A scorching hot sun blazed and loomed over Grand Park where the first Budweiser Made in America music festival in Los Angeles took place on Saturday and Sunday.
Complete with a skating ramp, three Downtown L.A. streets lined up with food trucks and a star-studded lineup, Made in America, founded by hip-hop artist Jay-Z, seemed very promising and it threatened to rival the almighty Coachella.
Festival-goers showed off their American spirit, proudly clad in stars and stripes and in Team USA soccer and other American sports attire.
Musicians performed on stages named after American greats: Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan and James Dean. The Los Angeles City Hall’s corinthian capitals and arches served as the backdrop of the Marilyn Stage, suited for big name acts Kanye West, John Mayer, Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons.
From L.A. native Capital Cities to Columbian pop-rock artist Juanes, who told the audience of his move to Los Angeles 15 years ago with nothing but his dreams, the artists humbly performed their craft to an enthusiastic crowd and fittingly lived up to the festival’s name of “Made in America.”
Compton’s Kendrick Lamar, who was Saturday’s crowd favorite, rapped breathlessly to “Poetic Justice” and “Don’t Kill My Vibe” from his critically acclaimed album “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Shedding his hard persona, the hip-hop star paid homage to his past during his performance of “Backseat Freestyle” with home videos playing in the background. Before he exited the stage, Lamar silently looked out at the audience chanting his name, as if he was reflecting.
Saturday headliner Imagine Dragons looked like a band trying to earn their rock cred as it exhibited an unfortunate identity crisis on stage. The band’s set was plagued with unnecessary jam sessions in between songs, with vocalist Dan Reynolds trashing a drum at the end of the set. Imagine Dragons failed to capture the crowd, drawing out very short applause when it wasn’t delivering its hits “It’s Time,” “Radioactive” and “Demons.”
As the Sunday sun began to cool for the second day of the festival, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo asked the afternoon crowd to imagine a beach scene, kicking off the band’s feel-good classic “Island in the Sun.” Weezer charmed the audience with its nerdy aesthetic, hard-rock guitar chords and quirky lyrics, as its hit songs “Buddy Holly” and “Beverly Hills” brought back vivid memories of listening to the band on iPod Nanos in high school.
That Sunday night, John Mayer’s intricate bluesy guitar-playing prompted the audience to simultaneously swoon and become impatient because – let’s be honest – they wanted to see Yeezus. Even Mayer admitted his excitement for Kanye West’s performance before concluding his set with “Dear Marie.”
After a 30-minute delay, Kanye West’s silhouette appeared in front of a red screen, the figure that most festival-goers willingly missed performances by Steve Aoki and Rise Against – who performed on the Dylan Stage – to see in amid a packed crowd in front of the Marilyn Stage.
Fresh from his Made in America performance in Philadelphia on Saturday night, some wondered if Kanye had the energy to give a great performance. But Kanye was every bit as entertaining and audacious as the audience hoped he would be.
Kicking off his 75-minute set, Kanye, who wore his signature light-catching black mask, exploded across the stage to the guitar riffs of “Black Skinhead” as smart phones rose – albeit annoyingly – to record his entrance. The minimalist stage contrasted, but amplified, his aggressive verse delivery.
Performing songs such as “All Falls Down,” from his first album “The College Dropout,” to “Bound 2,” off of “Yeezus,” Kanye drew the loudest screams from the amped audience, which included royal couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé and the Kardashian-Jenner clan.
After 30 minutes of his set, the Chicago-native dramatically took off his mask under a single beam of light. He put it back on to perform “Runaway,” during which he delivered a spoken-word spiel defending his actions that received media scrutiny.
“I’m not trying to hurt anyone,” Kanye said. “I’m just trying to make music and be creative.”
Kanye’s set and the festival concluded with the blood-pumping performance of “Blood on the Leaves.” As red lights illuminated the crowd, the audience let the all-consuming bass run through their bodies.
To the audience’s dismay, Jay-Z didn’t join Kanye to perform their song “Made in America.” But that didn’t take away from Kanye’s set that blew away all of the others in the first Made in America two-day music festival in Los Angeles.
– Gail Acosta
Email Acosta at [email protected]