Let’s begin our tale of Budweiser Made in America Festival 2013 by looking back at Made in America Festival 2012. The first year of the festival featured headliners Jay Z and Pearl Jam and we thoroughly enjoyed the music and the experience, for the most part.
Made in America promoter Live Nation said the 2012 event sold about 40,000 tickets each day. An estimated 40,000 were on hand Saturday, and about 34,000 turned out on Sunday. The Parkway venue had a capacity to hold 50,000 each day.
Fast forward to 2013. The second year of Made in America Festival returned to Philadelphia on the Ben Franklin Parkway with headliners Beyonce and Nine Inch Nails.
Once again the festival was held over Labor Day weekend, which is ironic, because in 2013, although the music was good, Made in America simply wasn’t working. We’ll get to the music a little later. Let’s start with what went wrong:
It began with the placement of the stages. The Rocky stage (Main stage) was again placed on the Art Museum steps, and the Liberty stage was also in the same location in 2013. The Freedom tent from 2012 was replaced with a Freedom stage which was placed across the Parkway from it’s original location. In 2012, when the Liberty stage drew large crowds (as it did for Skrillex for example) it completely clogged your ability to move between the Rocky stage and Freedom tent. This was even worse in 2013 with the crowd getting so thick at times it was nearly impossible to move through it as far back as Eakins Oval.
While the Freedom stage was a welcome change from the impossibly hot and sweaty Freedom tent, the placement was off. The stage was placed facing away from the Art Museum, meaning that fans that moved from the Rocky or Freedom stages had to walk directly into the crowds toward the front of the Liberty stage to get there (or try to maneuver the long way around them). If the Liberty stage had been placed at the back of the lawn where it sat, facing towards the Art Museum, fans would have walked up to the back of the crowd, making it much easier to move between stages.
Then there was the crowd size. While the 40,000 attendees in 2012 made things a little difficult at times, it was still possible to navigate around with some ease. In 2013, the 60,000 attendees made the festival so congested that it made it nearly impossible to enjoy yourself. Walking between stages could literally take 30 minutes or more, which made it even harder, with overlapping set times, to catch all the acts we wanted to see. We weren’t alone. The number one complaint we heard on both days of MIA 2013 was that it was entirely too crowded. We heard this complaint early and often…about every 30 seconds. The photo below pretty much sums it up, with the hash-tag #SOLDOUT as an obvious double entendre: the festival decided to up the maximum capacity to make more money, selling out the fans who sold out the show.
Made in America increased the crowd capacity but the festival did not increase the infrastructure accordingly, leading to several problems. Aside from the mass congestion, the lines for port-a-potties, food, and water were a joke. The ability to use a bathroom or get something to eat and/or drink in a timely manner simply wasn’t possible for the majority of the two-day event. Bathroom lines were the easiest to deal with. Food lines (we say lines although they were more just like mobs of people pushing towards a food stand or truck) took well over an hour most times. We talked to several people who had waited for 30-45 minutes and simply given up when they still hadn’t gotten close to the front. In addition to the long wait times, the food stands often ran out of food items. At one point we opted for a soft-pretzel from a beer stand because it was the quickest option available. When we ordered, the woman said “the pretzels are still cold”. We ate the cold pretzels. It was better than eating nothing at all. Yum.
We also spoke with numerous people that reported that they waited in line for almost an hour to order water and then were told the stand was sold-out of water. For a festival that takes place in the heat of summer, there should never be a water shortage. There should be enough water that if every fan wants to order several bottles at a time that they can get it. If you want to hold a large scale event, and make millions of dollars, take care of your patrons. No excuses. Everyone was allowed to bring in one sealed bottle of water, and there were free water filling stations but they also came with staggeringly long lines. We’ve been to plenty of other events where the water filling stations were plentiful and easy to access. It was simply poor planning at MIA 2013.
It’s not surprising that the easiest food or drink item to get your hands on in a timely manner was Budweiser beer. The festivals main sponsor made sure that there were beer stands, tents, kiosks, and walking vendors everywhere. It would have been nice if they had taken the same steps to make food and water available. Sadly, beer dehydrates the person consuming it.
Another issue with the increased crowd size was the number of fights we saw over the weekend. This is not the direct fault of the festival organizers obviously. People need to take personal responsibility for themselves and clearly, some chose not to do that at MIA. However, when you pack people in like sardines on a hot summer day, and make it hard to get food and water, while making it easy to get beer, people get cranky, and belligerent. People still need to keep their aggression in check and some people are simply idiots who are looking for a fight. Stay classy Philadelphia (and visitors). It’s important to note that we also felt a lot of positive vibes and witnessed many acts of kindness at MIA, but we believe kindness should be the norm in society, even though we are not naive enough to believe that it actually is [the norm].
