All We Got: Day 2 at Made In America

Featured Image + photos courtesy of Derek Brad Photography

There was as much to be excited about as there was to dread heading into day two of Made In America. As previously mentioned, I hadn’t attended the Jay-Z curated music festival before this year but, after the first day, it had more than lived up to its reputation. There were great performances from this year’s line-up with plenty more to look forward to on Day 2. Of course, it was difficult to ignore the segment of the crowd who was rolling in squad deep with their blunts in the air.

I hadn’t forgotten that I was there to cover the festival and, when I wasn’t enjoying the music, I was observing the crowd from stage to stage between sets. If people weren’t waiting in line for the countless food trucks, tall boys of beer, or branded merch from Tidal or festival sponsor Budweiser, they were out in the street hollering at stragglers and strangers alike. Throughout both days, I would encounter underage college freshmen (easily identified by the lack of 21+ wristbands) blatantly drinking or smoking weed while squads of on-duty police officers and paramedics patrolled past.

It was shocking to see this behavior enabled to such an extent, but, frankly, it was something that Philly holidays like the Erin Express Bar Crawl have made all too familiar. There were young kids drunkenly swaying along the curbs, passed out under trees and, on more than one occasion, getting carted off by paramedics. But the show goes on and there were more than enough on Day II to be excited about.

Day 2

I had arrived roughly two hours before any of the sets the day before and was in no way interested repeating that decision. The notion of having to tolerate any more drunken displays or random people (usually kids) asking me if I was selling weed, to me, seemed missable (sorry early afternoon bands. I’m sure you were really good).

Banks & Steelz @ Rocky Stage

Paul Banks and RZA (Banks & Steelz) performing at the Rocky Stage

Paul Banks and RZA (Banks & Steelz) performing at the Rocky Stage

I timed my arrival perfectly with the biggest wild card heading into MIA. As I walked over to the Rocky Stage, Banks & Steelz had just taken the stage for their scheduled 30min afternoon slot. A side project featuring Interpol frontman Paul Banks and Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, my curiosity was matched only by my apprehension. The little I had heard from Banks & Steelz (and my extensive knowledge of the duo’s own respective groups) gave me an idea of what to expect, but blending the Post-Punk of Interpol with Wu Tang hip-hop seemed like a strange marriage.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Banks and RZA both made space within the music for both their musical styles. Banks brought his characteristic howl and reverb-soaked guitar, RZA came in with some well-placed verses while peppering in some keys and beats between hyping up the crowd. Banks & Steelz made the most of their all too brief 30 minute set and to see two well-respected artists successfully create something uniquely engaging. Following their set at the nearby Liberty stage was, perhaps, one of the best blues-rock guitarist of our generation.

Gary Clark Jr. @ Liberty Stage

Gary Clark Jr peforming at the Liberty Stage Philadelphia, PA

Gary Clark Jr performing at the Liberty Stage Philadelphia, PA

Thanks to a unforecasted torrential downpour at this year’s Xponential Festival, I missed out on Gary Clark Jr’s headlining set alongside Alabama Shakes at the BB&T Pavilion. I’ve followed Gary Clark since he first debuted The Bright Lights EP and felt he provided MIA with a blues-rock sound that, with the exception of Dorothy, was missing from the other rock bands on the bill.

Gary Clark Jr took to the stage with a casual familiarity, starting his set with a scorching rendition of “Bright Lights”. Clark possesses a rare ability to turn his guitar into an extension of himself, making it roar and purr with his distinctive, thick tone and unreal playing style. In the modern era, it often seems blues-based music is getting outpaced by EDM and R&B/Hip-hop. It’s artists like Clark who remind us that, as long as artists like him continue to make music, Blues-Rock will always have a place in popular music.

