I attended the Made In America festival two weeks ago, and I had a blast! I have been absolutely dying to write this recap and share some of my photos and videos because I want y'all to be in on the action! Don't worry, I gotchu!
This festival, created by Shawn "Jay Z" Carter and his business associate, Steve Stoute and inaugurated in 2012, occurs annually during Labor Day weekend in Philadelphia, PA. In it's fourth installment, the weather was perfect: sunny with zero chance of precipitation, and my skin was loving it! Summer over? NOPE.
The festival raised the bar from previous years - issuing a free, helpful app and even streaming the performances on the Rocky and Liberty stages for free on TIDAL - and went down as the most attended year in its short history. A record-setting 140,000 people made their way to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway during the 2-day festival.
When the artist announcement came in June, music fans rejoiced as this year listed the most relevant and diverse lineup yet. 2015 brought a range of up-and-coming artists and seasoned musicians, a showcase of Philadelphia artists, and a heavy rap, rock and EDM influence. The lineup this year featured more than 60 performers on five stages, including Big Sean, J Cole, Santigold, Action Bronson, Jidenna, Fabolous, Lola Wolf, Bassnectar, Nick Jonas, Modest Mouse and lots more; the headlining acts were Beyoncé and The Weeknd.
I was lucky enough to be able to take my DSLR into the venue thanks to the nice security. Use your #blackgirlmagic, ladies! However, MVP goes to my selfie stick!
Here are 5 memorable moments from that weekend:
1. Fairground Tingz Amidst the Dense Crowd
A skate park was close to the entrance and located right next to the Skate stage. There was a two-story Budweiser bar on wheels in the middle of the four-lane throughway, with food trucks flagged on one side and bathrooms on the other. There was a carousel too but apparently it was easy to miss, as I did not notice it until the second night. Shea Moisture had a booth, with a steeply-priced pop-up hair salon. Water cost $3/bottle, but there were refilling stations throughout the venue. Good luck getting through the crowd to get to one though. If you wanted a little alcohol in your system, beer cost $12.
The stages had incredible views of the museums and of downtown Philadelphia, yet I need to make mention that while it was an awesome branding opportunity, the addition of the fifth stage - the Tidal stage - did not work very well. It was positioned in the middle of the main walkway and hindered people from getting across to the other stages. It left the reduced pockets of space too dense to move and clogged traffic. The organizers will need to take a look at the practical logistics and possible growth of the festival - the congestion, especially on Sunday, may signal that the festival is nearing its limits at Ben Franklin Parkway.
2. Hip Hop Reigned Supreme
If there was one music genre that seemed unfairly represented, it was hip hop. No complaints here! The Made in America line up showcased some of the old, new and popular talent in that genre.
J Cole returned after what I heard was a successful performance last year, but this time his act was bigger, he drew in one of the most insane crowds and he commanded the main Rocky stage like few rappers I've watched perform.
His hour-long set predominantly featured music from his recently released number-one record, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. But he did not forget his early fans when he performed his older tracks that we all knew and loved, including "Lights Please", "Nobody's Perfect" "Work Out" and "Can't Get Enough". He closed his set with the sultry "Power Trip". He fed off the energy of the crowd, departed the stage too early and left us wanting more.
He wasn’t the only rapper who gave his all on the stage that weekend. Future drew gigantic crowds to the Liberty Stage, prompting fervent chanting and jumping from the most energetic in the crowd. I was right there along with them when he served hit after hit - "Magic", "F*ck Up Some Commas", "Move That Dope", "Tony Montana" and "Same Damn Time" and at the peak of my trap high, I was screaming "God blessin' all the trap n****s!" with the best of them. The only song he didn't do that I would have loved (or maybe I missed it while I was making my way to see Big Sean) was "Turn On The Lights". Aint nothin' like a trap love song. I'm not in the Future hive, but one cannot deny his knack for catchy hooks.
G-Eazy, Action Bronson and Fabolous (who brought out Freeway) played earlier in the day and I missed them but reports say they were good.
After the summer Meek Mill has had, his Philly homecoming was quite anticipated. The crowd was energized; in my opinion, it was because he did a slew of rap covers - from Fetty Wap to Bobby Shmurda. I do not know his catalog well, but I remember him performing only three songs of his that I recognized - "Ima Boss, "House Party" and "All Eyes On You". The crowd cooed when his adorable son whipped and nae nae'd and then practically lost their mind when Nicki Minaj came out on stage (bag in hand...) to perform their summer anthem. Is "All Eyes On You" the new "'03 Bonnie & Clyde"?
