By Brian Ives
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Day one of Jay-Z’s Made In America Festival seemed like a huge success despite overcrowding, and long lines for bathrooms, beer (the festival was sponsored by Budweiser, who had a huge presence at the event) and pretty much anything else. On the plus side, it was probably the most racially integrated summer festival yet, and therefore was more of a microcosm of America than most festivals. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Jay-Z pulling such a diverse audience, or creating such a diverse bill.
As festival founder Steve Stoute (a music industry veteran who now works in advertising and marketing, and who wrote The Tanning Of America) told CBS Local, diversity is an important part of the Made In America’s message: “It’s the rallying cry of what this festival stands for. No matter who you are, you are welcome. There’s such a wide array of artists from all genres of music, bringing all these people together.”
PHOTOS: Made In America Festival
That wide array kicked off with bluesman Gary Clark Jr., who in the past year has played Bonaroo, Metallica’s Orion Festival, the Essence Festival, the Newport Folk Festival and even the White House. For 45 minutes, his guitar pyrotechnics and soulful vocals got the early attendees rocking, and if that wasn’t enough, he’s also playing on day two.
Later on, the Maybach Music Group, also known as MMG, performed, and were the first hip-hop group to hit the stage. MMG is Rick Ross’ record label, and he and his artists performed as a group, with each MC coming out for their individual songs: first Wale, then Philadelphia native Meek Mill, and finally the “Bawse” himself, Rick Ross. Ross noted that it was Jay-Z who gave him his first record deal, signing him to Def Jam when he was president of that label.
R&B singer Janelle Monae was a highlight of the second stage (the “Liberty Stage,” where lesser known artists performed), but her set was plagued by sound issues. Still, the crowd was with her all the way, and she turned many heads (and possibly gained some new fans) when she sang Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Jay-Z himself was seen at the side of the stage enjoying her set.
D’Angelo was one of the festival’s big attractions as the R&B heartthrob hasn’t released an album since 2000 and hasn’t toured in a decade. He showed that he’s as good of a frontman as he ever was, and his vocals are as powerful and as silky. Passion Pit also got a huge reaction: one of the biggest bands on the indie/college scene, their anthemic synth pop (somewhere between The Killers and U2) were a break from the main stage’s testosterone-heavy performers.
Dance music was featured heavily at the festival at the “Freedom Tent,” where DJs, including Calvin Harris and Michael Woods, spun throughout the day. The one DJ who took it to the bigger stages was Skrillex, one of the most popular acts in “EDM” (electronic dance music). His throbbing aural attack led much of the audience to bounce and spin through his hour set… although towards the end, people started to migrate to the main stage for the main event.
Jay-Z came out to an excerpt from, fittingly enough, “Made In America,” from his collaborative album with Kanye West, Watch The Throne. Soon after, he played a message from President Obama recorded specifically for the occasion (he noted that Jay-Z’s music is always in his iPod), urging fans to vote, no matter what their political party or affiliation. It’s hard to imagine the President recording a message like that for any other music festival.
From there, he launched into a series of classics, including “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Big Pimpin’,” “Jigga My N***a,” and “99 Problems.” There were rumors of all kind of guest stars, but when he performed “’03 Bonnie and Clyde” without Beyonce, “New York State Of Mind” without Alicia Keys and “Run This Town” without Rihanna and Kanye West, it seemed like he was going to keep his guests to lower profile hip-hop acts like Freeway and Memphis Bleek.
As it turned out, he was happy to share the spotlight, leaving the stage while Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. Music roster performed an energetic set. For about twenty minutes, Kanye and his signings barreled through Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” Big Sean’s “Dance,” and Common’s “The Light.” (Big Sean also performed in Homdel, New Jersey earlier in the day at the Rock The Bells festival, and Common will perform there Sunday).
Jay returned to the stage to join his protégée and collaborative partner, and send audiences home with their Watch The Throne track, “N***as In Paris.”
Day two will be headlined by Pearl Jam, and will feature a similarly diverse audience including local hero Jill Scott, Run-D.M.C., Drake and punk rock legends X. The question is, will Jay-Z be satisfied watching from the side of the various stages, or will he join any of the other performers?