Any artist can play a concert. It takes a special kind of artist to curate a festival. It takes something entirely different to shut down one of the most heavily trafficked roadways in the fifth biggest city in the country and set up a gigantic stage with wings coming out the sides. Jay-Zs first annual Made In America Festival took over Philadelphia this past weekend, serving as another glorious manifestation of all the rappers successes over his career. Just when you think he couldn’t climb any higher, he finds a way to take it just a little bit further. I guess thats the difference between being a businessman and a business, man.
As far as location goes, I was a bit skeptical when I first looked at the festival map. There really wasnt going to be a stage right in front of the famous Rocky steps (also known as The Philadelphia Museum of Art) was there? The only address listed for the festival was Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It wasnt actually going to take place on a parkway, was it? As improbable as it might sound on paper, the whole thing came together remarkably well, and perfectly organized. Hova played the role of host to a tee, and easily avoided any first year jitters.
Once accepting the whopping $11 cost for a can of Budweiser, I was able to enjoy one of the more eclectic lineups in this summers festival season. Regardless of personal taste, its pretty damn impressive to be able to pull off scheduling DAngleo, Dirty Projectors, and Skrillex in immediate succession. The only major complaint I can muster has to do with the severe lack of activity-type (read: cheap) options at the festival. Whether it was a $9 order of fries or a trip inside the mobile Roca Wear shop, Made In America was no place to the thin wallet set.
Even the slim to non-existent breaks in between sets didnt prove to be an issue, and I never found myself wanting to push forward or craning my neck for a better view. The sound was not surprisingly geared toward bass-heavy hip-hop, but when has a little teeth rattling ever killed anyone? As far as next year goes, Im not sure that even Jay-Z can pull off something of this scale two years in a row. But then again, it wouldnt be the first time hes done the impossible.
Photography by Michael Zonenashvili.
Saturday, September 1st
Gary Clark Jr. – Rocky Stage – 2:00 p.m.
Thank god this man’s full length album is coming out (finally). After seeing Gary Clark Jr. and crew three times this summer, I’ve had countless riffs of his stuck in my head just waiting for the opportunity to listen to them in the privacy of my room and air guitar. Walking into the festival, hearing him play from the main stage, people could easily mistake his voice and guitar destroying tone as Thickfreakness-era Black Keys. And hey, while the Black Keys slowly foray into the more poppy world, at least we have Clark to fill our dirty, sexy blues void. -Michael Zonenashvili
Magic Number: 3. The amount of Fedoras on stage.
Other Magic Number: 0. The amount of fedoras that SHOULD be on stage.
Maybach Music Group (Rick Ross, Wale, Meek Mill) – Rocky Stage – 3:30 p.m.
There arent many places on earth where a white kid from Connecticut could be more out of place than a Maybach Music Group concert. Nevertheless, I took the leap down the rabbit hole with Wale, Meek Mill, and, of course, Rick Ross on Saturday afternoon. The two former kicked things off with solo cuts before the main event strode onto the Rocky Stage, declaring, Play that Maybach shit! The setlist was heavy on Rozay-led radio favorites like Hustlin, Stay Schemin, and Im On One, all of which utilized headliner-levels of bass. I almost bailed after I was flanked by two couples grinding in a manner that just about made me blush. Im glad I didnt though, because once I let go of my reservations and succumbed to the dance party, it ended up being one of the most enjoyably raucous sets of the weekend. -Bryant Kitching
Magic Number: 31. The amount of times the M-m-m-m-Maybach Music sample was played. Yes, I counted.
Janelle Monáe - Liberty Stage – 4:15 p.m.
It might have been a travesty to some to put Rozay and crew at 3:30 p.m., but why-oh-why did Ms. Monáe and her crew get 45 minutes? While she was able to blast through the big hits from The Archandroid, flaunt fantastic covers of “Little Wing” and “I Want You Back”, and dance off the soles of her shoes, I couldn’t help but want a full set from the Metropolis orchestra. With their well thought out aesthetic — made up not only of a unified dress code, but interactions and dancing on stage — the entire audience couldn’t help but party. There was a group organizing a line-dance in the street to “Tightrope”, and the crowd even caught onto the lyrics of new tune “Electric Lady” quick enough to sing along. Monáe’s touring seems elusive to the east coast, and her second album just as evasive, but at least we know she and her band are staying sharp. -Michael Zonenashvili
Magic Number: 3000. The guitarist is definitely Andre 3000 in disguise.