Our final issue was with many of the attendees themselves. Again, this is not the fault of MIA organizers, but about personal responsibility. The amount of people we saw laying on the ground, obviously passed out (or near to it) from over-doing whatever intoxicating drink or substance they had ingested was both sad and disturbing. All over any grassy surface, as well as in dirt, and on cement, there were people sprawled out, out cold. Here’s the deal: if you feel the need to get so intoxicated to enjoy a festival that you wind up passed out in the dirt, you’ve clearly moved well passed the “fun” stage and head-first into “no self respect”. Variety might be the spice of life but there’s another key spice in that rack; it’s called moderation. We spared you this time around, next time we might dedicate an entire photo gallery to “passed out patrons” so you can see how silly you look when you over-do it. Not only is it embarrassing for yourself, the people who have to babysit you (instead of trying to enjoy themselves), and our city, but often times it’s dangerous. Let’s leave the medical staff for people with serious injuries. This is a music festival, not a test of your personal intoxication limits. If it were, many in attendance would have failed miserably.
Are you still with us? We hope so. Before we got to the music it was important to set the stage for the whole festival experience. Let’s push forward.
The music line-up for Made in America 2013 had us excited when it was released. We would have liked to have seen a few more rock acts on the bill but overall it was a solid mix of hip-hop, rock, and EDM.
We’ll look at the sets we enjoyed purely from a performance stand point. Some sets were harder to enjoy because of everything going on around us but that is not the fault of the acts that were on stage at the time and they should not be judged for it. People note that because of the crowd size and navigating through it we had to limit the performances we saw and the photos we took. This doesn’t mean that because we didn’t see an act, we didn’t want to. We can already hear the haters chiming in about the acts we missed. Hate on.
Rudimental was simply fantastic on the Liberty stage. Their energy on stage was highly contagious and kept the crowd hyped from the first song to the last. Their multiple vocalists and live musicians subbed in and out with ease and made Rudimental’s set not only highly enjoyable, but extremely diverse.
Imagine Dragons, performing on the Rocky stage, were every bit as good as we imagined they would be after catching them at past Firefly Festival and Electric Factory shows. Despite the heat and humidity these guys didn’t back down from rocking the crowd, working up their own fair share of sweat. Lead singer Dan Reynolds has charisma for days and his strong vocals ignited more than one sing-a-long from the crowd on favorites like “Round and Round” and “Radioactive”.
Porter Robinson did his thing on the Liberty stage. While it wasn’t our favorite set of his we’ve witnessed before, a less than perfect Porter Robinson set is like a less than perfect slice of pizza: it’s still pretty damn good. Robinson did a good job of mixing between genres allowing everyone from his die-hard fans to EDM novices to enjoy his hour long performance. This is key at a multi-genre festival like Made in America as acts have to appeal not only to their existent fan base but a sea of potential new fans as well. Our only knock was how quickly he transitioned out of songs that we would have liked to have heard more of.
Phoenix was one of our most anticipated performances of the weekend and we loved listening to their Rocky stage performance as we sat on a patch of grass closer to the Freedom stage. We first caught Phoenix at Coachella in 2010 and our follow up, while not as thrilling as the initial one, was still fantastic. You wouldn’t guess from front man Thomas Mars accent (while singing) that the band hails from France. His vocals on hits like “1901” and “Listomania” (as well as some newer tunes from their recently released “Bankrupt!” album) floated across a sea of people to reach us where we sat eating the chicken fingers (that we had waited an hour to get), filling our ears, as well as our bellies, with joy. With their sound spreading out across the crowd, the band joined in, engaging in an epic crowd surf.
Deadmau5 was a high selling point for EDM fans when they bought their MIA tickets and he closed out the Freedom stage with a bang. The always outspoken Joel Zimmerman, often wearing his signature mouse helmet, transitioned between uplifting melodies and pummeling bass during his hour long set (as robotic mouse heads bobbed along on either side of him). Our personal highlight of the set was “Raise Your Weapon” moving into a delayed intro for “Strobe”.
Beyoncé closed out the Rocky stage (and MIA festival) on Saturday. Opening with “Run the World (Girls)” to a huge roar of cheers, Mrs. Carter spent the next 90 minutes in a whirlwind of costume changes, dance moves, and gold confetti. Touching on almost everyone of her hits, new and old (including some alt versions of songs like “If I Were a Boy”). While her live show is more dancing and posing than actual singing, she is quite the performer and the massive crowd of people ate it up. While it was slightly disappointing that Jay Z didn’t join her on stage at any point, it takes nothing away from the close out to Day 1.
