to climb gates and fences to get in, and others running to get away from the mayhem. Why didn’t organizers understand or plan for the draw of Juanes, one of Latin America’s music megastars? That’s the collective question among fans this morning. 

A former NYPD officer said the failure was on both police and organizers part. They “should have been better prepared for the size of the potential crowd and set up points away from the venue to prevent the overcrowding. It wouldn’t take too much to figure out that there would be a huge crowd of people who couldn’t get in and the cops should have been prepared to prevent the crowd from forming critical mass,” this person said.

Epicenter-NYC spoke to someone inside the venue. Margaret Ramirez is a former journalist who now works in healthcare communications. She lives in East Harlem and was attending with her daughter as the guest of a SummerStage member. Edited excerpts from our conversation: 

Juanes at the Latin Grammy Awards. Photo: RGB Productions via Wikimedia Commons

“Why isn’t anyone more outraged about this? It was ridiculous. 

We were so excited. We were guests of a friend of mine. My daughter Dahlia is 19 and was just introduced to Juanes. She was really excited; this is a Latino rocker she’s just discovered. I was telling her he’s iconic. He’s been around forever. 

We got there at 6:30 p.m. My friend had given us instructions: There’s going to be a membership desk and say you’re guests of the member.

When we got there, there was already a line. It had to be like a thousand people. I wondered how are they going to fit all those people in there? SummerStage is tiny. They didn’t have bands or wrist bracelets. I just kept thinking, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Those people aren’t going to get in to see him … but whatever.

We went in, we were all excited and we got our seats. The members area has seats and everybody else just stands on the grass. We’re waiting and waiting. There’s an opening act of three Mexican women rockers, Conexión Divina. They were really good. 

Juanes finally comes out at 8:24 p.m. He comes out, everybody’s into it. He sings his first song. My daughter starts videotaping, and I start videotaping, and we’re just so starstruck. The two songs he sang were ‘Gris’ and ‘Mala Gente.’ Then he stopped singing, and he’s like ‘everybody calm down. There’s way too many people outside…’

Shortly after that, he called everything off. 

Me and my daughter and friend were like: What is happening? He walks off and they make a statement: everybody, vacate immediately. The concert is over. 

What??! We could not believe this was happening.

We waited a while. Then they were just telling us: Please leave. You have to get out of there. When we got out, people started telling us that the crowd had pulled down the gate and they were trying to bust in as soon as Juanes started singing. They just wanted to rush onto the field to see him.

We were shocked. How could SummerStage have booked a freaking superstar and not thought thousands of Latinos in New York are going to come? They didn’t plan it. Whoever planned it obviously didn’t know Juanes is an icon. 

Somebody should have said we need to do something like either tell people they weren’t going to get in or find an area where you can sit and watch. There were enough police there to start strategizing.

A screen grab of Juanes’ performance via Margaret Ramirez

It was obvious that the people who booked it didn’t realize the power of Juanes. It was sad. We only saw two songs and I feel so bad. I’m not even Colombian. I can’t even imagine how people from Colombia must be devastated. He’s their guy. 

I really got into Juanes when he did his Havana concert. That became a whole controversy because of everything that Cuba stands for and Fidel stands for. And he was clear that he’s singing for people and that’s when I just felt like Juanes is awesome.

My daughter is half Puerto Rican, half Mexican. Dahlia doesn’t really like salsa music, and she always felt: ‘Is there something wrong with me?’ What she does like: Latin rock and Bad Bunny.

She likes Latino artists who sing rock or hip hop. That’s her generation; they’re into Latino artists who sing more progressive music. It was so sad because at the end of the show, she said, ‘I’m going to learn all of Juanes’ songs.’

Now she’s a legit converted Juanes fan. He almost started a riot in Central Park. The next time he comes back to New York, we’re definitely gonna go.”

S. Mitra Kalita is a veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator and author of two books. In 2020 she launched Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. Mitra...

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