Kevin Garrett @ Tidal Stage

Kevin Garrett performing at the Tidal Stage

Kevin Garrett performing at the Tidal Stage

I stuck around for as much of Gary Clark Jr’s set as I could, but eventually left to catch the end of rising PBR&B artist Kevin Garrett’s set. Kicking it at the Tidal Rising stage, Garrett carried himself with a light-hearted sense of self-deprecation that proved to be extremely endearing. I’m somewhat biased as Garrett is a fellow Pittsburgher and, therefore, will always rep his music (it’s the same reason why I still count myself as a Mac Miller fan. Hype for that new record!). But even beyond that, Garrett found a way to translate and expand on the minimalist approach to R&B that he exhibits on his records, living up to the immense amount of hype he’s managed to cultivate since releasing last year’s Coloring.


Sir The Baptist
@ Tidal Stage

The Baptist (C) performs at the Tidal Stage (Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch)

Sir The Baptist (C) performs at the Tidal Stage (Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch)

After Garrett wrapped up, I decided to stick around the Tidal Stage to catch the following set featuring Sir The Baptist. Seeking a seasoned perspective on how the festival was moving so far, I managed to stop some on-duty police officers to get their read on how this year’s Festival fared compared to previous runs.

Despite what I had observed of MIA thus far, Officer William Jones and Greg Neal both felt that it was much more “orchestrated” than it had been in the past.

“Everything is much more in-line,” said Officer Jones. “There’s much less violence this year and a lot more diversity compared to other years I’ve worked.”

Admittedly, my harsh criticism of the festival thus far belies the overall secure and, most surprising, orderly vibe MIA had achieved. The very fact that the teens and young college students in attendance could safely wander about the festival grounds unfettered and at ease is a difficult task for any major event. It’s the kind of accomplishment that typically goes unappreciated until something goes wrong. Rather than busting up crowds for this, that or the other, officers did their best to maintain order through their presence along, only occasionally stopping underage attendees to make them pour out their beers or snuff out their joints.

My attention was drawn back to the Tidal Stage as Sir The Baptist’s band, ChurchPeople, called out to pump up the crowd before their frontman charged up to the stage. The Chicago native’s “Ghetto Gospel” spitfire reminded me of the zealous vigor that made Little Richard a legend in Rock n Roll, particularly his fiery performance on his hit single “Raise Hell”. I didn’t get the chance to see many of the Tidal Stage artists the previous day, but was becoming more impressed with the talent that was being showcased there.

Kevin Devine @ Skate Stage

Photo by Derek Brad Photography

Photo by Derek Brad Photography

Day one of MIA held the only schedule conflict between A$AP Ferg and Anna Lunoe. Sir The Baptist’s church-inspired fervor was so captivating, though, I almost missed out on Brooklyn Indie Rocker Kevin Devine’s set. Thankfully, Devine was hanging at the Skate Stage (a short walk away from Tidal) and, truthfully, I just wanted to sit back and enjoy the wonderful juxtaposition of Punk Rock and skateboarding.

Devine was quick to thank the skaters, though confessed his own ametuer status while he tuned up. “I tried to learn at 27,” he said. “and I fell, hurt my hip, then immediately quit because I don’t have health insurance.”

It was an upbeat performance that included a sneak peek at his upcoming new record, Instigator, playing its new single, “No History” and yet-to-be released track “Magic Magnet”. Maybe it was where he was performing, but I suddenly was overcome with the urge to call up my buds for a spirited round of Tony Hawk Pro Skater.

Edward Sharpe & Flat White 

Festival goers line up for food and drinks between performances

Festival goers line up for food and drinks between performances

I left Kevin Devine and went to check out what was happening at the other stages. The Rocky Stage was pumping out some kind of tunes, but, because of the music emanating from the nearby stages, I couldn’t make out who was performing.

Unfortunately, the only performer up at that point was Edward Sharpe and his Magnetic Zeros. I’ve made no attempt to hide an eternal, burning dislike of Alex Ebert’s generic brand of hippie rock and, suffice it to say, I had very little interested in sticking around for a whole set. Instead, I decided to turn back to see what was happening at the Freedom Stage.

