TORONTO — Thousands of fans were disappointed and dejected on Friday as they arrived at the Rogers Centre to learn the highly anticipated start of The Weeknd's world tour in his Toronto hometown was sidelined thanks to the nationwide Rogers network outage.
It was a last-minute announcement that spread across social media with little more than an hour before showtime. That left many fans walking up to the gates to find out they weren’t getting in, and led to them lingering around the grounds complaining about Rogers' technology.
Staff spread the news by walking through the crowd with megaphones while a pre-recorded message looped every few minutes on speakers outside the venue.
“I’m disappointed ... we've been waiting for this for so long,” said Sabrina Halabi, who flew in from Calgary and booked a hotel, only to hear the concert wasn’t happening as she showed her ticket.
“The Weeknd is more inventive so I thought he would be able to (perform) but I bet he’s more pissed than the rest of us.”
The musician, born Abel Tesfaye, confirmed as much in a statement, saying he was "crushed and heartbroken" before pointedly blaming it on Rogers.
“Been at the venue all day but it's out of my hands because of the Rogers outage," he said.
"Operations and safety are compromised and I tried my absolute best."
Rogers Centre added in a statement that details on a new show date will be shared as soon as possible and that existing tickets will be honoured.
That was little consolation to Laura Rees who shouted out in surprise when she heard the announcement over the loudspeaker. She had just come off the highway from Waterloo, Ont., with her two daughters and husband in tow.
“We’re a huge concert family; we probably would go to eight or nine a year prior to COVID," she said.
"Once COVID hit it was a huge halt to us, (and now) everybody wants to get out. I just want to hear the music."
Rees pointed out this is another inconvenience for Canadian music fans who are trying to get back into the habit of buying tickets to live shows, but too often find themselves left in the lurch.
In June, Justin Bieber postponed two concerts at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena only hours before he was set to perform, leaving fans to wander around outside the venue as reality sunk in.
The Stratford, Ont., pop singer would later say he pulled out because he was suffering from Ramsay Hunt syndrome, a form of facial paralysis.
The Weeknd's show was perhaps even more eagerly awaited since it was the start of a world tour and a culmination of several years of success for the Canadian artist in the city where his music career blossomed.
Since the start of the pandemic, The Weeknd had grown into one of the industry's biggest stars, helped by the success of his 2020 album "After Hours" which broke records on the Top 40 charts, leading to a gig headlining the Super Bowl halftime show in 2021.
The After Hours Til Dawn stadium tour is presented as Tesfaye's next grandiose vision.
After the Super Bowl, the singer decided he wanted to go bigger, so he scrapped plans for an arena tour and refunded all of the tickets. At the time, he said “due to constraints of arenas” he would move his shows to stadiums and raise his ambitions, while fans who already bought tickets would get the first crack at buying new ones.
His changes meant dates in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal were permanently taken off the calendar.
Leading up to the new run of shows, Tesfaye teased the big reveal in Toronto with images of a massive and elaborate stage that looked like a post-apocalyptic city.
But when the Rogers network went down on Friday morning, some fans questioned whether The Weeknd could deliver the highly technical show he promised if the infrastructure in the venue wasn’t working properly.
"It felt heartbreaking," said Himani Patel, who was still processing how the Rogers outage threw her plans into turmoil.
"We thought they would figure something out, like maybe use Bell or something. We didn't think it would impact (the show) as much. It was just so upsetting that all of this hype led to nothing."
Other Friday concerts were impacted by the outage too, with Scotiabank Arena in Toronto suggesting those attending the Roger Waters show save their mobile tickets to their Apple Wallet or Google Pay, depending on the model of phone they have.
A few blocks away, Massey Hall encouraged people to print off their tickets to comedian Hannah Gadsby's Friday night show and the same was true of Budweiser Stage, also in Toronto, where country music star Keith Urban was to perform.
The venue, which is cashless, also urged people to bring a credit card to pay for food and drink, as the outage affected debit transactions administered by Interac.
Across the country, the outage left businesses and customers without internet, causing some retailers to accept only cash, and led to problems for police, radio broadcasters and Service Canada passport offices.
Rogers offered no explanation for the troubles but said late Friday that it was starting to restore service.
The Weeknd's 19-date North American leg moves into the United States next week before he returns to Canada to play Vancouver’s BC Place on Aug. 25.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2022.
David Friend, The Canadian Press