Almost four months ago, Jay-Z stood at the top of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps and announced that he, along with the help of Budweiser, Live Nation and United Way, would be bringing a brand-new music festival to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Labor Day weekend.
At the time, it seemed like the Made in America Festival was so far away, but after all the hype and high expectations, the two-day extravaganza finally hit Philadelphia Sept. 1 and 2.
Over 76,000 fans attended, and after two unbelievable days of great music for fans of every genre, it’s hard to imagine that anyone might have left there disappointed. In total, 33 acts performed on the festival’s three stages: the Rocky Stage (main stage), the Liberty Stage (for smaller acts) and the Freedom Tent (for electronic artists). As soon as an act finished on the Rocky Stage, the next act began performing on the Liberty Stage. This helped the festival not only stay on time but remain incredibly efficient and entertaining to fans, as there was never a silent moment.
It all began Sept. 1 as Gary Clark Jr. rocked out on the Rocky Stage at the base of the art museum’s legendary steps. He was then followed up by Maybach Music Group, which included performances from Rick Ross, Wale and Meek Mill. The three stars, along with the two up-and-comers on the label, Stalley and Rockie Fresh, performed all of their hits of the past year — there were quite a few. Janelle Monae followed up MMG on the Liberty Stage with her incredible performance, which Jay-Z actually watched from behind the stage. Monae performed for 45 minutes with a full band, all of whom were just as charismatic and entertaining as they danced around stage.
The rhythm-and-blues and hip-hop theme continued with D’Angelo on the Rocky Stage, who also delivered a great performance with a very impressive band. D’Angelo, who had been on a 12-year hiatus, seems to be back in a great place. He sounded great as he wowed fans with his incredibly unique voice.
One of the most memorable moments of the festival for me was Jay Electronica’s performance. He originally was not scheduled to perform, but he told fans he received a phone call from his boss Jay-Z and flew in from London to perform for the fans at the Liberty Stage. At the end of his set, as Jay Electronica performed his most popular song to date, “Exhibit C,” he stopped rapping and jumped into the crowd as he recited the line referring to Philadelphia: “I was on Cecil B, Broad Street, Master, North Philly, South Philly, 23rd, Tasker.” After he finished performing, he dropped the microphone, requested his sandals from the stage and began hugging fans as he made his way through the crowd.
Just moments later, Passion Pit got the fans to jump around for a great, up-tempo set on the Rocky Stage. At this point, I dedicated myself to having the best possible standing position for Jay-Z’s closing set, so I was unable to see Dirty Projectors, Skrillex (who DJ’d out of a spaceship on stage) or Calvin Harris, all of whom performed during the last few hours. Miike Snow followed up Passion Pit with an incredibly unique polygon with the band’s logo in the center. This machine actually housed the band’s synthesizers, pitch modulators and other devices to create an amazing alternative sound. Highlights from Miike Snow’s set included “Pretender” and “Animal,” with the bass hitting harder than anything I’ve ever felt in my life … until Jay-Z performed.
Finally, the clock struck 9:30 p.m., the stage lights faded to black, and the fans knew it was finally time to see the man who orchestrated the Made in America Festival. As the band began playing “Made in America” from Jay-Z’s album with Kanye West, “Watch The Throne,” Jay-Z began walking down the Rocky steps and onto the main stage. His first song was “Public Service Announcement,” which was followed up by just that: a pre-recorded message from President Barack Obama. As if that cameo wasn’t enough, Jay went on to bring out his former Roc-A-Fella Record affiliates: Memphis Bleek, Young Chris, Neef and Freeway, the latter three of whom are from Philadelphia. He went on to perform hit after hit, including “Big Pimpin’,” “99 Problems” and “Empire State of Mind.”
After just one hour, Jay-Z finished performing “Encore” and left the stage. As a song request, the crowd began chanting “Hova,” but still nothing from Jay until a few minutes later, when he finally spoke to the crowd. He said, “Since you were so good to me, Philly, I’m going to be good to you tonight.” At that moment, Pusha T emerged onstage to “I Don’t Like,” G.O.O.D. Music’s cover of the Chief Keef single. Shortly thereafter, Kanye West and Big Sean appeared and joined Pusha for a 30-minute surprise set. Later on, Common joined for “The Light,” 2 Chainz joined for “Mercy,” and Jay-Z re-emerged to close day 1 of the festival with Kanye West for their chart-topping single, “Ni–as in Paris.” To say the least, this was the highlight of Made in America, but Jay-Z had more tricks up his sleeve for day 2.
While the weather topped 92 degrees on Saturday, it was a bit cooler on Sunday despite the humidity. Fortunately for all fans in attendance, the rain never reached more than a drizzle. Day 2 began with Santigold on the Rocky Stage, The Hives from Sweden (one of the most impressive performers of the festival), and Philadelphia’s own Jill Scott.
One of the highlights from day 2 was the return of Run DMC, who performed all of their classic hits, including “It’s Tricky,” which everyone in the crowd sang along to, including the girl in front of me who kept bumping into me repeatedly as she danced awkwardly. The legends of hip-hop were followed by the newest crew to make it big, Odd Future, who performed with more energy than anyone at Made in America. Led by Tyler, The Creator, the group ran through songs by each member of the group, including Earl Sweatshirt, who joined the rest of the crew halfway through the set.
Drake hit the Rocky Stage next and performed a shortened version of his set from the Club Paradise Tour, which came through Camden, N.J., earlier this summer. As he did on his tour, he brought out 2 Chainz for “No Lie” and French Montana for “Pop That,” two of the top urban singles in the country right now. Constantly throughout Drake’s set, he kept asking the fans if they were ready for Pearl Jam, and you could tell during his awkward performance of “Trust Issues” that they were.
Afrojack, the final electronic act of the night, began his set before Drake and continued on for 30 minutes after, as the noise from the tent did not leak out to the other two stages. With outrageous lights, beats, and a mass of people jammed inside with more flooding out and down the hill, the electronic star created a mindblowing rave in the Freedom Tent.
At 8:56 p.m., after X finished performing on the Liberty Stage, Pearl Jam took the stage as the light rain began once again. Eddie Vedder and company performed for two full hours, the longest set of the festival, and made comments throughout their set regarding issues we currently face in America. After the rock icons performed their arsenal of legendary songs, Jay-Z joined them onstage for a performance of “99 Problems” to bring Made in America to an end.
After months of anticipation, it’s safe to say that Made in America lived up to hype and then some. The setup was incredibly well done and spaced, the lineup was amazing, and the surprise guests put the monumental event over the top. For years to come, Made in America will be one of the most anticipated festivals in the United States and will be an experience that Philadelphians and music fans across the country will not want to miss.