Vax Live concert at SoFi Stadium celebrates first responders with Jennifer Lopez, Prince Harry, H.E.R. and more

Homecare nurse Sherry Yas and elementary school teacher Cynthia Paonessa waited in line outside SoFi Stadium on Sunday to do something that hasn’t been done since the pandemic arrived more than a year ago.

See a concert. In a stadium. With other people.

“First opportunity to do something like this in forever,” said Paonessa, who lives and teaches in Sherman Oaks. “And I love the message they’re putting out. It’s great.”

What’s that message? “Being socially responsible,” she said.

“And the more you want to get back to normal, this is the way to do it,” added Yas, who lives in Thousand Oaks.

The event, Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World, promised performances by Jennifer Lopez and Eddie Vedder, Foo Fighters, J Balvin and H.E.R. at SoFi on Sunday.

When the music began, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam kicked off the night with the kind of loud, raw rock and roll the world has not heard live for more than a year, opening with a cover of Fugazi’s appropriately themed, “Give Me The Cure.”

“This is a feeling we have not had for quite some time,” Vedder said at the song’s finish, before launching into the Pearl Jam tune “I Am a Patriot.”

“This is crazy,” he continued. “There’s a microphone, there’s a crowd. It feels good.”

Sponsored by the anti-poverty non-profit Global Citizen, Vax Live was intended to promote vaccination against the COVID-19 virus and also raise money and awareness about the need to help poorer countries get greater access to vaccines.

Hosted by Selena Gomez, the concert, which will be broadcast on multiple channels Saturday, May 8, represents the first large public event in California since the state first locked down a year ago. Roughly 20,000 fans, mostly first responders and essential workers, were expected to attend the show.

Scattered between performances, celebrities and prominent figures made appearances in person and by video.

Pope Francis urged the world to come together and defeat the virus. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden talked of the importance that all be vaccinated as a means to returning to our normal lives.

While they appeared on the stadium big screen, Prince Harry, the Duke Of Sussex, walked on the stage and person and received a huge response from the crowd.

“We are at a defining moment in the global fight against COVID-19,” said the prince, who with his wife Meghan Markle, the Duchess Of Sussex, were honorary chairs of the event. “We can’t rest or truly recover until there is fair distribution to every corner of the world.”

Also appearing in person were actress Olivia Munn, who spoke about the need to fight hate crimes and speech targeting Asian Americans, and Ben Affleck with Jimmy Kimmel, who arrived dressed as Robin and pleaded with the Batman actor to call him “the Boy Wonder” just once.

Other musical performances included recent Grammy and Oscar winner H.E.R, who performed in the SoFi parking lot accompanied by dozens of LAUSD guitar students.

Jennifer Lopez then arrived on a forest-themed set to sing — and get the audience singing along — to the song her mother used to sing her as a baby: The Neil Diamond classic “Sweet Caroline,” which ended sweetly when J. Lo brought her mother Lupe on stage to sing it as she had when the future star was just a baby.

It was also the first live music concert at SoFi, which pre-pandemic had planned to open with shows by Taylor Swift last summer.

To the fans waiting patiently for doors to open on Sunday afternoon, there was a sense that this was a special event.

“Being vaccinated around everybody, I’m actually kind of excited,” said Venessa Natividad of Carson, who works as an LVN nurse for the Los Angeles Unified School District. “Just to feel a little normalcy.

“I think it’s really important that we all get a vaccine so we can start feeling normal in society against,” said Natividad, who wore her scrubs to the show.

Reyes Sana and Darin Jones, both of Los Angeles, scored their tickets through an LAUSD friend of Jones’.

“I was literally just saying to Reyes, ‘You’ve got that exhilarating feeling, like you’re going to a big event,’” Jones said. “The feeling is back!”

“It’s like a rush, getting the feeling back,” Sana said. “A little nervous because there’s a lot of people here.”

Edwin and Kriscilla Espiritu of Fontana both are healthcare workers. She’s a registered nurse at Ballard Hospital, he’s a clinical lab scientist for Kaiser Permanente.

“It feels good we can help advocate everybody to get vaccinated,” Edwin Espiritu said. “It’s also a fundraiser for the whole world.”

The Espiritus both have family in the Philippines, where access to vaccines has been much more limited than in California and the United States.

Matthew Herrera of Van Nuys and Jessica Sanmarti of North Hollywood have family in the same situation — his in Guatemala, hers in Peru.

Their last concert pre-pandemic was Kings of Leon at the Forum next door to SoFi. They had tickets for the Weeknd last summer but that never happened.

As for how it felt to be at SoFi, with thousands of people, to hear live music?

“Weird and exciting,” Sanmarti said.

“And hopeful,” Herrera added.

About the concert

Hugh Evans, co-founder of Global Citizen, a worldwide anti-poverty organization, said that the idea for Vax Live came out of conversations on how to reverse two major trends that are slowing vaccine efforts.

One is to overcome vaccine hesitancy, as evidenced in data that show 8 percent of U.S. residents haven’t taken their second dose, and 26 percent aren’t sure they’ll take even one.

“The second objective is we’re seeing this vaccine apartheid emerge, where in the U.S. and in many other parts of the world, particularly the G7 nations, you’ve got readily available access to COVID-19 vaccines now,” Evans said. “But then there are so many countries that haven’t received a single dose.

“In Europe, you’ve got roughly one in five people fully vaccinated, North America, one in three,” he says. “Whereas in Africa, it’s one in 100. In fact, the lowest income countries have only had access to .3 percent of the total vaccine supply globally, a billion doses that have been administered.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Evans said, describing Global Citizen’s hope that the concert will not only improve those statistics through corporate and governmental donations but also mobilize citizens of more fortunate countries to advocate for those will fewer resources.

Southern California was chosen in large part because of its recent success in slowing the spread of the virus, Evans said. In the last week, it’s had the fewest COVID-19 cases of anywhere in the country, and Vax Live can shine a spotlight on what can be accomplished when people have access to vaccines.

“It’s actually the perfect time to signal to the rest of the country and to the planet that if you get the vaccine then you have a chance to open up,” Evans said. “That’s why we chose to do it here in California.”

The audience at Vax Live consisted of fully vaccinated frontline healthcare workers to celebrate their work and highlight the safety that vaccines can provide — safety that 27 million frontline workers in vaccine-deprived parts of the world don’t have.

“We want to celebrate the heroism of those 27 million healthcare workers globally who have got us through this pandemic, many of whom don’t have access to the vaccine right now,” Evans said. “We wanted to show the juxtaposition between the fact that here in California you’ve got ready access. Globally, we don’t, and we’ve got far to go.”

What can the average citizen do? Evans pointed to where you can donate to Covax, the global vaccine access organization, where every $5 given provides a vaccine for someone in need. Beyond that, he urged people to contact corporate and governmental officials to urge them to act.

In the past week, both Cisco and Procter & Gamble have each donated $5 million, he said.

“That’s two million doses between the two of them,” Evans said. “If every Fortune 100 company responded to that call of action we would be able to get those 27 million healthcare workers fully vaccinated.”

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