In its third year, the Budweiser Made in America festival was expected to be a success in Philadelphia. But the sister festival occurring in LA had more room for debate. When Jay Z joined L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on the steps of city hall in April to announce the Los Angeles show, many questions were posed. Could LA pull of this experiment in urban planning and culture building by attracting 50,000 people to a paid event to the young Grand Park, right in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles? The very thought of this was nightmare inducing for any city logistician. But by all accounts, the experiment proved a success.
All around the city, Made in America could be felt. Metro staff was beefed up in order to usher excited concert goers all towards the heart of the city (and it did not help that the first day of the festival was also the season openers for the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins, as well as Hollywood Bowl’s Star Wars symphony). Police officers from both LAPD and the Sheriff’s department could be found on foot, in car, on bike, and Segway. And various colorful characters made up the venue security staff, including one man donning a gray polo that read “Supervisor”, directing the crowd control like the ringleader of a tent show.
While everyday DTLA denizens might have felt massively inconvenienced by the cording off of three major blocks of Downtown, and the Civic Center train station being completely shut down, once inside Grand Park, festival goers could have easily forgotten that they were in LA. The general vibe in the air, compounded by the scorching heat, made the days surreal and dreamlike.Food trucks and beer gardens speckled the park to keep festival goers pumped, whereas vital water stations kept the festival goers alive. And, to ensure that this was more than just a weekend of hedonism (and possibly for Jay Z to stave off more Belafonte-like criticism) concert co-sponsor The United Way had a “Cause Village” that featured important initiatives like the California Endowment’s “Schools Not Prisons” campaign, and LIFT, an organization that combats poverty.
The air ripped with music of every genre. With three stages to prevent even a minute of silence, musicians worked to command their mixed crowds, consisting of hard-core fans and general festival goers. Such homegrown and local acts like Hit Boy, Capital Cities, and YG, as well as those who now claim LA as their home like Steve Aoki were recipients of much hometown love. On the other hand, acts like ZZ Ward and X Ambassadors still gave their all to the crowd, despite the temperatures that swelled deep into the 90s.
As far as soul music goes, it must be said that traditional soul and R&B held little presence at this festival, but its hip-hop descendants were in full effect. As mentioned, YG and Hit Boy were crowd pleasers. DJ Mustard not only spun during YG’s set, but also held a party with Southern fun-raisers Grits and Biscuits. Chance the Rapper continued to make a name for himself as one of the shining stars of hip-hops new guard. And performing separately from her TDE brothers, SZA made this her second weekend in a row performing a major festival (of course, after last week’s Afropunk).
The marquee soulstars for the shows though were of course the rappers of Top Dawg Entertainment on Saturday night, and Yeezus himself on Sunday. With the exception of Isaiah Rashad, this was a massive homecoming for the men of TDE. Isaiah, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy and Kendrick all took to the stage, in that order, with the hype increasing one after the other. Of course, any true TDE fan could not help but to feel mildly disappointed, as the crowd had mostly turned out in full for King Kendrick, which the other members of the crew might have felt. Nonetheless, TDE made their presence known with producer Ali sending bone rattling bass out into the audience, and the rappers spitting their lyrical genius all over the place.
Kanye, who played both the Philly and LA shows, was the final act on Sunday night. Though starting half an hour late due to a set change, Yeezy was ever much his magnanimous self. Opening with a very mean “Black Skinheads” and mostly performing hits from Yeezus and Cruel Summer, there were flecks of pre-2011 Kanye that balanced out the energy of the space. The great crescendo of the two-day concert, Kanye ended with a bang. And in his final performance, a shadowy, fedora-wearing figure flanked the left side of the stage, with screams and diamonds thrown high, only to acknowledge that for a quick moment, mogul-mastermind Shawn Carter was in the building.
Overall, Made in America Los Angeles was a qualified success. If the metrics were simply ticket sells, than corporate sponsors Live Nation might not have been so satisfied (34,000 people attended in contrast to the hoped for 50,000). And because of the mixed genre of artists, with most being pop and radio oriented, it was hard to establish any one musical common ground. But what can be said is that joie de vivre that is Los Angeles was felt, with all pretenses stripped down. A new generation of Angelenos were in full effect, sending off summer, but welcoming in what could be a new phase of Los Angeles city life.