Made In America Festival – Benjamin Franklin Parkway – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – September 5 & 6, 2015
Labor Day weekend, Jay-Z’s Made In America Music Festival returned to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia for its fourth annual celebration, highlighting the biggest names in the music business. Unlike last year (which was beset and even temporarily shut down by storms), both Saturday and Sunday offered breezy, warm days. This stayed true to Philadelphia’s always sunny reputation and allowed all 140,000 festival goers to enjoy their last summer days at the sold-out event.
Made In America did not make a bi-coastal appearance in L.A as it did in 2014, but remained in its hometown of Philadelphia for music-lovers and partygoers alike to frolic and mingle about. The whole scene was a sight to see — the multiple music stages, thousands upon thousands of people crowded in front of the famous Philly Art Museum.
A quick scan of the crowd would reveal a population as patriotic as ever, showing more college kids adorned in red, white, and blue than on the fourth of July. There are very few things I was certain of, as last year’s shows offered plenty of surprises, but I did know that I, and all others in attendance, would be talking about these two days for the rest of year.
Saturday was kicked off with two rock performances; the first being Young Rising Sons, followed by England’s newest phenomenon The Struts. “Let’s get this thing started, Philly” said Andy Tongren, the lead singer of Young Rising Sons after their first song. The quartet was just what the festival needed as its premiere performance: easy going, but with high energy.
What came next, however, demanded everyone’s full attention. The Struts’ fast-paced show drew an enormous crowd — which was surprising so early into the day. Both thirty minute sets placed high standards for the nearly two dozen big-name stars to follow. Only an hour into the festival, people were flaunting their euphoria as they danced in the streets and sang along to songs, regardless of whether they knew the words or not.
Earl Sweatshirt was the first rap act of the weekend. He showed great enthusiasm, even telling the crowd that they weren’t hype enough for him. He strolled onto Liberty stage wearing merely basketball shorts, a blue t-shirt, his backstage pass, and that famous paradox of an attitude where he shows excitement while simultaneously staying cool as a cucumber. It works for him, as the audience was paralleling his energy only a few songs into the performance.
Up next was Vic Mensa on the Rocky Stage, and boy, did he put on a show. From start to finish, Mensa, who even crowd surfed at one point, had the audience going wild. For someone who doesn’t even have an album, the way he worked the crowd was nothing short of impressive. Mensa worked his way through various solo tracks, as well as crowd pleasers such as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Kanye West’s “All Day.” He was Made In America’s perfect dose of crazy for Saturday’s line up.
Subsequently, De La Soul and G-Eazy kept on top of things and made sure to keep the energy high and in-your-face. The moment G-Eazy graced Liberty stage, it was as if every girl out of all 140,000 in attendance lost their mind. The well-groomed rap artist delivered a wide and appealing range of rhythms, singing songs that varied from old to new.
De La Soul, however, played 80’s hip-hop gems, including the likes of “Me, Myself, and I” and “Potholes In My Lawn.” All hands were up in the air and every head in the surrounding area was bumping along to the funky beats. The trio has been getting crowds in the groove since before most of those in attendance were even born, and they completely embraced that fact as they kept on with timeless hits everyone knew the words to.
Next in line was Meek Mill, and it was to be perhaps the most… interesting… set of the festival. It was a strange myriad of mostly other people’s songs that he had his DJ play as he took videos of the crowd and himself for instagram. A song or two of his were thrown in there, but before anyone could get into it, his son made the first guest appearance of the day. The crowd broke out into a synchronized “aww” as he entered center stage, then everyone gave out a “woah” as the little boy broke out dancing better than most adults could. Shortly thereafter, Meek Mill had his DJ hit the crowd with a few specially selected Nicki Minaj songs, which lead to an appearance from Her Majesty herself. Though short lived, Minaj’s time on stage was definitely the most interesting part of Meek’s set, as she joined him on singing “All Eyes On You” to shut things down.
Breaking the streak of rappers, Nick Jonas took his audience by storm over at the Liberty stage. Wearing a pair of blacked out shades and a cool leather jacket, he had a suave attitude that clearly made all the ladies — and even a few guy — swoon. While playing his biggest hits, including “Chains” and “Jealous,” Jonas’s set featured some unexpected covers; one even being on the acoustic guitar. Not to worry though, right after his acoustic song he busted out a bottle of hard liquor and took a pretty stealth shot of it. Nick Jonas was confident and demanding of attention as he busted out full-throttle vocals that took everyone’s breath away.