Things got off to a poor start when, as I was approaching the EDM stage, tides of people singing “Wonderwall” by Oasis began pass me by. Much to my dismay, Chicago DJ Flat White was literally playing the Oasis classic straight-up with no electronic elaborations.

Huge festival party foul. I sidestepped past a crew of skateboarders making their way up the crowded parkway, tiptoed past pot circles, and eventually got back to the area near the skate stage.

The line of tents that stretched out in front of the Skate stage caught my eye and decided to check it out. The “Cause Village”, as it had been named, featured a number of charitable organizations such as the Animal Care & Control Team (ACCT) of Philadelphia, Jay Z’s own Shawn Carter Foundation, the Philadelphia Urban Creators, and many more. It was considerate to have made accommodations for these organizations. Their impact, however, was likely mitigated by the minute attention span of most of the people in attendance.

-Break- @ The Media Tent

RZA and Paul Banks hanging near the Press Tent (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch)

RZA and Paul Banks hanging near the Press Tent (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch)

I could still audibly make out everything DJ Khaled was exuberantly shouting from the nearby Rocky Stage as I moved back to the media tent to recharge.

“They said I couldn’t tour with Beyoncé! So I toured with Beyoncé!!!” He called out boastfully.

I wasn’t in the mood for his usual “Keys to Success” rant, probably because of the novelty foam Keys to Success that were brandished in front of me on multiple occasions. I needed the break anyway. What was supposed to be an overcast or rainy weekend turned out to be pleasantly sunny throughout, which is why the area in front of the museum had become an absolute dustbowl.

Once I had purged what I hoped was the last of the dust from my sinus cavity and grabbed a drink, I decided to head back out to talk to more people about the festival. My nose was in my notebook writing down some thought when glanced back up. Standing before me was RZA and Paul Banks!

My heart stopped and somehow avoided embarrassing myself as I passed by. Admittedly, there was a brief moment of mild fanboy behavior before they rolled back to the artist area, but I think I avoided being too off-putting….

I think.

Lil Yachty @ Tidal Stage

Lil Yachty at the Tidal Stage

Lil Yachty at the Tidal Stage

Probably the most difficult thing to deal with as a young adult is trying to avoid comparing your career (or lack thereof) to individuals that are already earning their own respect and recognition.

Such is the case for 19 year-old Atlanta Rapper, Lil Yachty, a burgeoning young star in the new generation of Rap music. Yachty’s latest mixtape Lil Boat, released earlier this year as a joint venture with Capital and Motown Records, and collaborations with Rappers like Chance and Lil Uzi Vert have generated plenty of buzz about the rapper, enough to warrant a spot on the Tidal Stage among the other promising up-and-comers.

“I need to see at least four mosh pits,” Yachty shouted out. “I need to see at least… seven mosh pits…. 10 mosh pits!” The crowd was all too eager to please as Yachty commanded the camera to show the multiple mosh pits he had orchestrated and dove into fan favorite “Minnesota”. Like Lil Uzi, Yachty takes on a sinfully playful manner onstage that inspires his fans to absolutely lose it.

Travi$ Scott @ Liberty Stage

Travi$ Scott at the Liberty Stage

Travi$ Scott at the Liberty Stage

There’s not a lot that could have prepared me for Travi$ Scott’s performance. The stage was Terminator-themed with cyberpunk looking cactuses (yeah, I’m still not sure how else to describe them) and giant face that was split between a Terminator’s and Scott’s. It was a jarring tableau that established the tone for the show.

Scott had a lot of momentum heading into MIA, as he was preparing to release his latest album Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight and was riding high off his monster hit, “Antidote”.

“I came here to do one thing, and one thing only: To turn the fuck up!” he declared.

Scott kept his word and pumped his set full of hits, Kanye collabs, and a special surprise for the diehard fans. He announced that anyone who bought Birds in the Trap when it debuted could also select one of the 60 (yes, 60) new merch items that would become available on his store the next day.

