Kendrick Lamar, Iggy Azalea, and Imagine Dragons’ performances counterbalance below average festival logistics
Nobody walks in L.A.
Not even to a festival.
On the opening day of Jay Z and Budweiser's Made in America two-day festival in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, the cliché about Angelenos’ aversion to self-propelled transport was proven, once again.
The overwhelming majority of fans crammed the convenient beer gardens and flats by the entrance and two main stages near City Hall, creating a gross-thought-inducing line of about 100 people for a single, stand-alone port-a-potty at one point.
The adventurous types who dared to walk up “the hill” to Hill Street, got a nearly vacant, substantially private parking lot/beer garden with no lines, a brigade of virginal port-a-pottys, and a live feed to watch Kanye West yell at someone on his staff named “Virgil”mid-song and Steve Aoki “cake” fans from the stage at the Philadelphia counterpart to the downtown L.A. Music festival.
Ah, the perennial quest for festival exclusivity.
That Angelenos are geo-centric to their immediate locale and travel-adverse is hardly news, but it helped make Budweiser's new second front on the West Coast distinctly “Made in Los Angeles.”
This is the third year that Budweiser and Jay Z have thrown the Labor Day weekend festival in Philadelphia, with a cross-genre lineup. (For homework, check out Ron Howard‘s documentary on the inaugural 2012 edition.)
The musical highlights of the festival's first day were a homecoming for Kendrick Lamar and the closing set from Imagine Dragons, both on the City Hall lawn fronting the “Marilyn” main stage.
That stage (above) could have been called the “Garcetti” stage due to the mayor's strong backing and swift bureaucratic cut-through to pull this off in a few months since the spring announcement.
The crowd showered Compton's own Lamar with the most love, singing along to nearly every word, culminating in his set-closing, self-definitional title track “m.A.A.d city”. Imagine Dragons followed rocking harder than they do on SiriusXM channel “Alt Nation,” where they first became a rotational staple.
After touring for two years on their first album that took them from obscurity to this stage, it was the last show for Imagine Dragons in this cycle. Frontman Dan Reynold's last-night-on-tour energy twinkled in comparison to Lamar's pre-packaged stage banter (e.g. Lamar's three or four swings at “Which side of the crowd is the loudest?”).
Reynolds ditched his in-ear monitor, and what looked like his wallet, to crowd surf during a cover of Blur's “Song 2”. “After (tonight), we're going to go away for awhile,” Reynolds said. Good luck on the sophomore album challenge, guys.
The festival logistics were below the buttoned-up, presidential standard Jay Z demands on his shows. It did not feel like a tight-ship Jay Z event.
I can't see the logic in closing the metro station directly at one of the main entrances to the festival, but they did. There were the to-be-expected $9 beers (and only beer, no hard alcohol) but the line waiting for water to be served by only 2 water-tenders fairly represents the under-served ambiance (above). A seated “bistro” in a tent sat nearly empty in late afternoon, their tweet promising air conditioning paid off with only a few standing metal fans.
“It's like Coachella finished, and farted this out,” fan J. Connor Delaney said of the production, a veteran of Austin City Limits, Jazz Fest, and a two-time attendee of Coachella.
On the positive side, there were more screens in the crowd than at other festivals, allowing fans a few football fields removed from the action to still see and enjoy.
Also, the Philadelphia live feeds gave a sense of scale and nationalistic festival pride to the endeavor.
However, it looked like the people in Philadelphia were having more fun than the ones in L.A. Their more diverse crowd (judged solely on audience pans) was climbing trees, climbing street signs, and more likely to be decked out in stars-and-stripes.
Coachella is L.A.'s festival. As an industry, we make a company move East each April. It's the standard against it that will be judged, and Jay Z should know this. He headlined in Indio in 2010 and joined Pharrell this year. It's only the first year here in L.A., but on Saturday night, NYC's EDM festival “Electric Zoo” was trending on twitter next to FSU Heisman winner Jameis Winston, and not #MadeInAmerica.
Yet, none of the festival logistics nor industry metrics mattered to the music-only diehards crammed chest-to-sweaty-back in to Grand Park.
Those fans loved Metric (singular, the band), then Iggy, and then the two headliners mentioned above.
Afrojack drew a big crowd, and must have wanted to hear his fans clearly, as he rarely wore headphones. I'm not sure how authentically mixing works without headphones, but now that Afrojack has hair he might not have wanted to mess it up.
The weekend is not a sellout, with the L.A. times reporting on Thursday that 28% of tickets (14,000) still remained. Tickets for Sunday were still available as of 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning for the festival, starting at $114.50.
Sunday's L.A. acts include Kanye West and Steve Aoki arriving from Philadelphia, as well as John Mayer, Juanes, Weezer, and another hometown favorite, Cypress Hill.