Following were Death Cab For Cutie and Modest Mouse, the first twilight acts of the festival. Both were very equal in the fact that they let the music speak for itself, and were not inherently energetic. Not to say that the performances weren’t good — they were fantastic — but they provided more relaxed, intimate vibes than all of the previous sets. Perhaps they were the calm before the storm? Both bands played songs that flaunted their remarkable instrumental talent; a great example of this being when Death Cab performed a full version of their song “Transatlanticism,” an eight minute song composed mostly of instrumental riffs. It was refreshing to see that the size of the crowd did not, at all, change the level of their integrity. The same goes for Modest Mouse, who dropped one or two impressive violin solos.
Next on the menu: Bassnectar. It was the first major EDM set of the festival, and needless to say, people went crazy. His fans, who call themselves bassheads, could be seen headbanging all throughout the mass of people. It was pretty easy to tell the difference between the normal festival goers and bassheads, as they typically fit a more grungy, hippy-like aesthetic — and the fact that they had head banging down to a science. Bassnectar dropped some of the hardest, filthiest beats of the entire weekend and left the crowd without words. Everyone was beyond excited for Beyonce and all 140,000 people had reached full party mode. Bassnectar kept the drops coming for an entire hour, even playing a rendition of a famous Lion King song.
At last… 10:30 arrived and it was Beyonce time. All the hours of anticipation had led up to this single moment of seeing the Queen herself grace the stage. Once everyone had made it to the Rocky stage — and I mean everyone — the crowd broke out into a recital of the happy birthday song, as Ms. Carter had turned 34 the day before. Shortly after, the opening music for her 50 Shades Of Grey remix of “Crazy In Love” began to play and the screams were some of the loudest I have ever heard. Then, there she was, standing tall and standing proud among her backup dancers. It was as if a goddess had appeared and suddenly everyone knew that it was going to be 90 straight minutes of hit songs and losing their mind.
Queen B got right to it with 2001’s “Bootylicious” and taught twerk 101 while playing a few Destiny’s Child tracks and Lil Ronny MothaF’s “Circle.” There was no time wasted as she was shaking what her mama gave her minutes into the set — and no one was complaining.
Beyonce hadn’t performed in nearly a year and took full advantage of the fact as she dropped “Crazy In Love” without the festival’s forefather Jay-Z and even played a Nicki-Minaj-free “Feeling Myself” three times in a row. It became painfully clear that the queen was embracing her stage time and absolutely no one was stealing her spotlight. Again, no one was complaining.
About halfway into the set, though, Bey hit everyone with a triple threat of emotion and not even the coldest of hearts could withstand “XO,” “Halo,” and the tear-jerker “1+1.” Not to worry, she got everyone dancing again with “Grown Woman,” “Love On Top,” and “Single Ladies.” A strong feminist spoken-word interlude and a few more hits later, she made it a point to state how happy she was that she got to spend her birthday with all of Made In America’s attendees before saying farewell. No one wanted to accept the fact that the 90 minute almost-too-good-to-be-true set was over, but the PA announcer quickly put an end to any dreams of things continuing. It was just past 12 a.m on the Parkway and day one had officially come to an end.
The celebration kept on with day two. The festival was kicked off with Saint Motel over at the Liberty Stage. Luckily, things weren’t nearly as hectic as Saturday was for the first hour or so. It was evident some of the music lovers that had what some would call “a little bit too much fun” stayed home and those who did return were clearly drowsy. It was early in the day and things were off to a slower, more relaxed start — in the best way possible. It was good vibes all around as everyone savored moments of the festival’s last day. Not to anyone’s surprise, however, the day ended up being packed full with more in-your-face rap, spunky pop, and enough memories to last till next year.
Halsey was first to show up on the Rocky stage since Beyonce, and made sure that she didn’t stand in anyone’s shadow. “You guys ready to start this fuckin’ day off?!” she yelled to the crowd, which was teeming with excitement. With a sound that parallels that of Lorde, the blue-haired pop star mostly played songs off of her debut album, Badlands. Her high energy and great crowd interaction flawlessly paved the way for everyone who was to come after her.
Following Halsey were two rap artists, the first of the day. Fabolous and Action Bronson delivered two vastly different performances that meshed impeccably well together. Fabolous got things on a roll with a video of Philly-born comedian Kevin Hart, as if he were giving Fabolous a pep talk on the phone. The roughly five-minute video poked fun at common Philly tropes, including pretzels, muslim oil, and stating “instead of a DJ, you could just have someone with a grill behind you throwing out cheesesteaks as he makes them. The crowd would eat that shit up!” It was clearly just what the audience wanted, as they became more hyped up as the show went on. People simply could not get enough of Fabolous.
