This past weekend marked the inaugural Made In America festival in Los Angeles. Though this festival has been running the past few years in Philadelphia, the promoters undertook a huge effort in running one in the heart of downtown LA, with City Hall serving as the backdrop to a main stage that would showcase the likes of Kanye West, Imagine Dragons, John Mayer, Kendrick Lamar, Iggy Azalea, and a number of others from a wide range of genres.
As is the case with any first-year festival, there were always going to be growing pains. Couple that with the fact that it was run simultaneously with the festival in Philadelphia, and problems were gonna be aplenty.
The most obvious issue that I witnessed was the lack of security or response to safety issues. A not insignificant amount of arrests were made over the course of the two days, but most were drug or alcohol related. Throughout the two days, you saw people scaling things from trees to street signs to bus stops, all in search of a better view. During Kanye’s set, four people stood atop a pillar that stood somewhere in the range of 20 feet tall, and security never made their way over to get them down. Had any of them been on too many drugs or just the wrong amount of drunk, a fall would have resulted in serious injury – both for the idiots standing on the pillar and for the numerous people who would’ve been hurt below.
The other obvious problem was the shortage of help in the food and beverage lines. It often took upwards of 30 minutes to get helped, and on the first day, some stations ran out of water. This sent dehydrated festival-goers in search of it in a haste.
The setup of the two main stages was pretty well constructed. They were parallel to each other, separated by a line of food trucks. Once one stage’s performers finished up, the next stage over would begin a set within minutes. It wasn’t until day two that problems began to emerge as sets started later than scheduled. When John Mayer was finishing up on the main stage, Steve Aoki’s set began. This caused a bad bleed of Aoki’s EDM into Mayer’s set. Someone also messed up, putting Aoki’s graphics on the two large video screens that accompanied Mayer’s set.
Attendance probably wasn’t what those in charge were hoping for (but we’re sure it didn’t hurt Live Nation too much since Budweiser was the sponsor). The festival reportedly sold in the range of 75% of the available tickets. This made it seem not as crowded in terms of moving from stage to stage. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been in terms of getting food or drink.
Still, all in all, it seemed as though a large majority of people got their money’s worth. The setup of the festival made it so that if you were specifically into one genre of music, you might have caught a number of acts you wouldn’t normally see at a festival with more than three stages. You couldn’t stick to just one genre and I think people got a more diverse experience than they would have elsewhere.
Below are some of the highlights I noticed during the weekend in downtown Los Angeles:
— People knocked around large beach balls during synth-rocking Metric’s late afternoon set on Saturday. Lead vocalist Emily Haines told the crowd not to be robots, and after the band messed up early in a song, said, “This is rock ‘n’ roll and sometimes you mess up. So we’re gonna start this song over!” People cheered and Metric’s set was a good way to wind down the hot heat. Plus, as a number of girls near me noted, her legs looked phenomenal in some short shorts. Impossible to believe she’s near-forty.
— Please sit on my faaaaaace,” said one female festival goer when Iggy Azalea’s prominent fanny graced the large video screens on the main stage. The best part was there was no shame in the statement and her group of friends all marveled at both Iggy’s posterior and stage presence while standing in front of a set of fans that was blowing cold mist. Though somewhat of a gimmick, Azalea puts on a solid show, and bringing out Rita Ora (who would perform Sunday) to perform her latest single “Black Widow” was a nice touch.”
It was definitely hot when Iggy was performing. But not hot enough for her not to ask, “Is it too hot for a little p*ssy?” before beginning the song of the same name. It was fun to see young fans awkwardly react to the word being blasted over and over to start the song while in the company of their parents.
— Sublime with Rome turned back the clock and ignited some ‘90s nostalgia. Fans old and young sang every word to “Date Rape,” “Smoke Two Joints,” “Wrong Way,” “Santeria,” and “What I Got”. Singer Rome Ramirez emulates the late Bradley Nowell to a T.
— Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q represented Top Dawg Entertainment well on the main stage with a high-energy set that showcased the two as some of the best live rappers out there. Lamar certainly is drumming up an insane amount of intrigue ahead of his sophomore release, expected to drop in September.
— Imagine Dragons were a fitting headliner to the first night. Singer Dan Reynolds had a ton of charisma and crowd surfed. On top of playing their hits, they played an incredible cover of Blur’s ‘90s smash-hit “Song 2”. Reynolds proclaimed it one of his favorite songs ever and crowd surfed during the second chorus. Even funnier was how most people were too busy snapping photos to use a hand to help surf him through the crowd, so he stayed mostly in one place.
— Beverly Hills’ own Weezer played a number of their hits, of which there are plentiful. “Perfect Situation,” “Island in the Sun,” “Say It Ain’t So,” lead to the eventual set-closer “Buddy Holly.” The highlight was when singer Rivers Cuomo suggested the fans join Weezer at the beach after the show. Fans on Twitter wondered all night whether or not he was being serious.
— Chance the Rapper played a very brief set, but many attendees considered it the best of the non-headlining acts.
— Colombian recording artist Juanes inspired some Latin-style dancing in his nearly complete Spanish set. His performance really emphasized how diverse the music was at this festival.
— Chicago punk rockers Rise Against inspired the best mosh pit of the festival. A large circle just kept growing and growing, culminating in the final two songs “Give It All” and “Savior,” the latter of which gave me goosebumps as singer Tim McIlrath screamed “I don’t hate you” over and over to end things. McIlrath also threw shade at DJ-based musical acts but my phone was dead by then and I was unable to record an exact quote. It wasn’t long after that he talked about the mosh and how it was just a small taste of what things would be like at their two shows at The Wiltern (which just sold out). Count me in.
— John Mayer killed it Sunday evening as the precursor to Kanye West. Mixing in the right amount of slow jams with some of his killer guitar riffing, Mayer’s set appealed to anyone. A large Latino to the right of me lamented how it sucked during the slow-tempoed “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” before changing his mind during Mayer’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower.” According to the rather comprehensive setlist.fm, this marked the only time Mayer had covered that song live. Add that to a cover of Beyonce’s “XO” and a performance of his early smash “No Such Thing,” and fans got a good night out of the often-criticized singer.
Speaking of often-criticized, Mayer seemed to take to heart the idea that he’s a giant douchebag. In addressing his previous douchebaggery, Mayer hoped he had changed people’s minds, people who may not have gone to a John Mayer show on its own. It was refreshing to see someone famous acknowledge past behavior, saying he feels he’s grown up.
— Kanye West’s festival-closing set started about 25 minutes later than scheduled. Some worry washed over the crowd as they wondered if 11 p.m. was a hard cut-off time. If it was, that didn’t bother Kanye, who played until 11:30, giving fans their complete money’s worth. West limited his ranting to a few short minutes and mostly duplicated his set from the previous night at Made in America in Philadelphia. West cut short “Clique” with a short rant.
“What they don’t realize is that for 10 years I had a clique,” Kanye said before finishing the track. “Everybody that every supported me, ever defended me, everyone in the audience right now… I know there’s more people who love me than hate me, that’s why I can stay me.” “Stronger,” and “Heartless” stood out, as well as “Touch the Sky.” There’s a reason why Kanye West headlines every festival he appears at, and Sunday night was just another feather in his cap.
Overall, I liked the way things went at Made in America in Los Angeles. I have my doubts the festival returns next year, but it wouldn’t be a total shock. I was surprised at how few people I knew in Los Angeles had even heard of it in the days leading up to the festival. Perhaps a better job could be done at raising awareness if LA is lucky enough to get a return in 2015.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Photography by Made In America