The city of brotherly love lived up to its reputation this past weekend when it hosted the Made in America music festival. This blogger had never been to a festival before, so when I found out that I wouldn’t have to road trip to the middle of America to attend one, I jumped at the opportunity. Especially considering that the likes of Jay-Z, Pearl Jam, Skrillex, Miike Snow, Passion Pit, Janelle Monae, and Run DMC would all be in attendance, it wasn’t hard to put the money down for a ticket.
The festival layout itself was deftly managed, with one stage in viewing distance of the other. With such a setup, one could jockey into position in front of the main stage (the Rocky Stage) to see one act, but still be hear a different set being performed on the second stage (the Liberty Stage). This came in handy when it came to some of the bigger acts, as attendance increased throughout the day in anticipation of the headliners.
The headliners themselves did not disappoint. Saturday was Jay-Z’s night, bringing the crowd to a near-fervor as the festival organizer took his own main stage. Listening, I was surprised by how many songs of the mogul I remembered and enjoyed. In my mind, Jay-Z isn’t so much of a musician anymore as he is a businessman and icon, so to watch him take the mic and conduct the crowd with such ease was pretty exhilarating. The crowd predictably erupted when guests Kanye West, Pusha T, Big Sean, and Common joined him on the stage to finish out the first night.
The second big event of the festival was the seminal rock group Pearl Jam taking the main stage Sunday night. The seasoned group tore through a two-hour set that included “Even Flow” and “Betterman”, and even teamed up with Jay Z for a grunge and flannel version of the rapper’s hit “99 Problems”. While the two acts may seem a dubious pair, they proved deft enough musicians to pull the combo off with aplomb.
The two other acts that demanded attention were again a day apart, with Janelle Monae taking the Liberty Stage and Run DMC the next day on the Rocky. I admit to being biased, as Ms. Monae is one of my favorite new artists, but I believe her to have given the best performance of the weekend. With a combination of near perfect vocals and infectious energy, she put on an overwhelming enjoyable show (literally, a girl passed out next to me during this performance. Whether it was actually from the set or not is up for debate, but, hey, it was crazy to witness).
And while they were admittedly before my time, Run DMC tore up the Rocky Stage on Sunday. In their first performance since the tragic loss of their third member, Jam Master Jay, the duo obviously relished the chance to be in front of a crowd. Rev. Run exclaimed, “Oh I missed this” multiple times throughout the set. “Tricky” may be one of the best rap songs ever.
However, with a lineup this eclectic, some acts were bound to fall short of others. Passion Pit gave an underwhelming, straightforward take on their material. Skrillex was named as one of the big names at the show, but his set was so one-note and aggressive that it was almost a blessing to hear him wrap up.
Despite these and other unavoidable shortcomings (painfully long lines, overpriced food and drink) the festival was a success. With a documentary on the weekend already going into edit, directed by Ron Howard no less, the Made in America fever will likely continue. After attending this, the first year of the festival, I’m certainly looking forward to the next iteration. Hopefully they’ll be able to keep the lineup as exciting as this past weekend’s.
But considering that Jay Z had a personalized message from Barack Obama in the middle of his set urging viewers to register for the election, I have a feeling the headliner won’t have much trouble getting whoever he wants for year two.