“I’m launching a 60-piece merch collection,” he said. “Buy [Bird In The Cage Sings McKnight], you get any piece of merch you want for free. That means pillows, motherfuckin’ comforters, tees, hoodies, jackets, do-rags, socks, underwear, condoms, toilet tissue, toothbrush…”

It was probably one of the smartest ideas for a merch/album rollout that I’ve seen recently.

Still, nothing tops watching Scott climb a tree during his performance of “3500”

FKA Twigs @ Liberty Stage

FKA Twigs performing at the Liberty Stage

FKA Twigs performing at the Liberty Stage

The sun was finally setting, casting a rosy glow over festival as eager fans began to mill in for the final performances of the evening. At least, that’s what I imagined what was happening since my eyes were so filled with dust at that point that tears were streaming down my face (and it wasn’t even because Coldplay was playing “Fix You”). It had gotten to a point where I had to waste precious water rinsing out my eyes, but I was still incredibly excited to catch FKA Twigs.

The former dancer turned R&B singer/songwriter was fearlesly sensational, seizing command over the MIA crowd the minute she stepped onto the stage. Twigs was like the Queen of a dystopian society dreamed up by David Bowie, leading her legion of dancers who, occasionally, also filled in as her backing band. The sparse design of the stage allowed Twigs to maintain the focus on her, and she was more than up to the challenge.

Chance The Rapper @ Rocky Stage

Chance The Rapper performing at the Rocky Stage

There aren’t many records that evoke the same memories as Acid Rap. Chance has long been a favorite among the new generation of Rappers, not just for his music, but because of the triumphant exuberance he emits on every track (see: his verse on “Ultralight Beam” off Kanye’s The Life of Pablo). There are few artists who manage to maintain the same level of independence from record labels that Chance has, even fewer who have since the start of their career. The prophetic release of Chance 3, aka Coloring Book, this year broke the the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 and led the Grammy’s to change their rules regarding “mixtapes”. In other words, it’s been a good year for Chance The Rapper.

The excitement was palpable and nothing, not even the horrendous humans unironically chanting “USA!” Before the show, could diminish the thrill of finally catching Chance live. A roar erupted from the crowd as Chance appear from backstage with Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment following close behind. The set covered tracks from across his career, everything from “Cocoa Butter Kisses”, “No Problem”, “Favorite Song”, “Summer Friends”, even a fiery rendition of “Ultralight Beam”.

The Internet has already spoiled Chance’s special birthday surprise for his Auntie ‘yoncé, but it was still a pretty damn cute display of affection from the Acid Rapper.

Photo by Derek Brad Photography

The night was filled with plenty more surprises, though, including an appearance from Lil Yachty for his track from Coloring Book “Mixtape”, a cameo from 76ers center Jahlil Okafor, and a rare festival encore to cap it all off.

There weren’t any balloons, but Bill Clinton seemed just as stoked about Chance as the rest of us were.

Photo by Derek Brad Photography

Photo by Derek Brad Photography

Coldplay @ Rock Stage

Coldplay performs at the Rocky Stage on Day 2 of Made In America 2016

photo by Derek Brad Photography

The last time I had seen Coldplay was back in November 2008 on tour behind Viva La Vida, a time before sinful collaborations with Avicii or “conscious uncouplings”. Eight years and three albums later, however, my enthusiasm for Chris Martin & Co has waned a great deal. Many can (and probably do) disagree, I think the best days are likely behind the band. To be fair, I didn’t listen to much of their latest album, so I held on to the slimmest hope that

I managed to grab the highly touted glowing wristbands that Coldplay have introduced into their live shows. Except, “found” is more appropriate since I came in through the media tent and, therefore, missed out on getting a wristband at the entrance like the rest of the crowd. Thankfully, some elated festival goer must have thrown it during one of the other shows (You know, so the performer could see how lit he thought the show was). I caught many strapping on theirs after similarly scooping it ground, so clearly I wasn’t the only one who lacked shame.

