For such huge numbers in attendance the entrance was surprisingly organized. We waited in line for about 2 minutes, got our bags checked and walked into the venue ready to see what Philly had in store for us this year. The event organizers seemed extremely prepared for this years crowd, lining the roads in the venue with countless food trucks, beer tents, bathrooms, stages and TV setups so you could watch the performances from a comfortable location. After losing a friend and spending 3 hours searching for her and filing a police report last year, our first order of business was to establish a meeting spot (The fried cheese curd truck seemed appropriate for a group of Canadians) and we started our day. Although we only caught the end of his performance, we were immediately drawn to the hype crowd watching Vic Mensa on the main stage: we grabbed ourselves a few Budweiser’s and joined in on the jumping up and down to what I would describe as the perfect jam out hip-hop introduction to the day. While we were just settling into the vibe of the concert, the combination of heat, dehydration, alcohol and I’m going to go ahead and assume drugs, caused an obviously underage boy to pass out not too far from us, his friends turned his body to the side and held his head up till paramedics arrived and carried him away. Now what seemed like such a dramatic event turned out to be something we would witness at least 10 more times that day- slow and steady wins the race ladies and gentlemen.
Moving on, we moseyed through the crowd to another stage to catch the G-Eazy performance we were all so excited for. Deciding to kill a little time before the show we took a seat on the floor; big mistake. The already extremely dusty air turned into sand being kicked in our face by excited fans. How dusty was the air you ask? On day 2 of the festival a man tried to spark up conversation with me using the line ” so how black were your boogers yesterday?” gross… but they were in fact black and it was reassuring to know I wasn’t the only one. I also developed a dry, deep, chest cough you’d expect from a 90-year old smoker. With all of that said, we got up and our annoyance with the dust was immediately remedied by the bass line and a leather clad G-Eazy walking across the stage with his hair perfectly pushed back. He wasted no time diving right into lyrics consisting of 3somes, booze and drugs that got the crowd waving their arms and bouncing. Coincidentally, part-way through his chorus “molly and that whiskey, that’s Monica Lewinsky” with the crowd chanting and dancing, another young man fainted and was carried away on a stretcher by the paramedics; I kid you not, the crowd didn’t miss a beat as this was becoming all too frequent. G-Eazy finished his set and like handing a bottle of water to an athlete after a marathon, he embraced the thirst of all the women in the crowd with lines such as “man, Philly has a lot of beautiful women, where are we partying tonight?”
The next show we saw was De La Soul and although it was pretty evident that a lot of the people around us had no idea who they were watching, their 90s vibes of smooth hip-hop and catchy chorus lines had the crowd in a cool laid back vibe with bobbing shoulders and nostalgic dance moves. This mellow vibe carried right into the next performance we saw by the boy band pop star turned sultry RnB musician Nick Jonas. His falsettos and playful rhythms created such a fun vibe and the highlight was his cover of ‘Roses’ by Outkast that had the whole crowd singing. The negative highlight however, you guessed it, was another unconscious fan; this time however stood out because in an attempt to gain the attention of a paramedic the female’s friend began waving his arms above his head. What happens when you wave your arms at a concert? You start a trend. Everyone began waving their arms, including Nick Jonas. The poor unconscious girl was carried out right around the time Jonas did his closing speech. At that point everyone was thinking the same thing as I was – He didn’t perform jealous! But Nick would never do that to his fans and as his final song he performed jealous better than I’d ever heard it done.
Moving back to the main stage my group found a spot and began listening to a performer who’s received a lot of negative press lately, Meek Mill. Philly is his city and he was definitely hyping up the crowd, but I took this as an opportunity to grab some food and another beer, no offence Meek. While waiting in line for the bathroom, I heard that classic Nicki Minaj giggle and what happened next was like a scene from the lion king stampede. People began to run out of whatever line they had been waiting in, and towards the stage to catch a glimpse of the unexpected and bootiful special guest. Nicki strutted on to the stage with her purse hung over her shoulder as if to say “this wasn’t even planned but I’ll grace you with my presence” and that she did. Out of the 140k people in attendance, no one looked happier to see her than Meek; as the camera panned onto both of their faces as Nicki walked onto the stage the love they had for each other was clear. They performed together and Meek proceeded to cover a lot of popular tracks by Future, Fetty Wap and other artists, that really got the crowd hyped up.
The clock struck 7:30, and marked the start of a brutal 3 hour wait amongst a crowd of thousands of Beyoncé fans who would use my inhale as an opportunity to push that much closer to the stage. I’d like to emphasize that the closest we could get to stage was about the length of a football field. Our 3 hour wait was no match for the fans who camped near the stage before I even stepped foot into the venue. For 3 hours I listened to everyone around me complain about being pushed and lecturing the people behind saying “That’s the closest they’ll get to the stage”. The clock struck 10:30 and like some twisted version of Cinderella, the seemingly logical Beyoncé fans turned into what I can only describe as zombies pushing their way forward to feed on an uninfected Queen B, causing me to almost lose my shoe. The same girls, who spent 3 hours in conversation with me, now saw me as an obstacle between them and the flawless beauty that had now appeared on stage. Truth be told I don’t blame them, having never seen Beyoncé perform live, nothing could have prepared me for the blinged out body suits, wind blown hair, concussion inducing head whips, and choreographed dance moves that filled her performance. Note: I was lucky enough to receive audio commentary throughout the entire performance from a gentleman behind me that was more like a 1 on 1 conversation between him and Mrs. Carter
“YASSSSS BEY YASSSS. OH YOU GONE DO IT LIKE THAT? OK OK YASSSS DAMN YOU WORK IT MRS. CARTER YASS QUEEN DO IT”
The show was full of messages about female empowerment including Ronda Rouser’s ‘do nothing bitch speech’, and 7 costume changes that appeared to occur faster than I could blink. Now earlier I mentioned that I’m not a Beyoncé fan, and this isn’t entirely true; I’m a huge fan of her old music so I was extremely pleased to see her perform titles such as ‘say my name’ and ‘survivor’ that brought back memories from my younger years and momentarily turned me into one of those zombies I previously mentioned. The show included a lot of lights, props, dancers and pre-recorded video skits that made Beyoncé look like she was in every corner of the stage all at the same time. Her set alternated between songs performed with several people on stage and songs performed with a dark stage and a single spotlight on the queen. Rumor says if you aren’t a Beyoncé fan, you will be after you see her perform live, and the only thing I have left to say about day 1 at made in America is that rumor is true.