Big Sean performed too, but I will discuss it next...
3. I Felt As Though I Could Conquer The World!
Talk about motivational speeches! What easily comes to mind is Beyonce and the back-to-back female empowerment messages she utilized in her performance. It wasn't only an excerpt of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TEDx talk, "We Should All Be Feminists" this time though. During her set, she also included the entire poem, "Phenomenal Woman" by the late Maya Angelou and even cheekily included mixed martial artist, Ronda Rousey's famous “Do-Nothing B*tch” speech. I livvvvvvved for that moment.
Big Sean also offered up some words of advice and inspiration. With only 45 minutes to cram the most popular songs in his catalog, Big Sean, in his signature staccato-style flow, rapped without pause to a medley of his hits and features, including "Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay", "Mercy" and "Clique". The positive messages were flowing when he performed "One Man Can Change The World" and my fave, "Blessings". He dedicated his performance to his late grandmother (one of the first black American female captains during WWII) and he also told the crowd to "surround yourself with people on the same wavelength as you". A timely message.
He did not disappoint when he closed with his f*ck-a-heartbreak breakup song, "I Dont F*ck With You". That's motivation too.
4. I Fell Head Over Heels In Love with The Weeknd
I don't know when it happened. Was it after the first song? Was it the endearing way he said, “I know I’m from Canada. I hope you accept me at this festival.” I just know that later that night I walked back to my hotel geeking like a teenager and on my train ride back home, I listened to his discography on Spotify.
With his 3-person live band positioned atop a huge screen, the Weeknd crooned song after song from his new record, Beauty Behind The Madness. I was listening to most of these songs for the first time as I had not had a chance to delve into his album beforehand, and I found a favorite: "Losers". Let me tell you, the bass was enough to knock the air out of my lungs. His energy was electric and his innocent playfulness, even as he sang about sex and drugs, was entrancing. He also did a cover of Beyonce's "Drunk In Love" and it was amazeballs.
He closed the set with his Michael Jackson-esque number-one hit “Can’t Feel My Face” in which he showcased his dancing skills, and "The Hills". When the bass of "The Hills" dropped, giant fireballs flared from the top of the video display and the crowd went wild.
He hopped off the stage and his band exited, but his rabid fans (which, at this point, included me) chanted his name, begging him to come back and serenade us once more. He acquiesced and came back for an encore, performing "Wicked Games". He was such an excellent live performer.
5. Beyonce Stole My Voice & decorum
Last but not least, there was Yonce.
I went to Made In America to watch Beyonce perform. Everyone else was a sidenote. Beyonce garnered a massive audience on Saturday night. Her set was not until 10:30pm but we were already positioned close(ish) to the stage by 7/7:30pm. In those three hours, we made it through the annoying fights around us, the drunk and high college kids, the dirt and the smells and Modest Mouse. Sigh, don't even get me started on how torturous that was. Then, like the opening of the gates of heaven, the lights went down and her performance began. My smile brightened into an effervescent grin and my screaming started and continued for the next two hours. Bliss.
She delivered as always! I admit that she was a taaaaaaaaaad rusty (a general consensus from other Beyhive-rs who've seen her perform live before) and my friends and I are convinced she's pregnant. But that did not derail her from serving every moment she had. As usual, Beyonce's dancing was right on par with her backup dancers, yet did not detract from her impressive vocals. Their movements were precise and limber. Her set spanned her entire musical career - from a string of Destiny's Child hits, including "Survivor", "Jumpin' Jumpin' and "Say My Name" to songs from each of her 5 albums, she showed no signs of slowing down.
She closed the set with the familiar call and response rendition of “Single Ladies", and though by this time I had moved to the bar to get some water, I still could not avoid the urge to dance and clap along to the "hey hey heys" (...you know what I'm talking about).
Just thinking about this weekend brings a smile to my face. I will give Made In America 2015 an A-grade rating. It goes down as the biggest installment yet, leaving much to be expected for 2016.
Did you attend the Made In America Festival? Have you attended in the past? What was your experience like? If you haven't attended yet, do you want to? Sound off below!