Right off the bat, Coldplay lost me when they signaled the start of the show by playing an aria from an opera, the exact name of which I failed to Shazam, before turning down the lights and filing in while a short clip containing some carpe diem-type monologue. I glanced over and noticed a woman seated up on the nearby fence passionately singing along with Chris Martin behind tears. For the briefest moment, I swear she may she must have soul bonded with the frontman.

I was kind of shocked that “Yellow” came fairly early into the set, but became distracted trying to decide if the wristbands were actually glowing yellow or green.

So much for theatrics.

There’s no denying the growth from Coldplay’s respective members, particularly their incredibly underrated bassist, Guy Berryman. Martin has always been an incredible vocalist and classically trains pianist, but there was no denying he’s improved his overall control and sustain over his voice.

Sadly, I waited in vain for classics like the epic A Rush of Blood To the Head opener “Politik” or the chilling “Spies” from Parachutes. Instead, they leaned more towards the music from later on in their career, even performing the verse/chorus of Ghost Stories‘ second single “Midnight”.

“We got one more slow one and then a couple fast ones for you!” chirped Martin from his keyboard as he performed their latest feelgood anthem “Everglow”.

Coldplay has fast songs? Multiple fast songs? I thought jokingly.

Martin revealed that this was their final stop on their Head Full of Dreams tour, adding that it might be the last for a while. The honest truth about Coldplay is that they are still put on a wildly entertaining live show and possess enough talent collectively to remain among the biggest names in Rock. The simply need to stop settling for what’s popular and go back to constantly trying to sound like The Bends and OK Computer.

So how was Budweiser’s Made In America in 2016?

I may have griped a fair deal on the audience but, in truth, there was nothing too completely intolerable about how the weekend played out. The lineup was spectacular, the stages each represented a unique genre or culture that added to the performances, and, most importantly, maintained a safe, secure space in Center City Philadelphia.

I will say that there were many missed opportunities for surprise onstage collaborations. Is anyone else wondering why no one wondered why Rihanna and Coldplay, the two main headliners of the festival, didn’t team up to perform “Princess of China”? How about Chance’s “No Problem” being performed on two separate days by two different acts (Collegrove performed it themselves without Chance the night before)?

I spoke with people who worked at the Hahnemann Hospital during MIA weekend who reported dozens of overdoses and stomach pumpings stemming from the festival. However, the fights and other incidents were down from previous years and, even when things got crazy (e.g. Jay Electronica, fans climbing lamp posts, etc), there was never a moment where everything seemed out of control.

Perhaps this is how large-scale, urban music festivals begin: focusing on creating an experience, adapting it each year, and ensuring that, above all else, the lineup represents what’s happening in music. When it comes down to it, Made In America is a very young festival and has made bold moves to put itself in the same conversation as Lollapalooza or Governor’s Ball. In 2014, they became the first multi-day festival stage two simultaneous shows on opposite sides of the country (here and in LA’s Grand Park). After 2014, however, MIA announced they would not attempt a repeat of the LA/Philly experiment after the LA site suffered a number of setbacks and criticisms.

Just like most things in life, you make the most of what you are given.

Did America’s Made In America (#rebrand) offer a solid, cohesive lineup of artists?

Yes.

Did the heavy amount of corporate sponsors have a negative impact on America’s Made In America?

Not particularly.

Did the crowd live up to its ?

Kind of, but only if you can’t find a way to ignore a herd of bros, people shoving past you to get closer to the stage, or the occasional tearful bickering between couples then you probably have it out for your fellow man anyway.

When the dust (literally) settled, Mayor Michael Nutter told reporters that Made In America generated an estimated $10 million in revenue for Philadelphia, a solid return when combined with the estimated $180 million netted regionally from the DNC. That’s not bad considering the city lost millions during Pope Week 2015.

I noticed a few Coldplay wristbands floating in the Schuylkill River as I crossed the Spring Garden Bridge on my way back to West Philly, still glowing resiliently in the murky waters. It was quite an ambitious festival that gave me the opportunity to catch a number of incredible artists, some for the first time. America’s Made In America 2016 was certainly a weekend to remember.

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