The Sunday sun was blazing from early in the morning and the exhaustion from the previous days event led me to spend most of my time in bed until just about 4pm. Lazy yes, but necessary. We got ready and made our way down the Benjamin Franklin parkway and into the venue just in time to catch the final half of Big Sean’s set. I didn’t expect to see such a big crowd but there were thousands of people vibing to ‘I don’t fuck with you’ like they were personally singing to an ex. Big Sean continued to hype up the crowd and only took a break to announce that last year he met a woman in Philly who he presumed was in the audience. He called her phone live and then accused her of playing hard to get when his call went to voicemail. A bit random but he got back into the music and did an amazing job of conducting such a huge crowd. My group left early to get a good spot near another stage where banks would be performing and I’m so glad we did.
I’d never actually seen what banks looks like but after listening to her music on the road trip to Philly I was very confused when she walked out onto the stage. I felt like a judge on the voice turning my chair to discover the soulful hip music was coming out of a beautiful white female instead of what I honestly assumed would be a larger black woman. She was wearing a cropped black, off the shoulder top, a long black skirt and black leather boots that didn’t seem to fit the weather but was cool and gave off a very Lorde vibe. Overall her appearance was described in my drunken notes of the event as “Fringe. Funky dance moves. Perfect contour. Would be her surrogate mother” which translates to she was gorgeous and enticing. As much as I loved her appearance, her performance lacked a break out moment for me, that special something that made the entire crowd go nuts, but nonetheless it was an incredible show that made me want to go buy her album. The end of her set was bittersweet for me because I wanted her to keep playing, but I was excited to make my way back to the main stage to see what was one of my favorite performances from the year before, J.Cole.
With the massive success of his new album, which went platinum without a single feature, the show was destined to be out of this world. The thing I love the most about watching J.Cole perform is it doesn’t feel like a theatrical over the top *look at me* type gimmick. His shows always make me feel like he’s transporting me to his neck of the woods and showing me the world through his eyes. So many artists come onto stage in elaborate outfits and use light effects to elevate their music, but J.Cole doesn’t need that. He dresses like he just met you at the door to his crib, with his hair slightly disheveled and you might have caught him at a bad time, but when he starts rapping, he leads you down the yellow brick road and helps you find your way home. This yellow brick road leads you directly to Forest Hills and through all the shortcomings J.Cole has faced on the way stardom. He rapped about things that everyone could relate to (like heartbreak), and things that even though I hadn’t experienced I suddenly felt like I had through his lyrics. The amazing thing is that these deep rooted messages and powerful morals were all embedded in music that had me swaying side to side and singing along for the entire hour. In all honesty I was zoned out with my eyes closed for most of his performance, feeling like I was laying in my bed at home listening to his album in my headphones and rocking to the melody. Needless to say, J.Cole did not disappoint and made the entire trip out to Philadelphia seem worth it for his performance alone.
By 8:30 lamps illuminated the concert venue and the ambiance developed into something perfectly laid out for the final act of the weekend: The Weeknd. We did a quick final beer run and secured a location much farther back than we were for the Beyoncé show – we learned our lesson. At 9:30 on the dot, the stage filled with red lights and dark shadows. The huge crowd screamed in excitement as the silhouette of the Weeknd’s classic hair filled numerous screens throughout the park. In a show full of special effects and fireworks, he executed the perfect finale to the made in America weekend. He covered older tracks like wicked games and songs from his latest release Beauty Behind the Madness which had only been released the week before, all in a perfect medley of a dark, seductive, masochistic, seemingly heartbroken aura that has been present throughout his entire career. Unlike many of the other shows I’d watched on the screens, the Weeknd’s performance was shot with a wide angle camera lens that, although at times focused on his face, also focused a lot of time on presenting the entire stage which the Weeknd filled flawlessly. Even with the band present, this performance felt like a one man show, which is a point I’ve made each of the 3 times I’ve watched him perform live. It was the Weeknd and his music and that’s all I truly needed. Everything else was just a bonus. In similar fashion to Nick Jonas with jealous, the Weeknd saved his most recent successful track for last.
As the lights went out and the crowd began to head towards the exit, all you heard was “she told me don’t worry…” and the Weeknd’s face appeared back on the screen to which half the crowd replied “about it” and the other half just screamed… I was part of the half that screamed. Whatever energy I had left in the day was used to dance to that last song and my time at ‘Made in America’ ended in the same mind-blowing fashion as it had started. We linked arms and followed the crowd of people like a school of salmon trying to make our way upstream. With a final look back at the huge Made in America sign at the entrance, we already began discussing our plans to return.
Thank you ‘Made in America’, I’ll see you next year.
Story By Julia Hussien,
Photographs courtesy of Made in America Festival