Now in its fourth year, Budweiser’s just-passed Philadelphia Made in America festival felt bigger than ever. The city has been abuzz—freaking out even—over preparations surrounding the Pope’s planned visit later this month, but Jay Z’s annual blowout has officially hit its stride.
Some 70,000 people descended on Philly’s Ben Franklin Parkway on both days of the festival, and while Beyonce served up the most obvious draw, the second night confirmed The Weeknd as a legitimate star unto himself.
The festival featured more than 60 performers on five stages, and the usually iconic parkway was transformed into a Budweiser-themed, adult-friendly playground. A temporary skate park butted against one stage, an impromptu two-story bar on wheels planted itself in the middle of the four-lane street, and lunch trucks filed either end of the road. (There was even a steeply priced hair-dresser station and pop-up record store in the middle of the grounds.) Beer cost $12 a pop, but the festival smartly kept the price of water down to $3 apiece and, even better, installed water-refilling stations around the festivities.
Earl Sweatshirt hit the Liberty Stage on Saturday in flip-flops and proved his bleak I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside numbers can turn into amped-up crowd favorites. Vic Mensa drew the earliest large crowd, running through his own tracks and then a surprise rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the main stage, ahead of De La Soul shortly after. Meek Mill though was the hometown favorite on Saturday, and his set not only featured his own hits but a handful of Nicki Minaj’s, who popped out on cue for the summer’s largest couple collaboration, “All Eyes On You.” Nicki might have played second fiddle to Meek’s young son Dee though, who came out on stage looking a little shocked by the crowd but confidently ran through dances like the nae nae, stanky leg, and more at his dad’s request. (After Meek’s set, reports hit the Internet that he had dissed Future during his performance, but in-the-moment the incident seemed more like a friendly jab making light of his success than anything else.)
Beyonce showed out in full force on the first evening though the Modest Mouse set directly preceding her performance forced an awkward transition. Beyonce doubled down on her trademark “run the world” dominance and raunch-free sex appeal and even played a portion of MMA fighter Ronda Rousey’s instantly-famous “do-nothing b*tch” speech early on. (Bey’s performance deserves its own recap, which we’ve got right here.) Beyonce’s shows, orchestrated to a tee and larger than life, rarely allow impromptu breaks in programming, but here she let out a fitting off-the-cuff quip to the roaring crowd: “Stunt on me.”
Day two brought out a more excited afternoon crowd for a string of hip-hop acts. Fabolous, who warmed up the crowd with an introduction video courtesy of hometown favorite Kevin Hart, ran through immediately recognizable hits like “Holla Back” and his latest single “She Wildin’,” sharing a verse or two each before launching into the next. The comparatively older crowd savored early 2000’s Philly bangers from the Young Gunz and Freeway, reliable guest appearances that curried Fab the ultimate send off.
A few hours later Future’s performance on the same stage didn’t need an assist for similar excitement. With DJ Esco’s support behind the boards, at least a dozen or so of Future’s tracks sparked in-time chants from the crowd: “I serve the base!”, “F*ck up some commas!”, “God blessin’ all the trap n****s”, ultimate proof of his knack for catchy anthems and his months-long grip on the national conscious. (He veered away from his Dirty Sprite 2 and recent mixtape hitlist for his final number and biggest collaboration to date, “Good Kush & Alcohol.”)
Later, a trio of performances from Big Sean, J. Cole, and The Weeknd proved to be the most smartly orchestrated sequence of the festival, a momentum-builder to the end. J. Cole ran through much of his just-turned platinum album 2014 Forest Hills Drive but dipped back into his come-up catalog, asking the audience if there were any “day one” fans before skipping through tracks like “Lights Please.” His more recent hits garnered louder singalongs, and even the few years between his initial mixtapes and more recent success splits his audience into separate age brackets.
The Weeknd closed out the festival to an apparently sparser crowd than Beyonce’s, but his control of the stage proved his star power all the same. The set was also one of the Canadian singer’s first as a bonafide star—he just earned a career-first #1 album—and his recent hits “Often,” “Earned It,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” and “The Hills” were held off until the end, his familiar musical crescendos fitting into a larger buildup. (Early on he performed a new staple: a brooding cover of Beyonce’s “Drunk In Love” that he’s successfully made his own.)
The festival’s shortcomings were symptomatic of the volume instead of cases of poor planning or infrastructure breakdown. The first time I saw the dust was near the EDM-heavy Tidal stage, where dancers had beaten down grass and began kicking up dirt. You could taste it. By the second day, much of the festival was shrouded in the stuff; well-prepared guests tied and held handkerchiefs to our faces, others wore legitimate dust masks. But festivals are dirty, and while Made In America has a corporate polish throughout, it’s nice to know there’s still a little grit involved.
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