A$AP Rocky was the first (and worst) set that we caught on Saturday. Fresh off his shameless moment on the VMA’s when he used an intro (along with openly gay NBA player Jason Collins) to Mackelmore’s performance of “Same Love” to plug his album, A$AP Rocky hit the Rocky stage at MIA for a lackluster performance that we hoped would end ASAP after just a few minutes. We’re not sure what the appeal of A$AP Rocky is (just like we’re still trying to figure out why anyone would attend a live Drake show after his performance at MIA in 2012) but we welcome his fans to clue us in.
WHAT WE ARE SORRY WE MISSED:
From speaking with tons of fans on Saturday (as well as in the days since) we definitely would have liked to catch Haim, Redlight, Mord Fustang, 2Chainz (we heard a minute or two from afar), TJR, Empire of The Sun, and Wolfgang Gartner.
Robert DeLong was the way we opted to start Sunday and we are happy we did. This young up-and-coming EDM producer/performer got his start in indie rock before transitioning to electronica and has a rock star flare to him that was apparent during his live performance on the Liberty Stage. We clearly saw many people singing along to his tracks, a clear indication that he has built a strong fan-base. We had the opportunity to speak with him later in the day backstage; keep an eye out for our interview tomorrow.
Kendrick Lamar already had the rap world abuzz when we caught him at Firefly festival back in June but since he dissed several of his contemporaries on “Control”, that buzz has grown into a loud roar. The man might talk a big game but he walked the walk on Sunday and backed it up. We A$AP Rocky was taking notes.
GTA’s set back on the Liberty stage was more like a party than an hour long performance. The energy was as high as we saw it all weekend in the crowd and that’s a tribute to this Miami based DJ duo. Mixing in a little bit of everything, GTA kept things fresh and upbeat and we loved every minute of it.
Feed Me took over from GTA on the Liberty Stage and incited a huge mosh pit, if not a fully on crowd riot. Feed Me has been fantastic every time we’ve seen him but this might have been his best performance we’ve witnessed yet. It was a virtual onslaught of pulsating electro, house, dubstep, drum & bass, with a kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. Thank you Jon Gooch for blowing our minds.
Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis packed a crowd into the Freedom stage area that was so large, we got stuck just trying to move around it. Meanwhile on stage, the duo put on one of the most entertaining sets of the entire MIA festival. Often lost in the lyrics of Mackelmore are the spot-on beats of Ryan Lewis, but they should never be overlooked. The crowd went nuts at several points during their set, reaching a fever pitch during “Thrift Shop”.
Nero closed out the Liberty stage with a performance that was good, but didn’t rank as high as Feed Me. Nero’s shows at the Electric Factory in 2012 and at EDC NYC were both fantastic. This one was enjoyable, but compared to those that shared the stage with Nero on Sunday, it was not a top performance.
Calvin Harris did exactly what we expected him to do while closing out the Freedom stage, he dropped a set of popular mainstream music that delighted EDM cross-over fans while probably enraging electronic aficionados. His big room appeal was definitely on display and he gave the crowd exactly what he was supposed to, an hour of fun tunes that everyone could dance (if there was room) and rock out to.
Nine Inch Nails was the set we were most highly anticipating when the festival line up was released and Trent Reznor proved worthy of our adoration as well as the man chosen to close out MIA 2013. While he does not use a band to record his albums (playing everything himself), Reznor does use one for his live NIN shows. NIN appeals to a wide range of fans who can probably agree on little else. Whether a die-hard industrial, techno, or rock fan, NIN will pull you in. Opening their 20 song set with “Copy of A”, NIN’s 90 minute set was dark and uplifting all at once. They closed out with a flurry of four of our favorite NIN tunes, “Only”, “The Hand That Feeds”, “Head Like a Hole”, and “Hurt”. It was fitting for the festival, that had so many painful moments (aside from the music) to end on a song called “Hurt”. It was also a beautiful end to the night.
WHAT WE ARE SORRY WE MISSED:
All things being equal (and again based on reviews we got from others in attendance) it seems like we really missed out by not catching performances by Gaslight Anthem, Miguel, and Queens of The Stone Age.
While the music was definitely well above par at MIA 2013, the overall festival was not. A music festival should be about the music but when spending eight hours or more on site at a festival, numerous factors play in to your ability to enjoy yourself. Between the severe over crowding, long lines, and everything else we mentioned above, we’d say that some serious improvements are not only suggested but necessary for MIA 2014. Many fans certainly did enjoy themselves but the majority we spoke with said the issues we outlined in this article detracted from the overall feel of the MIA festival. Aside from the music, the skate park, giant swing ride, and custom guitars (each representing a different city) seemed to be big hits with concert goers.
[Credit for all images not carrying the Independent Philly logo: Getty Images]
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You can view some additional photos and the full set list below (click thumbnails to enlarge):