D’Angelo – Rocky Stage – 5:00 p.m.
D’Angelo has a way of taking articulating his emotions. Sometimes he’ll swing his microphone stand around, throwing and catching it with immaculate timing to let out a pitch perfect scream. Other times, he’ll turn to his custom-engraved guitars to squeal out solos over funk-out tunes, fleshed out by his outrageous backing band. It’s all part of his mythical appeal, though. Even just teasing out three notes of “Unwritten (How Does It Feel?)” sent the crowd to their knees, all salivating for more, as D’Angelo mischievously made them work for the rest of the tune. That’s a power Yeezy can’t even touch. -Michael Zonenashvili
Magic Number: 3. The amount of custom engraved and designed guitars, and amount of babies I’d imagine were conceived during his set.
Passion Pit – Rocky Stage – 6:15 p.m.
With all thats come to light about Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos in the past couple months, it was difficult to know what to expect from the Boston electro outfit. But when Angelakos stepped onto the Rocky Stage in the late-afternoon heat, he was all smiles and bright energy. It was amusing to look out over the crowd and marvel at the bro credibility Passion Pit now carries. I gave up counting the number of lacrosse pennies and tight neon skirts (seriously, who wears that to a music festival?) midway through the second song. Angelakos paced from one side of the stage to the other during newer tracks like Ill Be Alright, goading the packed audience to dance their asses off. After set closer Little Secrets, I couldnt help but overhear the dude standing next to me to say to his girlfriend, Babe, that was the best song of the festival so far. It was hard for me to find an argument to the contrary. -Bryant Kitching
Magic Number: 6. The number of girls on shoulders during Moths Wings.
Dirty Projectors – Liberty Stage – 7:00 p.m.
With minutes to spare, I all but ran over to the Liberty Stage to catch Dirty Projectors following Passion Pits set, worried that I would be stuck way in the back. My concerns proved to be unfounded. To put it bluntly, the crowd at Made In America really didnt care about Dirty Projectors whatsoever. Perhaps it was a case of wrong festival wrong time, but there was something about David Longstreth & co.s jazzy brand of experimental indie rock that just didnt click with the criminally thin audience. In true patriotic fashion, the bands lovely ladies (Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle and Olga Bell) were dressed in semi-matching red and white getups, and their intricate harmonies sounded as strong as ever. Similarly, Longstreths guitar playing was crisp and on point during Just From Chevron, and older cuts like Useful Chamber exploded out of the speakers. As if sensing the vibe of the crowd, the frontman voiced his admiration for both Maybach Music Group and DAngelo mid-way through the short set. -Bryant Kitching
Magic Number: 4. Times I heard someone say, Do you know who band this is?
Miike Snow – Rocky Stage – 7:45 p.m.
I’ll admit, I didn’t pass by the DJ tent a single time this weekend. I saw the pastel lights and droves of fuzzy boots from a comfortable distance, and I think I got the idea. However, when it comes to electronic music outside of the DJ tent, Miike Snow encompassed all I love about the genre on-stage. Full band, real-ass-synths, insane live energy, and ballsy melodramatic reinterpretations of their tracks. “Say You Will” was a strobe-light drenched monster of a song with each iteration of the song title having vocalist Andrew Wyatt on his knees belting out the line. “Silvia” was the standout track, with walls of sound that could’ve eaten Skrillex’s bass for breakfast, and an arrangement that was at least ten minutes long. While I didn’t give their second album much of a chance, and I still don’t think their UFO shaped console in the middle does anything, Miike Snow was more than a pleasant surprise at Made In America, at least enough that people didn’t leave too early to go grab a spot for Skrillex. -Michael Zonenashvili
Magic Number: 5. The amount of times Andrew Wyatt tried to come into the audience but was stopped by his mic cord being too short.
Skrillex – Liberty Stage – 8:30 p.m.
