Fans from all over gathered on the TODAY plaza to celebrate Ed Sheeran on the heels of the release of “Subtract,” the last of his mathematics-related albums.

By Elena Nicolaou
June 6, 2023

Polaroid selfie of Ed Sheeran during the Citi Concert Series on the TODAY show.

You might not have a reason to believe me, but Ed Sheeran and I had a moment this morning. A giddy "Is-this-happening-to-me?" type of moment.

I’ll set the scene: It’s a Tuesday in New York City, overcast skies and a temperature a few degrees too cold for June. Sheeran — sans band, with just an acoustic guitar in hand and piano accompaniment — is on a small circular stage at the center of Rockefeller Plaza, midway through his set for TODAY’s Citi Concert Series. He’s looking into the distance, standing near the edge of the stage.

Then Ed and I make eye contact. I smile. He smiles back.

Ed Sheeran performs during the Citi Concert series on the TODAY show.

Nathan Congleton / TODAY

Nathan Congleton / TODAY

It was a moment. And I was far (far!) from the only one feeling the connection that morning with the English singer-songwriter. 

For most Citi Concert performers, the live concert is preceded by sound check and then a rare period of downtime — or, if you’re Sheeran, it’s an opportunity to effortlessly mingle with the crowd that had been gathering well before 6 a.m. As he stops for autographs, he meets a man with a tattoo of “Life Goes On,” after his song of the same name. When Hoda Kotb points out the tattoo to him, Sheeran says, “I saw that,” as if he and that fan went way back. Later, Sheeran speaks to a couple weighing which song of his they would use at their upcoming wedding, and strums along as a fan — also named Ed (Castillo) — is invited by Hoda to belt out “Perfect.”

Simply put, Sheeran is happy to play along. After I handed a Polaroid camera to a staffer for Sheeran to take a photo of himself, she returns with a smile on her face. “You’re going to love this,” she says. The photo develops to show a close-up, goofy selfie of Sheeran simply enjoying the moment — not Instagram-ready, but Polaroid perfect.

“You’re an amazing person!” a fan shouts from the crowd. Sheeran blushes and smiles sheepishly back.

And to fans, he really is. Their devotion to the dad-of-two is made evident in the hours they traveled to get to New York City, the time they woke up to get to the plaza, the concerts attended and the songs memorized, the lyrics memorialized on shirts and on skin, the outfits worn. 

“I would’ve camped out for Ed,” Liv Rocklin, 23, tells me. Instead, she just had to wake up before sunrise. 

Ed Sheeran signs autographs during the Citi Concert series on the TODAY show.

Nathan Congleton / TODAY

Nathan Congleton / TODAY

All around, memories are being made between mothers and daughters, couples and friends (including a duo who met on the pop-up line to a Sheeran concert) of all ages. Hoda’s among members of the crowd, bopping her head. Melissa Joan Hart, set to appear on TODAY later in the show, couldn’t miss it either. Jenna Bush Hager sings along. So do her two young daughters nearby.

“I think he’s inspirational. He cares about his fans,” says Jessica Spratt, 18.

For Spratt, the concert that morning is a full circle moment. Ten years ago, when she was 8, her Aunt Amy brought her to TODAY to watch Sheeran perform. Back then, she wore a tank top with Sheeran’s song lyrics written in neon. Now she’s back, wearing the same shirt all these years later. For her high school graduation, she and Amy went to London and Ireland to visit Sheeran’s stomping grounds.

Martha Elena, 53, from Fairfax, Virginia, says she found out she got tickets just the day before while searching through her inbox for a coupon. Despite the short notice, there was no question she would make the trip up to New York to see the “genius” sing. She spray-painted a shirt (“I couldn’t find anything on Amazon fast enough”) and made a sign with his lyrics, then convinced two of her friends to come. One of them had wavered about whether the trip was “crazy,” then decided, “You only live once.”  

Brooke Jude surprised her 14-year-old daughter with tickets for her first-ever concert for her all-time favorite artist. “She asked about seeing him in July. I didn’t tell her when I found out we got these tickets. Called her out of school, and got a hotel room in New York,” Jude tells me. Cat’s review following the first batch of songs? “It feels cool.” 

So what’s behind the devotion? Aside from the moving lyrics and the radio-ready hits, fans say Sheeran does something live that no one else does. Sheeran is known for performing his songs solo, using a looping pedal. 

“No one else can control being alone on stage,” says Halle Koenig, 22.

Koenig tells me she “always cries” at Sheeran’s shows. His music is intrinsically emotional. His sadness even has an avatar of his own — and the blue-eyed monster symbolized grief, seen in the video for “Eyes Closed,” had shown up on the plaza too. 

They say New York is a city that never stops or sleeps, where time moves so fast it has its own version of the minute. But for a few moments on Rockefeller Plaza, as Sheeran begins strumming his hit song “Perfect,” I swear time stops.

Ed Sheeran performs during the Citi Concert series on the TODAY show.
polaroid of blue eyed monster