In case you were out of town, aren’t big on social media, and don’t have music-obsessed friends, Grand Park played host to the first West Coast incarnation of Budweiser Made in America Festival, a formerly Philadelphia-only concert that is curated by Jay-Z, over the weekend. Organizers shut down a six-block radius downtown to set up stages, beer gardens (Budweiser only, of course), and dozens of food trucks for the two-day bash.
With stages set in front of and around City Hall, food trucks and a skate ramp lined the streets surrounding the park and vendors and festival partners set up shop on parallel roads—an odd sight for anyone who works downtown (except the staff of the Los Angeles Times, which filled up the balconies of their building to watch the festival from the best seats in town).
The event was (needlessly) “rain or shine,” but sizzling weather made drought-ridden L.A. feel more Coachella-like than expected. Despite the shade created by nearby buildings, the asphalt dished back more heat than the desert’s sand and grass, forcing many to seek shade under bus stops or on whichever curb the sun wasn’t favoring at the moment, which made everyone look a bit like dejected tourists. The festival did what it could in the way of misters and free water refill stations.
Californians are no strangers to braving the heat for their festivals, though, and they showed up early Saturday for the bluesy, R&B-tinged rocker ZZ Ward, who opened for Eric Clapton in between her Coachella and Made in America appearances this year. Sublime with Rome and Iggy Azalea drew passionate crowds before Saturday headliners Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons.
Sunday’s crowd, which numbered nearly 37,000, was treated to John Mayer, Weezer (which threw back to their ’90s hits like “Say It Ain’t So” and “Buddy Holly”), EDM artist Steve Aoki (who flung sheet cakes onto the audience), and Kanye West, who performed a set that extended beyond the 11 p.m. cutoff. Opening with “Black Skinhead,” West declared that he wouldn’t hold back just because he was standing in front of the mayor’s office. “Society is set up to control you,” he said, his face covered by a mask. “I’m keeping it real in an unreal situation.” Live Nation will foot the bill for the overtime pay due to police and others.
Was the first-time festival a success? It’s hard to say. If you are on Budweiser’s PR team, absolutely. But attendees may have been pining for California’s well-oiled festival machines like Coachella and Outside Lands. Made in America’s L.A. debut excelled in its vision but lagged in the small stuff. The movement of crowds between the two stages along Spring Street, for example, became awkward and forced a few too many brushes with clammy festivalgoers—“go to the merchandise tent and buy a shirt, you guys!”—even though there was ample space to walk off the street if anyone looked. But looking around was a problem, too, as trees, streetlights, structures, and camera cranes hampered stage visibility.
Putting the stages further apart from one another could’ve helped with sound leakage, especially when Steve Aoki started his set while John Mayer was still playing, and it would’ve done wonders for the flow of people. Perhaps what most cramped Made in America’s L.A. debut, though, was how tough it was not to accidentally bump into a queue for something, whether for the many food trucks or the single entrance to the beer garden in front of the stages. It’s fortunate that the attendance didn’t break the 50,000 mark as Live Nation anticipated.
Still, these are quibbles. The festival went off sans disastrous snafus and displayed potential to grow into something L.A. could embrace the way Philadelphia has embraced the same event. With Jay-Z handpicking the acts, Made In America could solidify its place among California’s finest sun-soaked festivals. We hope it does.