After last year's brief dual-city personality crisis, the Jay Z-curated Budweiser Made in America festival stuck to what they knew best for 2015 (blockading Philly streets, a diverse set of acts, Beyoncé). At the base of the city's famous "Rocky steps," a mix of rap, rock, EDM and R&B artists inspired 140,000 people with tales of survival and staying true to their dreams. Meek Mill, a native of the City of Brotherly Love, talked about rising above his roots and brought out his son to see the throngs, Action Bronson reflected on being a first-generation American, and Future was just humbled to see a sizable chunk of festivalgoers singing along with him. Meanwhile, the concertgoers returned the positive vibes, shouting back lyrics and kicking up a dust storm. Here are the 10 best things we saw.
Made in America may be Jay Z's fest but it was definitely Beyoncé's show. Beginning with her acid-trippy 50 Shades of Grey "Crazy in Love" remix, she and a cast of acrobatic dancers burst out of onstage closets, before kicking into a high-energy medley of the original version, "Circle," "Bootylicious" and "Truffle Butter." For 90 minutes, the fest was all about Queen B. She featured no special guests (not even her hubby), delivered powerful statements about female empowerment with video commentary by Maya Angelou and Ronda Rousey, and kept the audience rapt with her ultra-modern choreography. Highlights include her and her dancers' coalescing, multi-arm dance during "7/11"; a very bootylicious dance for "Drunk in Love"; a headbanging, impromptu interpolation of the Doors' "Five to One" before pantomiming a shotgun to lead into "Run the World (Girls)"; and some jaw-dropping acrobatic dancing in "***Flawless." She allowed herself to sing an operatic vocal line after "1+1," and ended on an energetic high, with pulsing versions of "Love on Top," "End of Time" and her finale, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)."
As the Sunday night headliner, the Weeknd didn't need any fancy dance moves or strobes to win over the audience — just his voice. The height of maximal results from minimal presence, the singer-songwriter crooned hits like "Often," "Love Me Harder" and "Earned It" in front of a bright screen (most typically stark red or totally yellow) that doubled as a stand for his band. He indulged a little bit of pyro here and there, but mostly the fireworks came from his falsetto, inspiring what looked like a lot of close cuddling and grinding in the audience. His most surprising setlist choice was his own moody rendition of one of Saturday's high points, Beyoncé's "Drunk in Love," but the biggest sing-alongs were to his two recent hits, "Can't Feel My Face" and "The Hills." He closed out the fest with what he knew best: the soulful, tender, pleading vocal showstopper "Wicked Games" and its "tell me you love me" refrain. Rather than go out big, the Weeknd went out smooth.
Although the Weeknd set off some impressive fireworks to close out the fest, Axwell ^ Ingrosso's mix of seizure-inducing strobes, streams of fireballs and geysers of flames made their hour of house music the most face-melting set of the weekend. The Swedes riffed on Calvin Harris' Ellie Goulding cut "Outside" and went full Rammstein for their four-on-the-floor remix of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" with flames spewing each time Lars Ulrich hit his drum pedal. But they saved the best for last, a (literally) ultra-hot take on Daft Punk's "One More Time," flanked by spires of fire and streamers of sparks. When one of them joked that the place was "exploding with party people," it was easy to imagine a concertgoer had just detonated.
Who could possibly open for Beyoncé? Well, only the Beatles, Nirvana, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. EDM low-end enthusiast Bassnectar played a mix of classic rock and oldies — with the subwoofers cranked — as trippy vignettes played out on the screens around him. Nirvana's "In Bloom" became a Krist Novoselic showcase; James Brown Orchestra bassist Bernard Odum finally got his due on "I Got You (I Feel Good)"; Paul McCartney's Hofner got some extra oomph for an especially trippy, skippy version of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"; and he even welcomed Dead Prez onstage for the proto-sawblade dubstep classic "Hip-Hop."
Death Cab for Cutie played crystal-clear renditions of their recent catalogue, leaning heavily on their recent, moody Kintsugi. Frontman Ben Gibbard barely spoke to the audience — his lengthiest banter was saying, "This is a love song, ladies and gentlemen; you like love songs right?" before "Little Wanderer" — instead closing his eyes and rocking back and forth to transcendent indie rockers like "The New Year," "Transatlanticism" and "Soul Meets Body." On that last number, he got a little help from the audience with its "bah bah bah" chorus much to the delight of touring keyboardist Zac Rae.
Philly-born Meek Mill was all smiles and hometown pride during his Saturday set. "You know, comin' up in Philly was kind of hard for me," he said in one earnest moment. "I've been to jail a couple times, been locked up for things when I was younger. But a lot of people told me I wasn't gonna be able to make it here, but I'm here myself so if you've got a dream make sure you believe in yourself." Elsewhere in the set, he teased Chedda da Connect's "Flick of the Wrist"; led his moody, Luniz-sampling "Heaven or Hell"; and commanded thousands of fans to raise their middle fingers during "Levels" with the words "fuck you" flashing behind him. But the high points of his set were when he brought out his impossibly cute young son to demonstrate all the nae naes and whipping in Silentó's "Watch Me," and when he welcomed his girlfriend (or "motherfuckin' baby," as he put it), Nicki Minaj, onstage for their duet "All Eyes on You." She held her purse the whole time as if she had somewhere to be, but she returned Meek's love by calling him her "baby father." Nicki wasn't on for long, but it was long enough to make her the most talked-about guest of the fest.
Future may have played on the Liberty Stage right after Metric played the main stage, but it looked like he drew about 10 times as many people, the crowd stretching into the food court. And it also seemed like everybody wanted to rap along. He could have gotten onstage without a mic and danced around to his tunes like he did, and the throngs would have had his back through "Thought It Was a Drought," "My Ho 2" and "Itchin'." When he did "March Madness" a cappella, his voice was barely audible. By the time he got to "Trap Niggas" and "Sh!t," he had all those people bouncing and singing. "Thanks for comin' out to the little stage," he said. "You make this feel like a nighttime concert."
Nick Jonas, the youngest JoBro at 22, has already proven to be a breakout star with his Number One dance singles "Chains" and "Jealous" (which opened and closed his Liberty Stage set, respectively). But on Saturday he showed that he could hack it as a solo pop star. Dressed like a model in a white tee and black jeans, he led a dance-y set with a live band, playing songs off last year's R&B-inflected Nick Jonas and dropping covers of Outkast's "Roses," Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison" and even headliner the Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face." At every turn, the audience sang and screamed along. He may still be far from Timberlake status, but on Saturday Jonas proved he could rock a crowd without the other boys in the boy band.
Nearly 30 years have passed since De La Soul funkified rap radio with hits like "Me Myself and I" and "Buddy," and the trio has had some time to perfect the art of working a crowd. Their Saturday set found them pitting one side of the audience against the other, leading classic chants like "Party over here, fuck you over there" and digging into their hits for a career-spanning set that included "Potholes in My Lawn," "Stakes Is High" and "Oooh." When the sweltering heat got to be too much, they went backstage and brought out bottles of water for the front row ("Please don't sue me if I hit someone," Posdnuos joked). Maseo's mom, dressed in head-to-toe in neon green, even helped point out where to throw it. In the end, it didn't matter where you stood: The party was right there.
Toward the end of his Sunday afternoon set — just after an impromptu sing-along of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" during his Mr. Wonder quasi-ballad "Baby Blue" — Made in America's sweatiest rapper took a minute for himself. "Talk about 'Made in America,'" he said. "[I'm] first-generation Albanian. From my father having to paint houses for a living to this." Then he just let go, flowed through "Easy Rider" and went backstage, possibly to ponder.