This weekend, Philadelphia plays host to the Made in America music festival. It’s the fifth year for the huge, Budweiser-sponsored, Jay Z-curated, Live Nation-produced Labor Day weekend concert, which takes over the Ben Franklin Parkway on both Saturday, Sept. 3 and Sunday, Sept. 4. What’s it all about? Here’s a primer.
Is Made in America a big deal?
Yeah. Jay Z’s wife may outshine him in total awesomeness these days (all hail Queen Bey), but he’s still pretty hot. His star power helps Live Nation sign popular acts and gives the music festival a top-notch sheen. Fuse lists it as one of the 22 best in the country, putting it on the level of Bonaroo, Firefly, Lollapalooza and Warped Tour.
In 2013, Ron Howard made a documentary film about it. The 2015 festival saw 140,000 tickets sold.
Can I still get tickets?
In 2015, MIA sold out both days. As of right now, you can still snag single-day passes for either Saturday or Sunday ($99.50) or cop the two-day deal ($162.00). You can also reserve a “charging locker” so you don’t have to worry about your phone running out of juice as you Facebook Live the best acts or snap your friends who couldn’t make it out ($30 for both days).
Who’s playing this year?
The headliners are Rihanna and Coldplay, both celebrity acts with gargantuan followings, but from somewhat different genres.
Other big names are even more diverse, from hip hop stars like Chance the Rapper and A$AP Ferg to electronica faves like Adventure Club and Grimes.
Who played MIA in the past?
Last year, Beyonce graced the Ben Franklin Parkway with her sultry battle tunes, and the lineup also featured The Weeknd, Bassnectar, De La Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. In 2014 Kanye came to town, along with Pharrell, Tiesto and Danny Brown. Before that, we got Wiz Khalifa, Deadmau5, Nine Inch Nails and Kendrick Lamar. Jay himself actually performed in the inaugural show (he’s also done cameos other years), and was joined by the likes of Skrillex, Pearl Jam, Odd Future and Santigold.
Especially when you include the dozens of other artists who played on the multiple stages, that encompasses a pretty broad spectrum of American music.
Why is the festival held in Philly?
Philadelphia’s history fits the theme. “Made in America” isn’t just a cute name, it’s shorthand for Jay Z’s inspiration and goals for the event — to bring together music lovers of all kinds, just like the melting pot of cultures that makes up the USA.
“So no matter what lines you put—country, indie rock, rap—we’re all somehow gonna find a way to come together ‘cause the lines and the titles can never keep us apart,” he said in a 2013 promo video called “Makers of Tomorrow.”
There was also probably some lobbying on behalf of the Nutter administration, which made several big pushes to get Philly recognized as a world-class gathering spot (see also: Pope Francis, the DNC).
How is it different from Welcome America?
Each year since 2004, the Ben Franklin Parkway has hosted a big July 4th concert that features a diverse lineup like MIA. But there are a lot of differences between the two summer bookends. For one, Welcome America’s 4th of July Jam is entirely free, not $100 a pop. It’s also only takes place on one night, from 5 to 10 p.m., instead of afternoon through late-night on two days. And taken as a whole, the acts aren’t nearly as famous — especially not this year, when it lost longtime headliners The Roots and instead featured the Philly Pops, Leslie Odom Jr., and Kidz Bop.
Does it cost the city money?
The city says no. For the festival’s first year, Live Nation paid Philadelphia $505,124, which Mayor Michael Nutter said covered all costs — things like stage construction, security during the festival and cleanup afterwards. He also boasted that the festival had a positive impact on local businesses equal to at least $10 million. That economic impact figure was also trotted out in subsequent years. Festival producers also added a charity component, making annual six-figure donations to nonprofits like the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
Things weren’t quite as smooth on the West Coast. In 2014, Los Angeles also got $500k from Live Nation to put on an edition of MIA. After the show, municipal costs were reported to exceed that amount by $170,000 (or more), which taxpayers had to pick up. Possibly in part because of this, the festival has not returned to L.A.
What’s it like being part of the audience?
Think of it like a giant block party. If you like being surrounded by mostly young music fans who are ok with spending the entire day singing and dancing in a crowd, you’ll fit right in.
Know that you can’t leave once you enter the fenced in area, so it can get tight around the stages.
Additionally, as with any all-day fest where there’s lots of booze available, things can get messy. Buy water, no matter how absurdly much that bottle costs. Same with the food.
Why are some Art Museum residents against the show?
With multiple acts performing at all times, MIA is loud by definition. It also lasts longer than other festivals on the Parkway (see Welcome America, above). Additionally, road closures start a full week before the event, so folks who live in the neighborhood have to deal with detours to get to and from their homes.
Is the disruption worse than any other large-scale music festival?
Probably not, but the big difference is that MIA takes place along a narrow boulevard in the middle of a major metropolis, instead of out in open woodlands like Firefly or on a sprawling farm like Bonnaroo.
Will it be back next year?
Yes. In 2014, Live Nation and signed a four-year contract with the City of Philadelphia, agreeing to stage the concert here through 2017. So we get to host Jay Z’s Labor Day weekend party for at least one more year. After that, who knows. Mayor Jim Kenney has been somewhat less of a proponent of national events than the previous administration, preferring instead to focus on the neighborhoods. But the official word from City Hall is that although specific discussions have not yet begun, “we do look forward to continuing our relationship with Live Nation.”