Philadelphia, the setting for the “Rocky” movies had to be the perfect setting for Jay-Z’s Made In America festival. But of course, Jay-Z planned it that way. The hardworking music mogul’s story, like Rocky Balboa, was a rags to riches story that was made in the USA. The 42-year-old entertainer – who grew up in the Brooklyn projects and released his debut in 1996 – shared some of that through songs in his 90-minute set on Saturday night at the “Budweiser Made In America” festival. It was a crowning achievement of a rags to riches Jay-Z story.
He wasn’t trying to tell a story about an easy life. Nothing was easy for him if you listen to the “Made In America” lyrics or other songs Jay-Z has written and performed. “Our apple pie was supplied through Arm and Hammer.” Those lyrics weren’t intended to idolize dealing drugs, but if you’re gonna tell a made in America story right, you can’t leave that part out. In another section of the “Made In America” song, Jay-Z states: “Built a republic that still stands,I’m tryna lead a nation, leave to my little man’s.” Then the song closes with; “I got my liberty chopping grams up Street justice, I pray God understand us, I pledge allegiance to all the scramblers. This is the Star Spangled Banner.” Now if that were all that the song said, then I would be wrong about where the writer wanted to place his emphasis. But the song’s chorus redeems the whole thing. “Sweet King Martin, sweet Queen Coretta, Sweet Brother Malcolm, sweet Queen Betty, Sweet Mother Mary, sweet Father Joseph, Sweet Jesus, we made it in America, Sweet baby Jesus, oh sweet baby Jesus.”
Thus, in his own profound and artistic way, Jay speaks of the positive figures that can transform a life of drugs and life of crime; a life redeemed.
And so when he steps onto the stage or runs up the steps of that Philadelphia museum, emulating Rocky Balboa in this city of brotherly love, which is, by the way, what Philadelphia means in the Greek; you better believe that Jay-Z has a deliberate and intended message that makes artistic use of life and its props, as he didactically teaches: You can make it in America.
The message is intrinsic within his performance as he enters from the back of the stage after running down the steps to perform “Public Service Announcement.” That was followed with the night’s first cameo: a pre-recorded video with President Barack Obama.
President Obama urged the crowd to vote this fall. He also said Jay-Z’s story is “what Made In America means” and added that he enjoys listening to the rapper’s music on his iPod.
And there were voter registration volunteers circulating outside the concert.
Jay-Z headlined the first night of the two-day festival he curated, performing hits like “99 Problems,” ”Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” ”Big Pimpin'” and “Empire State of Mind.” He called it “the first annual Made In America festival.”
The event is the first kind for the entrepreneurial Jay-Z, who is married to superstar Beyonce and owns a music management company, fashion line, nightclub and restaurant; he’s also a co-owner of the Brooklyn Nets.
“Since you were so good to me, Philly, I’m going to be good to you tonight, Philly,” Jay-Z yelled.
Rappers Pusta T and Big Sean hit the stage, and Kanye West followed, receiving an electrifying roar from the crowd. They performed a medley of hits, such as “Mercy,” ”Dance” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”
Jay-Z also brought out his former protégés and Philadelphians Freeway, Chris and Neff, as well as Memphis Bleek. Common, 2 Chainz and Swizz Beatz also made appearances.
The scene was colorful and energetic, as thousands of music fans shifted from the three stages on the Benjamin Franklin parkway to watch Skrillex, D’Angelo, Passion Pit, Janelle Monae, Calvin Harris and 10 other acts. The line-up also included Pearl Jam, Run DMC, Odd Future and Drake, who was in the crowd on Saturday night.
Playing from three huge stages erected near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, musicians entertained a well-behaved, racially mixed, largely millennial-generation audience (ages 18 to 34) of nearly 40,000 for Part One of the “Made in America” concert. Part Two of the Labor Day weekend festival, headlined by Pearl Jam, is Sunday.
Celebrities added sparkle to the proceedings. Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian were on hand, along with Hollywood director Ron Howard, who was filming the concert for a Jay-Z-centric movie.
“Everyone’s here for the same reason,” said E.J. Pitman, 27, of Baltimore, as Jay-Z performed. “We’ve been here all day. It’s a great atmosphere, real chill.”
The event was unique in Philadelphia history because it was the first concert in an open street area at which people were charged admission.
As of 10:30 p.m., police reported a single arrest, and said there were “only a couple” of minor injuries described as alcohol-related.
The interactive nature of the concert made it a multidimensional happening – a stage-in-the-grass songfest and an Internet phenomenon. The whole thing was live-streamed on the Web, and audience members wired into the social network were constantly beaming out messages from the grounds.
“When this is all over, I think it will be seen as a game-changing event,” Mayor Nutter said.
“There are people all over the world watching this live on You Tube. And it’s in Philadelphia. All the artists are here enjoying the vibe and the environment. All that’s great for the city.”
Fences were erected to control crowds who paid $75 to $350 for tickets, some of which were also good for a second day of performers set for Sunday.
