Budweiser’s Made in America is the first festival of its kind with two major lineups simultaneously taking place on both sides of the country – Los Angeles and Philadelphia – all weekend. Jay Z curates this inaugural event pulling a vast spectrum of artists mostly from the mainstream music scene. Big players like Kanye West, Imagine Dragons, Kendrick Lamar and John Mayer fill up the largest part of the bill. Kanye headlines night one in Philadelphia and magically flies to the best coast to finish off the weekend with a culminating performance at the downtown LA location.
Labor Day weekend promises some of LA’s hottest temperatures all year, and to the eclectic attendees’ dismay, the sun is beaming bright and hot at the fest’s opening. This festival takes to the streets of LA proper in the heart of downtown at Grand Park, which is set in the middle of Civic Center. The main stage, aka Marilyn Stage, uses City Hall as a beautiful architectural backdrop.
ZZ Ward jumps right into her set kicking off the first performance on the Marilyn Stage Saturday. She has a youthful presence. Clad in a summer-friendly vibrant short and jacket outfit, she immediately catches the eye. Though many people are not invested deep enough to approach the stage for fear of blistering in the beaming sunlight, they still pay attention from afar. Ward’s music is mostly comprised of pop girly kiss-off anthems with a folksy rock flare. Accordingly, her catchy songs like “365 Days” keep it light and fun. The singer-songwriter certainly packs a more powerful punch with a full band for a live set. She showcases her slightly raspy voice, and even plays guitar, piano and harmonica.
Dr. Dog is a surprising indie addition to the mostly mainstream pop lineup. Even more shocking, they play early in the day to a full crowd at the Dylan stage. Guitarist Scott McMicken shamelessly promotes his own group, donning a Dr. Dog official tee. Between songs, the bassist Toby Leaman greets the crowd and asks how everyone is doing. He mentions they do not have much time for chit chat, especially because each daytime artist is given the small set time of 30 minutes or less so that alternating between the stages goes smoothly without any musicians overlapping. Dr. Dog sweet alternative sound with an occasional charming twangy guitar melody is enough to warm up the crowd’s morale. Everyone sings along to “Heart It Races,” and the boys energetically deliver a solid set overall.
X Ambassadors take over the Marilyn Stage next. They have come a long way in the past few years. They are now collaborating with a well-rounded collection of artists and even getting mainstream radio play. Singer Sam Harris bursts into “Free and Lonely,” taking little jumps to the front of the stage to make some eye contact with the crowd and get people dancing. Unfortunately, the stage is set so high that he is basically looking down on everyone. When he pulls out a sax for the breakdown of the song, it feels much more danceable. It would have been preferable to put this group closer to Imagine Dragons’s set later in the evening because their heavily percussion-driven indie rock sounds complement each other amicably. That may be an intentional distance considering that ID’s frontman Dan Reynolds basically discovered X Ambassadors and co-wrote music with them. Perhaps it was a conflict of interest to put them too close to each other on the schedule. They bring out Jamie N Commons to play the last few songs together. Their guitar hooks become progressively more saucy and enticing. The best moment is when they invite The Buskers to the stage to play “Jungle” for their last song. At this point, it is basically an army on stage. Harris takes one final launch at the crowd and jumps down into the photo pit. He runs down the long catwalk below which splits the audience in half. The X Ambassadors shenanigans are only a taste of what the rest of the day holds.
