Syracuse, NY – Another minute and it wouldn’t have happened.
As one of the biggest crowds of the season at the St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater in Lakeview wondered if the Foo Fighters were actually coming, concert planners planned how they were going to deliver very, very bad news to everybody.
The group was stuck on a runway at JFK airport, pinned to the ground by a stubborn fog that did not want to lift. It was 8:19 p.m. and the pilot had not obtained take-off clearance. It seemed impossible that they would go to Syracuse for the show.
The organizers of the Amphitheater then planned the communications. They asked the group to record a video apologizing for not doing so. They messaged the crowd in the workshop, struggling with a tough question: How do you tell 15,000 drunken and impatient fans to turn around and go home?
Even Dave Grohl, the fearless frontman whose name is synonymous with rock ‘n roll, seemed ready to give up.
“We sat on this track for four fucking hours,” he said. “And we were like, ‘maybe the show won’t be tonight.’ “
Grohl said the group had set a deadline: if they weren’t on their way to Syracuse by 8:20 p.m., the show wouldn’t take place.
8:15 am rolled. Then 8:16. 8:17. 8:18 am.
At 8:19 p.m., Grohl received a note from the pilot.
“They said, okay, we’re going to Syracuse,” he said. “We have a fucking rock show.”
The drama of the delay and the suspense of the will that they won’t have left the crowd on their nerves for hours, ultimately fueling an exhilarating, rock-hard two-hour set from one of rock’s most revered bands.
It was the stuff rock and roll legends are made of.
Hours before Grohl and his company finally arrived on stage, the organizers of the St. Joseph’s Amphitheater grappled with a series of decisions on whether to continue the show.
Brian Donnelly, deputy director of Onondaga County, said as people poured into the parking lot, organizers learned the group was not yet in Syracuse.
They had a decision to make early in the evening: will we open the doors and start letting people in, even though the group is stuck on a tarmac in New York? Or are we throwing in the towel now?
It was around 6:10 p.m. They decided the show should go on.
“All we knew was they had been delayed, nobody knew if they were going to make it,” Donnelly said. “So we opened the doors.”
At 7:30 p.m., thousands of people were there, taking their seats, ordering drinks, buying goods. But the Foo Fighters were still on a trail at JFK, drinking champagne, wondering if they could come here.
As the evening wore on, it seemed more and more likely that the group would not make it. Donnelly said he wanted to get as many people as possible into the doors in case they needed to send the crowds home. The last thing the organizers wanted was a collision: thousands of people still trying to get in, while thousands more were trying to get out.
At eight o’clock, therefore, the lawn and the shell were full. And the organizers were making a plan to send everyone home.
Onondaga County Manager Ryan McMahon said Live Nation officials spoke to the group, asking them to record a video apologizing for not getting there. This could play out on the large screens of the Amphitheater and cushion the blow somewhat.
The logistics staff at the amphitheater were working to rearrange the entrance “chutes” to get people out of the room, not inside. They were also discussing the messages: what do we say to everyone?
McMahon – who said he was in Albany for a meeting but distracted by frequent updates on the show – said organizers were one minute away from making the announcement.
Then came the call. The Foo Fighters were the driving wheels.
“We were getting ready for the artist to record a video, apologizing and getting ready to play it and start the logistics stuff to prepare for security,” McMahon said. “Just when [that announcement] was about to be done, they got the go ahead.
The show therefore continued. Opener Bambara took the stage at 8:30 p.m. – about 90 minutes after the scheduled time. An announcer prefaced their set with the first official word to fans about the group’s delay. The Foo Fighters were held at JFK, he said, but they were in the air and on the way.
While Bambara was playing, the stampede began to bring the Foo Fighters to the site.
“There was massive relief, but you still had a lot of arrangements,” Donnelly said. “You are on pins and needles.”
McMahon said his office needs to decide what time the band can play. There is a curfew which usually starts at 11pm. The group didn’t even land in Syracuse until after 9 a.m.
“The question that was our call to make is what time do they play,” said McMahon. “The team made the right decision – they can play as late as they want and we’ll take care of the repercussions later. “
At least two sheriff’s deputies parked on the tarmac at Hancock International Airport, waiting for a pair of private jets en route upstate.
A Gulf Stream and a Cessna landed shortly after 9:20 p.m. According to Michael Benny of CNYCentral, an air traffic controller greeted the planes with a question:
“Do you have any luck having a band on board that is late for a concert?” “
The parade of vehicles and flashing lights descended Interstate 81 to the backstage of the Amphitheater.
After four hours on the JFK sidewalk, a one-flight sprint and a mad dash to the amphitheater, the group’s motorcade rushed backstage in a parade of flashing lights. It was 9:46 p.m. The fans erupted.
Grohl said he got out of the car, put on a new pair of shoes and jumped on stage.
It was 9:56 p.m. – just the start of a show that imposed local curfews, which lasted until midnight.
“You know, we almost didn’t make it here tonight!” He barked at the crowd before chanting the lyrics to the opening song:
“It’s times like these that you learn to live again.