He remixed the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme, in a spaceship, with an image of Nyan-Cat on the screen. All of those things ACTUALLY happened. -Michael Zonenashvili
Magic Number: 1. The amount of times Avicii’s “Levels” was remixed during his set. Comparatively, at Electric Zoo in New York over the weekend, the song is estimated to have been remixed six thousand times.
Jay-Z – Rocky Stage – 9:30 p.m.
For an artist whos been touring for the better part of a year, there was a surprising amount of mystery surrounding Jay-Zs headlining set on Saturday night. The rumor mill had been kicked into high gear in the days leading up to the festival. Would Beyonce join her husband on stage? Would Kanye show up? Would Blue Ivy be brought out in a stroller to rap the last verse of Hola Hovito? Despite one of those being made up, my point is that this wasnt going be just any old Jay-Z set. I mean, the stage had wings for Christs sake.
Even with the bar set ridiculously high, Hova did not disappoint. Roman sculptures were projected onto giant screens as the Brooklyn MC took the stage, indicative of his dominion over the 90,000 strong crowd. This was his festival. This was his moment. The Caesar is speaking, we better listen up. As expected, the setlist mostly stuck to typical greatest hits material like Run This Town, Izzo (H.O.V.A.), and 99 Problems, but deeper cuts like Murder Marcyville (South Philly Niggaz) were nice additions. A Beyonce cameo seemed all but certain as the Spanish guitar riff of 03 Bonnie & Clyde rang out from the speakers. Alas, the queen B never appeared. The real surprise was yet to come.
After walking off stage promptly at 10:30 p.m., Jay-Z declared, You’ve been so good to me, Philadelphia. Now I’ma be good to you! His gift? A concert-within-a-concert, featuring the entire G.O.O.D. Music crew including ringleader Kanye West himself. Jay let Yeezy, Pusha T, Big Sean, Common, and 2 Chainz take the reins for the next few songs, blasting through I Dont Like, New God Flow, and Mercy. Fireballs exploded on stage during Cant Tell Me Nothing, and Cold prompted a not-so-obvious nod to the side of the stage during the line Ill admit that I fell in love with Kim
Jay joined his partner in crime for the last song of the night, Niggas in Paris, donning an ear-to-ear smile, fully aware and proud of his masterful creation. He might as well have been Rocky Balboa himself. -Bryant Kitching
Magic Number: 4. Failed BE-YON-CE! chants started by the group of 19-year-old girls standing next to me.
Sunday, September 2nd
The Hives – Liberty Stage -2:00 p.m.
The moment of realization that I was seeing The Hives in full top hat ridden glory hit at the first measure of “Main Offender”. During my high-school years, I’d always hear their songs and never sleep on the dial long enough to see the Artist/Song Title tag at the end of the music video. Thankfully, subconsciously planted in my brain were the lyrics to “Main Offender”, “Tick Tick Boom”, and the like. It didn’t hurt that they had the best banter of the festival, declaring Philadelphia “New New Sweden” and reminding us that they were not Made In America. The Hives may seem like they’ve gone trite in their tuxedos and top hats, but in fact, it only brings out some extreme juxtaposition of dudes in Top Hats being more raucous than Odd Future. -Michael Zonenashvili
Magic Number: 3. The amount of songs it took before ALL the members had lost their hats.
Santigold – Rocky Stage – 2:45 p.m.
You gotta give it up to Santigold for handling the early-afternoon set like a champ. With her as-always weirdly dressed backing band, and outfits of her own seeming like they were sewn together from the dressing room curtains, she performed a 45 minute set packed with her unmistakable voice and her dancer’s unmistakable booty shaking. Santigold has her aesthetic carefully planned out, in the sense that completely ridiculous and non-sequitur outfit changes and stage-choices are made. For “Hold The Line”, there’s a horse that comes on stage, for “Disparate Youth”, let’s have some umbrellas waving around. Either way, no one can deny that her songs can get people to sway, especially when she invites the crowd up for a dancing contest on stage. -Michael Zonenashvili
Magic Number: 1. The amount of Pearl Jam fans invited on stage to dance (terribly) to “Creator”.
Run D.M.C. – Rocky Stage – 5:45 p.m.
