Made in America

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If there ever was going to be a year where I was going to attend Made in America, the Labor Day Jay Z curated festival on the Parkway, this was the year. I have been intrigued by it but always found an excuse not to go. This year, I finally had an excuse to go. Just for fun, I put out a call on Facebook the day before to see if any of my “friends” would be there. I got no less than, I kid you not, 6 responses from friends whose kids were going. That set the stage for the age thing I was going to face.

I didn’t have a ticket so first things first I had to get inside. It turned out to be really easy. I hung out by the will call tent and asked everyone if they had an extra ticket. In about 4 minutes, I had secured a $60 ticket for the day from a very nice, and yes young, man. It probably helped that the gates opened at noon and I was there at 2 pm, waaaay before the real crowds showed up or the crowd who eventually showed up was even awake.  At this point, I decided to start tweeting under the hash tag #oldandinthewaymia (you can see all of my tweets from the day @sheilaballen). For those young folks out there, Old and in the Way was a 1970s bluegrass supergroup fronted by David Grisham and Jerry Garcia and MIA for Made in America. It was just too delicious a description not to use. By the way, the first, and only, person I knew was a friend of my 22 year old nephew. Perfect!

I really had no concept how this whole thing was laid out, so even before getting my bearings, I ended up at the Skate stage. There I saw a very intense, very loud with a lot of hair and not a lot of eye contact band, Creephoid. I stayed for half a song and decided now was a good time to get my bearings.

The other reason I wanted to attend Made in America this year is to see how this whole thing would work during the Pope visit with fencing in the parkway. I saw it, and I am not at all convinced we will be able to do the Pope visit correctly. There were only, 70,000 (!) people inside on Saturday and there was not an inch to maneuver. I am pretty good at finding the outside beltway to get around shows and large festival grounds and there just wasn’t one by 5 that day. It was wall to wall of people and made me very nervous. This was also the biggest show I may have even been to. I think a big show is 25,000 at the Wells Fargo Center and get annoyed at the 150 people jammed in at a sold out show at the Boot and Saddle. A 70,000 person concert is big, I mean really big, and quite overwhelming. Anyway, back to the music.

One of my music goals this year is to learn the difference between hip hop and rap and see if I like either. The Made in America festival was a perfect place for that research, so I headed over to the Liberty Stage to see Earl Sweatshirt (you know I am not making up these band names, right? I am just not that creative). I could not even get close to this stage, because it was packed with a very diverse, except not in age, group of kids who were singing ever single obscenity, misogynist, crude, racial slur, I mean, lyric right along with him. I fought my first instinct to place my hands over the closest young woman’s ears next to me and hum loudly so she wouldn’t hear and tried to “enjoy” the music. Nope, not going to happen. Not my thing, not ever. I immediately left. Ok, I gave it a shot. I am not even sure if he was rapping or what, but I did not like his set, who am I kidding- ¼ of a song, at all. #oldandinthewaymia


Me and Frances Quinlan from Hop Along. Guess i am not too old to be creepy super fan.

I was now getting a little nervous. First act-head banger, second act-rap and it was becoming increasingly more crowded. I knew I was not going to last the whole day, but thought I would at least last an hour. Gave myself a talking too, bought a massive beer, and headed to the main stage to catch Vic Mensa. This guy was actually ok. He is a young hip hop artist from Chicago who had a great band and I could understand his lyrics. Not that I knew any of his songs, but I found myself swaying a bit to the music and got really excited when he launched into a cover of a Nirvana tune so “all the white boys can go crazy out there.” I took that directive as a 50 year old white woman to ramp up my dancing a bit. #oldandinthewaymia. That was fun and I felt, for the first time that day, that I was back in the groove and could find some acts to enjoy.

I headed back over to the Skate stage, which I later nicknamed the XPN stage, since they were a lot of great local bands there and some I even knew of. Also, I came to the closest seeing anyone near my age at this stage. Later on, it turned out that the people profiled as being in my age group were two reporters I recognized and a mom of a member in the band. Sigh. #oldandintwaymia. During the day I saw Hop Along, Waxaahatchee and Strand of Oaks on this stage. It was great and not crowded. I mean I had seen Strand of Oaks at Union Transfer last year during a sold out show and could not get even close enough to count how many people played in the band. Here I was in the front row and heard their conversation as their mikes went out and were discussing doing an acoustic and non instrumental set. Hop Along is fronted by Frances Qunilan and started as a “conceptualized as a freak-folk solo act,” whatever that means. I do know that she can wail on the guitar as well as she can belt out tunes that are interesting and intriguing. And that is enough for me. Waxahatchee is composed of twin sisters from Alabama (and the band is named after Waxahatchee Creek, in their home state) and I first learned of them from a JUMP magazine article when Katie Cutchfield moved to West Philadelphia and started cranking out these indie albums. They have a great energy on stage and each sister is multi talented in different ways. They were adorable and I will definitely try and catch them, long with Hop Along, in Philadelphia for their own shows.


De La Sol on the big stage and Jumbo tron.

In between my campout at the Skate stage, I headed back to the main stage to see De La Soul. And this was where it all came together. I like hip hop, I really do. I don’t like rap, I really don’t. De La Sol is old school hip hop group formed in 1987 and are known for “eclectic sampling, quirky lyrics, and contributions to the evolution of the jazz rap and alternative hip hop subgenres.” I listened to them some back in the day and it was very cool to hear how great they still sounded and that they are still relevant. At one point they asked if anyone was “even close to 35” in the crowd. I had no idea how to respond to that. That aside, I was psyched to dance and move my arms above my head with the rest of the crowd and not feel like a fraud.

I decided by 7ish, I had enough. I was going to try one last time to take in some rap and catch Meek Mill, Philly’s own and current boyfriend of Nicki Minaj, at the main stage, but I just could not muster up the enthusiasm nor will for the long and crowded commute across the festival grounds.

Here are my takeaways:

  • Made in America is for the young.
  • I do not understand spending time in a DJ tent at a festival with 25+ live acts.
  • I like hip hop, but not rap.
  • We are screwed for the Pope visit.
  • It was an incredibly young, but racially diverse crowd, which not only gives me hope for the future, but reinforces my belief that music is the greatest unifier we have as a society.
  • Lastly, I am really glad I went, but more importantly, even happier that I never have to go again.

31 shows to go, 269 days left…


I am smiling here, because I am on my way out and survived my first, and last, Made in America festival.


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