Much was made of the idea that the double ring of fencing, which included green mesh to block nonpayers from seeing the acts, would also block sound.
“You won’t be able to hear anything,” Nutter had said during the week. But physics trumped municipal will, as the sound exploded into the humid air and carried well beyond the concert site.
Music could be heard clearly in many spots in Fairmount, including within St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, where thumping bass lines were audible during 5:30 p.m. Mass – even with the doors closed.
While the sonic surge was enjoyed by many passersbys as a free Philadelphia bonus, others weren’t so sanguine.
“There was all this talk about soundproofing,” said Jess Curtis, the assistant front office manager at the nearby Best Western Motel on Pennsylvania Avenue, which was sold out for the event. “As soon as they started the sound checks yesterday, it was very apparent that the soundproofing didn’t work.”
At the Philadelphian, a towering apartment complex on Pennsylvania Avenue, resident Freida Graves vented at Nutter for the intrusive sounds and the inconvenience of having a major concert in a tight urban setting.
“I love my mayor, but he made a big mistake,” Graves said, adding, “It’s an inconvenience for thousands.”
Even some out-of-towners had complaints. “We’re really upset,” said Amy Kaz, who was visiting Parkway museums with her husband and five children from Charlotte, N.C. “We came here for art as well as the Rocky steps and were upset that Made in America killed our photo ops.”
That was not the majority view, however, especially among the concert goers.
The scene resembled a keg party at a well-to-do university, the so-called coddled generation’s not-so-wild time out.
Dressed mostly in shorts and T-shirts, with a few young women accessorized to the nth-degree in straw fedoras and chunky bracelets, the crowd was a multiple tattooed bunch wielding cell phones and downing bottled water and beer.
Many in the audience seemed to be wisely pacing themselves throughout the event, which began at 2 p.m. and was to end around 11 p.m.
A few napped in the grass in the late afternoon, storing energy for Jay-Z at night. They kept hydrated. They ate ice cream. Several brought sweaters and talked about setting up meeting places if they got separated.
Consternation developed between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., however, when the crowd, used to being able to be in constant electronic touch with the rest of the world, had trouble pushing out texts, videos, tweets, and phone calls.
Though prepared for extra traffic, Verizon Wireless said it experienced a “hiccup” in the afternoon, as though all that social networking simply locked up in the ether above Eakins Oval.
“It’s like a highway with many, many more cars, and you can’t handle it all,” said Verizon spokesman Sheldon Jones, who added that the company had brought extra portable cell sites to the area.
Another hiccup occurred earlier in the day, when dozens of members of District Council 33, the union for the city’s blue-collar workers, converged on the site, chanting, “No contract, no peace.”
Union President Pete Matthews said Nutter was staging the concert to burnish his national image on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, while not doing enough to take care of business in his own backyard.
Matthews said his members have gone without a contract or raise since 2009, as have city workers who belong to the white-collar union, District Council 47.
Even a labor protest on Labor Day weekend could not rile the crowd, however.
Several concertgoers remarked on how mellow everyone seemed.
“I’ve been treated with a lot of courtesy,” noted Kris Schulze, 23, a child-care provider from Woodstown, Salem County.
“I was walking near some mud and rather than put his hands on me or something, a guy said, ‘Would you mind walking around so you don’t splash us?'”
Earl Leben, a 26-year-old accountant from Hatfield, Montgomery County, said he judges the quality of a concert by “how many people are pulled away by the cops.” Since no arrests were made, according to police, Leben declared Made in America a success: “So far, so good,” he said.
Throughout the day, a stationary convoy of food trucks served up lunch and dinner to lines of 50 or more hungry people, many of whom complained about high prices. By 8 p.m., hungry concert attendants said food was running low.
A long line snaked out of a Rocawear clothing boutique in a slick, black 18-wheel truck. Rocawear was started by Jay-Z, a multidimensional mogul whose success has transcended music and makes him a darling of both hip-hop fans and Wall Street.
As of last night, the city had not yet said how much the concert is costing. Nutter has said that the promoters would bear most of the costs.
The concert’s promoter, Steve Stoute, who was looking forward to Pearl Jam and other acts performing Sunday, said he’d like to make Made in America an annual event.
“Hopefully, if everything goes right, we’ll be back next year,” Stoute said.
By the end of the night, the grounds were littered with crushed cans of Budweiser beer, which was the concert’s sponsor.
City officials said concert producers planned to clean up the area inside the gates and bring the bags of trash to the street where city workers would haul it away to make the area clean for Sunday’s events.
Things worked that night in the city of brotherly love. Philadelphia as only it perhaps could brought us all together to celebrate what we can become. Yes, “Made In America” a rags to riches story not just a Jay-Z story, but a story that’s waiting on another to arrive.
If Ron Howard is smart, it he want’s to tell the story right; he’ll take note and do his homework and then direct a film we can all be proud of.
The festival is being film as a documentary and will be directed by Ron Howard. Proceeds from the ticketed event will benefit United Way chapters.