As per usual, disco popsters Capital Cities come out all wearing their signature matching jackets. This time, they choose black and white satin lettermen. They start with “Kangaroo Court,” which kind of acts like a bird call as it draws in fans from all directions. Not to worry, CC still use the same synchronized choreography for “Chartreuse.” People mimic the silly up and down gestures. Amidst the hectic string of songs, the most lively one in the group is the trumpet player who does an impressive solo at the bridge of each song. Not minding the heat, the boys hold their composure well as they are no doubt happy to play in their hometown. Next, they teach everyone the “Capital Cities Shuffle.” After winning over everyone’s hearts with that, they come in with their classic cover of the Bee Gees’s “Staying Alive” – which is really just slowing it down and sexifyng it to contemporary standards. They turn the end of the song into a blend of Bee Gees and Weezer “Undone (The Sweater Song).” They end with a wild EDM breakdown of “Safe and Sound” which basically makes the crowd erupt into a dance frenzy. Between Capital Cities and Metric, the Budweiser stages start projecting a live stream of MAI in Philly. It is crazy to think this festival is happening in two places at once.
Without missing a beat, Metric turns the attention back to the Dylan Stage as they jump into “Youth Without Youth.” Singer Emily Haines channels her inner Elton John in a short sequin suit. Between the glare of her shiny outfit and her bouncy demeanor, it is hard to miss her. The mood kicks up a few notches as they play “Hammer,” with which the crowd enthusiastically follows along. It quickly becomes clear that they are simply going to bust through all of their hit tracks, one by one. They close with “Breathing Underwater.”
Directly after Metric, Iggy Azalea takes to the Marilyn Stage. The crowd at this time of day is a hot sweaty mess, but people still file toward the Iggy performance like there is no tomorrow. If one could maneuver around all of the sound engineer structures and the light poles/street signs blocking the stage views, then he or she might be able to see the mess quite clearly. Iggy is more eager to follow her dancers’ choreography than to sing/rap. She peppers in every so many lyrics singing along to her songs, but the highly anticipated performance did not compare to the efforts of every other artist today. She brings out Rita Ora to sing the hook of “Black Widow” right before ending with “Fancy,” and the audience goes wild for both songs.
Wolfgang Gartner takes over the James Dean Stage next. This is the least inviting of the three stages being that it takes a half hour at least to walk there after sifting through the hefty crowd and shimmy up the Spanish steps. This stage is also set next to one of the largest beer gardens in the festival, so most people there to listen to Wolfgang end up doing their dance party moves in the garden. The few who make it up to the stage seem to be more diehard EDM fans than anyone else at the festival. They bask in the thick of it, fist pumping away.
Kendrick Lamar’s set starts with a showcase of fellow TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) members such as Abdashoul and Jay Rock. Most of the crowd has filtered to this stage to catch a glimpse of what is happening. People are pouring in every direction, filling planters, standing on benches, and climbing the small trees all to see a bit of the set. Most of the songs are pierced with synth horns which delight the crowd more than anything, surprisingly. A typical rap show – it’s more about the bros than anyone else. Though Lamar’s set lacks luster, he does end on a positive note. He tells everyone that no matter who we are or where we are from, we are all in this together.
Afrojack’s performance turns out to be the most theatrical of the day,starting with his extended introduction of repetitive words and smoke clouds bursting off the edge of the stage. He then takes it to a new level adding fireworks to the mix. All of the showy tactics could be easily forgotten because all the audience seems to care about is going crazy whenever the bass drops. At this point, a sea of people covers the dirt lawn center of the venue.
Imagine Dragons take to the main stage like moths to the flame. Singer and frontman Dan Reynolds cheerily struts across the stage making good use of the lengthy space, all while allowing every cell phone in the crowd to catch a good snap/video of the song “Fallen.” The group seems honored to play as Reynolds mentions that they got a great start in LA. He reminisces how they used to play the divey Sunset Strip bars and clubs, but recognizes it is important to look how far they have come. “LA is the city of dreams and you can be up here too,” he announces. Most of their songs tend to drag out at the bridge. With the heavy percussion, the performance takes a tribal turn at times. The crowd, however, is extremely receptive to their music which has plagued the radio waves for about two years now. All in all, they prove to be a strong finish to a long day. Behold, still one more full day to go.
Imagine Dragons setlist
Cha-Ching (Til We Grow Older)
On Top of the World
Song 2 – Blur cover
Who We Are