INGLEWOOD, Calif. – More than 20,000 vaccinated music fans were excited to attend the biggest concert in the Los Angeles area since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the performers at Global Citizen's "Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World" might have been the happiest of all.
“How y’all doing, LA? This is a rock concert!” Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, sounding a bit surprised and a lot euphoric, told the crowd of health care and essential workers at SoFi Stadium, which opened during the pandemic and is the new home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. “I’m so appreciative to be here. And I'm so thankful that you guys can be here to share this with us.”
Jennifer Lopez expressed wonder when she took the stage: "Look at all these beautiful people. We’re all in the same room. We’ve been away from one another for too long, but we’re back!"
"Vax Live," which encouraged people to get vaccinated and asked world leaders and corporations to make COVID-19 vaccines available worldwide, raised $302 million, exceeding the organization's goal. An extended version of the event is streaming on Global Citizen's page.
The thrill of performing in front of a crowd again extended to others at the star-studded event including Eddie Vedder, J Balvin and H.E.R. Also appearing on stage were Prince Harry, Selena Gomez, Chrissy Teigen, David Letterman, Ben Affleck, Jimmy Kimmel, Sean Penn and Olivia Munn. Pope Francis and President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden delivered taped messages asking people to get vaccinated.
Concertgoers, applauding and singing throughout the show, gave one of their warmest welcomes to Britain's Prince Harry, a co-chair of the event with his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, who did not appear in person.
"You've spent the last year battling courageously and selflessly to protect us all," Harry said to the front-line workers. "You've served and sacrificed, put yourselves in harm's way and acted with bravery knowing the cost. We owe you an incredible debt of gratitude."
Here are other highlights from the Vax Live concert special:
'She’s here tonight and she’s vaccinated': J. Lo sings with her mom
When Lopez introduced a special guest, her mother Guadalupe Rodríguez, there was an underlying message: Vaccinations help people reunite with loved ones.
"I didn't even get to spend Christmas with my mom this year. First time in my whole life. Been way too long. But she’s here tonight and she’s vaccinated," a happy Lopez said.
She chose a song her mother sang to her as a baby, Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline."
"Come out here, Mommy! Everybody give it up for Lupe," said Lopez, before her mother explained that she switched the name to "Sweet Jennifer" and sang it as a lullaby. Mother and daughter then teamed up with the audience in a sweet, softer rendition of the classic.
Lopez returned later with one of her signature stage numbers, complete with dancers, as she performed a song with a very different maternal reference, "Ain't Your Mama."
Gomez praises, then apologizes to J. Lo
Concert host Gomez recited a series of introductions and explanatory notes, but charmed the crowd with her ad-libs, especially after minor glitches required a couple of retapings for the TV presentation.
"My bad. I'm sorry. I have to do it again, guys. I'm not very good at this," she confessed to the crowd, which responded with a supportive ovation.
As she waited to redo an introduction for H.E.R. after Lopez had performed, Gomez drew laughter and applause with this aside: "Oh my gosh, how hot was J. Lo!"
It got more personal later when Gomez, standing feet from Lopez and a circle of dancers, delayed the start of "Mama" with another do-over.
"Wait. I need to stop again. I’m sorry, J. Lo," she said. When the stage manager asked Gomez to start from the beginning, she replied tongue-in-cheek, "That's totally fine. Just making a fool of myself in front of J. lo."
Gomez received more crowd support with an assist from Teigen, who had to repeat her own narration a few minutes later: "I (bleeped) up, too, Selena," she said, before taking a spin around the smaller stage to audience applause.
J Balvin sang from the moon, H.E.R. stayed closer to home
Props to J Balvin for the best stage prop – a giant half-moon complete with very real-looking craters. As he performed “Otra Noche Sin Ti,” he started at the flat top of the semi-sphere before walking down and then up a staircase in its middle, joined by dancers.
Speaking of backup performers, H.E.R. was surrounded by a cadre of engaging young musicians from LA public schools, all sporting guitars, as she performed "Glory" from a circular riser in the SoFi parking lot.
Letterman jokes his beard got its own vaccination
Before legendary late-night host Letterman introduced Foo Fighters, who performed on the finale of his CBS late-night show, he delighted the crowd with his singular humor.
"Good evening, everyone. I'm Dave Letterman. You know me from TikTok," he said, before marveling at the futuristic stadium. "I've never been in a spaceport before. This is unbelievable. You could play football in this place."
Letterman, sporting his Santa beard, then got serious about COVID-19 and vaccinations, at least for a bit.
"Like a lot of people, for the last year, my family and I have been hiding and it was because we didn't know what to do but hide. And while we were hiding, the front-line workers became the infantry who made it safe for us to eventually come out," he said. "The best thing you can do is get vaccinated. That will make their job much easier. I've been vaccinated twice, my wife has been vaccinated twice, my son has been vaccinated twice and earlier tonight, my hand to God, a guy in the parking lot vaccinated my beard."
Back on stage with Foo Fighters and AC/DC's Brian Johnson
After an evening of short, structured speeches and performances designed for a TV special, Foo Fighters closed the show with a more traditional concert approach: Just keep playing.
"They told us we was only supposed to play three songs. We basically said, 'At what time do you pull the plug?' And it ain't right now, let me tell you that," Grohl said during a performance that featured hits "All My Life," "Everlong," Times Like These," and "My Hero," a tribute to pandemic first responders and frontline workers. "We're just gonna play till they kick us off."
The crowd roared when Grohl welcomed surprise guest Brian Johnson of AC/DC for a rendition of that band's classic "Back in Black."
Grohl told the crowd performing again was a literal dream come true after a nightmarish 2020, adding mass vaccination would help bring live concerts back for everyone.
"The last year, I've been having this dream that’s happening right now. I go to sleep at night. I have this dream I’m back on stage, people jumping around singing, and I feel like I'm at home. Then, I wake up. I realize I'm not there yet," he said. "We’ve still got a ways to go. But let me tell you, I truly and deeply believe that human beings need to come together and share music in a communal setting because that’s what we do. So, let’s get there."
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jennifer Lopez, Prince Harry, Selena Gomez appear at Vax Live concert