As for Mr. Wonderful, he entered Rocky Stage blunt in hand, relaxed as ever. His set included jokes, a feature from Big Body Bes, and enough second hand smoke to give anyone in surrounding areas a happy buzz. Action Bronson has extremely dedicated fans and what I saw during his performance was truly amazing — people nearly reached euphoria. The groups of friends dancing about, reciting nearly every word to his fast-paced raps — it was a sight that could bring a smile to anyone’s face. During Bronsolini set, there wasn’t a worry to be had and he kept throwing out fan-fave after fan-fave with hits like “Actin’ Crazy” and “Baby Blue.” He even took a whole five minutes to flaunt his muscles and run up and down mingling with fans.
It was pretty hard to miss Santigold as she emerged from behind Liberty stage adorned with a larger-than-life orange bow. The 38-year-old singer was all smiles as she opened her set with “You’ll Find A Way” off of her 2008 debut album Santogold. Armed with two dancers in bright yellow bodysuits, she drove the crowd wild with her 2008 breakout record “L.E.S Artistes.” Shortly after, she invited practically anyone on stage (who could get past security) to party with her as she sang “Creator” and a cover of Major Lazer’s “Hold The Line.” Her undeniable stage presence made for a fantastic, action-packed 45 minute set.
The following two hours would the feature two of the biggest names in rap, Big Sean and Future, and everyone’s favorite dark-pop princess Banks. Future took Made In America by storm as he drew the biggest crowd of Sunday, and what looked like the entire weekend, to Liberty Stage. Future, somehow, had all of Made In America’s attendees in full rage mode before it was even 5:30 — and everyone loved it. It was a back and forth of feeding off of energy, as Future was clearly getting increasingly more turnt as the set went on. He even announced a new album that was to come out, and people nearly lost their minds.
Things kept thumping over at Rocky Stage with Big Sean directly afterwards, and boy did he put on a show. The Detroit-native cruised through his discography with ease, dropping big-name songs like “Dance (A$$)”, “Blessings”, and “All Your Fault” before saying farewell with “I Don’t Fuck With You” in an undoubtedly explosive manner. Big Sean left the festival goers out of breath and wanting more.
After Banks, who played Liberty Stage in a gothic, all black ensemble, gave everyone a fair dose of pop, it was back to rap with J. Cole on the main stage. Though The Weeknd was Sunday’s headliner, anyone could have easily mistaken Cole for being the main attraction as he brought out what felt like just as big of a crowd as Beyonce did. His hour-long set was kicked off with a myriad of tracks from his acclaimed 2014 Forest Hills Drive, and even wasn’t afraid to touch on past projects with songs like “Lights Out” from his 2009 The Warm Up mixtape. He continued like a beast, spitting out lyrics to all of his singles until finally closing out with “Power Trip.” J. Cole was one of the only people to re-appear from last year’s Made In America lineup, so I wonder what to expect next year.
Last to grace the Liberty Stage were Axwell & Ingrosso, two-thirds of the now non-existent Swedish House Mafia. With jaw-dropping buildups, mixes of popular artists such as Tove Lo and Ellie Goulding, and a light show accompanied by pyrotechnics, Axwell & Ingrosso’s set was other-wordly. The pair even gave a beautifully worded speech towards the end of their stage time, telling how it’s completely okay to worry and life has it’s own way of sorting things out — It was evident the Swede duo made sure to send good vibes swarming throughout the parkway. After an hour of mind-bending house music, the time for the festivals last set had arrived.
It took about 20 minutes for everyone in attendance to make way towards the main stage but at last, the opening music for “High For This” began to play and the crowd let out an enormous roar. The Weeknd appeared and within hearing only a few notes, it became painfully clear that it was going to be 90 minutes of full-throttle vocals and fantastic dance opportunities. It was a daunting task to stand where Queen B had only 24 hours prior, trying to fill the same shoes, but Abel Tesfaye did it with ease, confidence, and a smile from ear to ear. Fans got the chance to sing along to “Love Me Harder,” “Crew Love,” and his own original spin on “Drunk In Love,” sung with just as much passion as Beyonce had the night before.
A point was made to highlight his nine day old No. 1 album Beauty Behind The Madness, playing songs like “Often” and “Earned It” and even the lesser known “Prisoner” and “Losers.” Whether you were a dedicated fan or only knew The Weeknd for his radio hit singles, the buzzy crowd had reached full potential and everyone was dancing in the streets. But, once again, is was near midnight and The Weeknd parted ways with an extended encore of “Wicked Games” that left the crowds jaws on the floor and even a few emotional.
The stern voice of the PA announcer was heard once again as everyone was told to make way towards the closest exit. It took one more time of being told to go before everyone finally came to terms with the fact that their two days in paradise was, unfortunately, over.
Made In America 2015… Jam packed with impeccable talent, hundreds of memorable moments, and 140,000 music-lovers and party-goers alike. It was two days of pure euphoria that people simply did not want to let go of, for it was not only a goodbye to the festival but summer as well.
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 10, 2015.
Photos copyright ©2015 Sami Speiss and Shana Bergmann.