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Meek Mill, Nicki Minaj, Hop Along, Creepoid, Beyonce and More @ Made in America.

September 8, 2015

mia_0021Text and images by Michael Bucher.

Made In America, the massive music festival on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, was like most other summer music festivals – filled with young drunk people, overpriced beer and some questionable fashion choices. But between all that, there were moments of affection and warmth that would be unfair not to mention. Noticing those moments were what made this festival a little different for me this year.

The first thing I did when I arrived was explore just where I could and couldn’t get in with my “working pass.” I made friends with a couple security guards who were working the Rocky stage backstage area which would pay off later.

Then I wandered around the general festival grounds and caught a couple local acts like Creepoid and Hop Along, both fantastic in their own unique ways. I was making some pictures but nothing was really exciting me. The light was harsh and people were still streaming in. I am generally uninspired photographing a concert, especially when there’s like 30 other photographers in the same pit taking the same pictures of the same performer with the same lights using the same cameras.

I went into the artist area and used my “working” pass to get a pretty lavish meal from the buffet tent. I had beef and broccoli, some corn dish, salmon steak, cold asian peanut salad finished with chocolate mousse cake with blueberries and iced coffee. I ran into one of my working partners for the day and we decided to go watch Meek Mill, who was on the Rocky stage.

He planned to go to the photo pit but I told him to follow me. The security guard I met earlier was at the front of the backstage entrance and with our two “working” passes, he let us go right through. We went around the back and went to the side of the stage where Meek was sharing the stage with his girlfriend and pop star sensation Nicki Minaj. They performed “All Eyes on You” together and he seemed sincerely happy to have her there. Before his set wrapped up, my partner and I left the stage and began to walk to the exit when a big entourage started exiting from the other side, headed directly toward the narrow alley we were standing. It was Meek and Nicki and I couldn’t resist making some pictures. Their bodyguards began shouting “no pictures” because that’s what the other 20 or so people were doing so I stopped. As Nicki walked past, I managed to come up with “You were great,” but I don’t think she noticed. Nicki and Meek and his son and some close family took a couple steps up the Philadelphia Art Museum steps and cooled off. Meek was wrestling with his son, lifting him above his head while Nicki stood by his side. The sun was setting and there was an electricity in the air. Meek wrapped a spare black T-shirt around the lower half of his face and gazed out around him. I felt very content to just stand there watching and not take any pictures. I asked the woman standing next to me, “So, now what?”

She didn’t really look away from the celebrities standing 20 feet from us and responded, “I don’t know but my battery’s about to die.”

She still wanted a picture and I couldn’t blame her.

I eventually left and when I got back out into the festival the light was perfect. The sky was a pale blue and orange and everything was evenly illuminated. I started making lots of pictures, trying to capture the the flow of pedestrian traffic at the festival.

As I was making my way around the grounds, a man seated in the grass stopped me.

“Hey, do you wanna take our picture?” he asked, sitting next to his girlfriend.

“Sure,” I said.

After I made the picture I asked if he wanted a way to see it later.

“Na,” he said.

“So, why’d you ask to have your picture taken?” I asked, a little puzzled.

“I don’t know, to give you two festivalgoers,” pointing to my cameras.

The answer made me smile. It was pretty much the reason I was walking around in the crowds, not in the press pit looking at the artists. It was a gift.

I continued roaming around without a real direction. I watched a man walking briskly turn and tap his girlfriend on the shoulder and point toward the dangling, dripping string lights that changed colors. In the inebriated hustle and bustle, this guy took a second to quietly share this little sensory experience with his significant other, as they made their way to the some unknown destination.

It was dark now and Death Cab for Cutie was playing on the Liberty Stage. I watched three twenty-somethings singing along, arms draped around each other.

“Cause your heart was dying faaaast, and you didn’t know what to do,” they shouted, three twenty-something men.

I found a spot pretty far out to watch Modest Mouse. Next to me, a pretty, young girl gingerly wrapped both arms over the shoulders of a young boy and held them there for minutes. They didn’t say anything to each other. She just held him, her eyes closed. He stood there straight, looking unmoved, almost bored with his right arm around her waist. He was either angry, or awkward or on drugs, I didn’t ask.

Bassnectar was performing on the Liberty stage and I wanted to see what the hype was all about. The security guy I befriended earlier said there was no way he was going to miss it even though he was working a very specific post at the Rocky stage. I couldn’t name you one of his songs. I’m not really even sure he has own songs – during his set he played Kendrick Lamar and James Brown, to name a few. I got into the press pit and was shaken to my core. I was like a foot from the speakers without any ear protection when the bass dropped. The sound made my internal organs vibrate inside me. It was a disorienting feeling but the distended crowd pressed against the railing a couple feet from me was going nuts, jumping up and down, shaking their heads, screaming. I think security finally started getting more strict and told me I had to leave because I didn’t have a “press” credential, and honestly, I was kind of okay with leaving that situation.

I stood off to the side to continue watching and then Jay Z came out from backstage, holding a cigar and glass of brown liquor, walked right down into the press pit with his entourage. He stayed for like 15 minutes which seemed pretty ridiculous to me after the short time I was there.

Finally, it was time for Queen B, Beyonce. It was worth the wait. She performed for over an hour, pulling out Destiny’s Child songs like “Survivor,” “Say My Name,” and “Jumpin, Jumpin.” In the middle of the set, a stage hand came out and helped her put on a red sequinned Philadelphia Sixers long-sleeve shirt. The crowd roared, partially because they believed the man helping her to be Jay Z but it turned out wrong. When she finished, the place emptied out.

The Roots Picnic, which happens annually at Festival Pier, is one of my favorite examples of Philadelphia. It has a family-type vibe and a representative mix of the city in attendance, all mingling together. This year, with lots of Philadelphia artists, Made In America came pretty close to achieving that feeling. You just need to look past all the corporate sponsorship, puking teenagers and carelessly strewn garbage. Or maybe those things are as much a part of that feeling as anything else.

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