The unthinkable happened Tuesday night at Carter-Finley Stadium on the campus of N.C. State University: Beyoncé fans – 40,000 of them – walked out of her show, even though the biggest pop star on the face of the earth still had 40 minutes left to play in her set.
Indeed, that’s the kind of havoc several menacing flashes of lightning can wreak when you try to pull off an elaborate outdoor concert in the middle of a thunderstorm.
The rain had initially started falling during her 12th song of the night, raucous blues-rock track “Don’t Hurt Yourself” (off buzzy new album “Lemonade”). It became steadier during 2006 hit “Ring the Alarm, as computer-generated clouds and fake bolts of lightning flashed forebodingly across the 50-foot-tall, rotating cube-screen dominating the center of the stage.
And over the course of Beyoncé’s next five songs – “Diva,” “Flawless,” “Feeling Myself,” “Yonce,” “Drunk in Love” – my reporter’s notebook became a blurry, smudgy mess of blue ink and raindrops. Then, as she finished the first verse of “Rocket,” there were flashes that we initially confused for special effects; by the end of the second verse, it was clear these were very real lightning strikes.
Off to our cars we were sent.
But as the mass evacuation got underway, the guy in charge of the P.A. system made it clear that the show had been “suspended, not canceled”; there were groans indicating skepticism, so he took a more direct approach: “She is not leaving.”
Several hundred fans who either didn’t believe it or simply couldn’t stay out later than they’d originally planned climbed into their cars and headed home, but most stuck it out – maybe because they’d paid a lot for those seats, but more likely because ... well, because we’re talking about Beyoncé here.
This is a woman who has 14 million followers on Twitter despite the fact that she’s tweeted once in the past 2 1/2 years. A woman who can drop a surprise album about the crumbling and the resurrection of her marriage to rapper Jay-Z (that’d be “Lemonade”) one week, and the next week sell half a million copies of it, in an age when pretty much no one wants to buy albums anymore.
And now, a woman who can fill a football stadium not once but twice in a single night.
By some small miracle, an hour and 15 minutes after Carter-Finley was ordered to be evacuated, we were back at our seats, and Queen Bee was walking back onstage to resume the fourth date on her “Formation World Tour.”
“Thank you so much,” she said, simply and softly. Then she picked up where she left off, launching into the countrified “Daddy’s Lessons” (also from “Lemonade”). Within minutes, any memory of the postponement had evaporated, even if the puddles around the stadium hadn’t.
In fact, as far as I could tell, there was never any question that Beyoncé intended to stick around to finish what she started.
This was not – as some suspected it might be – a night for politics. Despite fears that the singer might join others in boycotting the state over House Bill 2, Beyoncé not only showed up, she kept any feelings she may have about the controversial legislation entirely to herself on Tuesday night.
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No, this was a night for her to give fans what they paid for, come hell or rain water. She simply got on stage, she slayed, and when the going (i.e. the weather) got tough, she stayed. Then she slayed some more. And by slayed I mean looked flawless, sounded flawless, and her dancing? Flawless.
A soft rain returned for Song No. 26, “Freedom,” then fell harder, during Destiny’s Child hit “Survivor” and the percussion-heavy “End of Time” from 2012. But before ending the concert a few minutes shy of midnight with “Halo,” one of her most powerful ballads, the megastar smiled, closed her eyes, and tilted her head to the sky.
“The rain,” she said, “is actually beautiful.”
I hadn’t thought about it like this, till that point. But I suspect I’m not alone when I say that Beyoncé – with a microphone in her hand – could probably convince me of almost anything.