It had been 13 years since Run D.M.C. performed last. Needless to say, a lot has happened in hip-hop since then. Even with over a decade of music to catch up on, the iconic rap groups return to the stage on Sunday evening was pure nostalgic bliss. The crowd full of 40-somethings sang along with vigor I only saw matched during Jay-Zs set the night before. A duo since the passing of Jam Master Jay in 2002, Rev Run and D.M.C. ran through their greatest hits, including classics like My Adidas, Its Tricky, and Kings of Rock. As a tribute to their deceased friend, the set also included a mini DJ set from Jam Master Jays sons, while a banner honoring Jay hung from atop the Rocky Stage. -Bryant Kitching
Magic Number: 65. Pounds Rev Run has gained since the last time Run D.M.C. performed live.
Odd Future – Liberty Stage – 6:30 p.m.
Theres something truly strange about seeing Odd Future immediately after Run D.M.C.. Rarely can you time travel back into the rich history of a genre of music, then fly forward into the future all within a 45-minute stretch. I guess itd be the equivalent of seeing Chuck Berry immediately followed by Animal Collective. One artist so entrenched in the past, the other with their finger on the pulse of the future. I doubt this was intentional on behalf of the folks at the festival in charge of set times, but it was, for lack of a better phrase, quite the trip. Back when I saw Odd Future in March, their stage show was manic to the point of exhaustion. This time around it seemed like they had honed their craft a bit, and their set was better for it. The addition of Earl Sweatshirt into the mix perhaps took some of the pressure off the other members, but crowd pleasers like Yonkers packed a bite not usually felt during a live hip-hop performance. -Bryant Kitching
Magic Number: 16. Average age of the crowd.
Drake – Rocky Stage – 7:15 p.m.
Drakes set on Sunday night was perfect. It was weird then that as I walked away from the Rocky Stage with the final notes of HYFR still ringing in my ears I felt a little unfulfilled. Drizzys smooth as silk stage presence and sensual croon worked brilliantly as the sun set behind a thick layer of clouds. But after the bar had been set so high by Jay and Kanye the night before, your standard set just wasnt gonna cut it, even from an A-lister like Drake. There were no special guest appearances, no surprises, nothing out of the ordinary. Admittedly, its not fair to judge a performance on the fact that the biggest rap star in the world didnt come out to play a few songs, but with the precedent already in place, there was no looking back. To quote a phrase: Im just sayin, you could do better. -Bryant Kitching
Magic Number: 3. Extra shots of Patron taken by Drake after he found out he had to follow Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Pearl Jam – Rocky Stage – 11:000 p.m.
I’ve never been afraid of the internet, except for right now. What I’m about to say might get mobs of Pearl Jam fans finding my address, writing me nasty hate mail, or over-utilizing the comment section of a website. No, I’m not going to say they were bad. On the contrary, they were pretty-darn perfect. They were exactly what I expected out of a Pearl Jam set. The sad news is, I’m just not that big of a Pearl Jam fan.
Don’t get me wrong, Eddie Vedder exudes coolness like no other. The band can play the shit out of their instruments, matching shredding guitar solos to an even-faster version of “Even Flow”. I was able to sing along a bit to “Daughter” and “Jeremy”, but I had a hard time latching onto the Pearl Jam set with the attention it deserved. At first I thought it was a matter of me being too young, Pearl Jam being the same age as I am. Or maybe it’s more related to the fact that I was a fetus when the grunge movement was in full force.
I wanted to love Pearl Jam’s set, because it deserved to be loved. The setlist had a mix of the hits, the covers, and the B-sides. The cover of “Love Reign O’er Me” stole my voice, but in the end, it’s not a Pearl Jam song. It’s unfortunate then that the only thing that stuck with me from the set was the collaboration with Jay-Z for “99 Problems”, making me long for another Jay-Z set akin to the night before, and making me realize I need to write a long apology letter to all the Pearl Jam fans that deserved to be there way more than I did.
In all fairness, that collaboration was really fucking cool. -Michael Zonenashvili
Magic Number: 25,000. Or, about half the size of the audience that left after Drake. Maybe they should apologize to the Pearl Jam crew more than me.
Photographer: Michael Zonenashvili