The second day of Jay-Z’s Made in America music festival edged into the evening on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday, bringing the beats, the Biebs, and rain that had people reaching for raincoats.
“I’m here for Justin,” said Ali Tarnow, 25, a nurse from Boston who was in town visiting her friend Casey Marola, 24.
Both vaccinated against COVID-19, they uploaded that confirmation in advance to festival organizers, but took off their masks after entering.
“It’s outside,” Tarnow said. “I feel good being vaccinated.”
The pop star Tarnow wanted to see finally arrived on stage at 9:23 p.m. Sunday, though not without some preceding tension.
Even while Doja Cat was still performing at the adjacent Liberty Stage, a stern voice came over the speakers to repeatedly ask Bieber fans to take a step back from the stage and give their fellow concertgoers room at the barricades.
Canadian-born Bieber came onstage unceremoniously, in a backwards baseball cap and sunglasses to sing “Somebody,” the first of a quarter of opening songs from his new album, Justice. By the time the second one, “Hold On,” was underway, fireworks were exploding overhead. And rain was coming down.
”What’s going on, Philly?” Bieber said to the crowd. “I’m so grateful to be back here. This song means a lot to me, so let’s do it.”
With that, his band went into the gospel pop of “Holy” and surprised and delighted the crowd by bringing out Chance the Rapper to join him.
As a former teen sensation, the 27-year-old is especially good at apologetic love songs. He sounds like someone who’s gotten into his share of trouble when he asks: “Is it too late to say sorry?”
From there, the set served up a little of everything. Two guitarists flanked the singer for an acoustic interlude that was followed by “Where Are U Now?” the Diplo and Skrillex-produced foray into knotty electronic music. Fireworks punctuated the performance.
Adherence to the city’s mask requirement was lax on Saturday, the first day of the annual two-day music fest. It was the same on Sunday.
The event, canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, went off without any major hitch Saturday, bringing a joyous crowd of 50,000 to the sun-soaked Parkway to see the likes of Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Baby, and Meek Mill.
“It makes me think back to before COVID, the way things were,” said Mark Gladkyy, 22, a Chestnut Hill College senior, as he worked at the Philadelphia Eats Food Truck. “I do enjoy it.”
By the end of Sunday night, 34 acts performed across three stages on the Parkway.
Participants were required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to get inside. As COVID-19 cases rise — fueled by the highly contagious delta variant — across the country and in the Philadelphia region, the city last month instituted a mandate that people in standing crowds of more than 1,000 people wear a mask outdoors. Inside the festival grounds Saturday, that appeared to largely fall by the wayside.
“Made in America — like all other businesses, institutions, and events — is charged with ensuring that the mask mandate is being enforced,” Kevin Lessard, a spokesperson for the city, said in an email Sunday, citing the mask mandate Emergency Order.
There are no penalties for individuals, and businesses won’t be fined or penalized automatically, either, Lessard said.
At MIA, he said, “event producers are reminding festival-goers of the mask requirement throughout the event. Also, free masks are available at all first aid tents.”
Mayor Kenney was spotted without a mask; a spokesperson said he wore a mask except when eating or drinking, as stipulated by the COVID guidance.
By Saturday evening, the neighboring Vine Street Expressway had fully drained from river to road and reopened to traffic, as had the formerly waterlogged Kelly Drive.
The second day of the festival opened with a bang, kicked off by Brooklyn drill rapper 26 AR. It was a scene of controlled chaos on the Tidal stage when the emcee showed up — 15 minutes past his appointed 2 p.m. start time — with a live band behind him and a stage full of hype men and assistants tossing T-shirts into a sizable early-afternoon crowd.
The 21-year-old from Crown Heights did not ease into the performance: In a half hour set mad with manic energy, 26 AR compared his mastery on the mic to that of an NFL quarterback in “Aaron Rodgers” and put over the songs from his debut album Drench ‘Em with relentless energy.
“Thanks to Jay-Z,” he said. “This is my first time. It won’t be my last time.”
Made in America veteran Freddy Gibbs was first up on the Rocky stage on Sunday, beginning his set under gray skies and drizzle.
The 39-year-old Gary, Ind., rapper, who last played MIA in 2019 with his then-DJ partner Madlib, was back this time touring behind Alfredo, his 2020 album that is a collaboration with producer The Alchemist. It marries old-school soul samples with Mafia movie tales of criminality.
”Man, it feel good to be back on a ... stage,” the bearded and bald Gibbs enthused, a gold G medallion hanging on his chest, before making his feeling about COVID-19 clear in profane language.
Gibbs is a skilled wordsmith and gifted free-style rapper on a level that few of any of the younger emcees on the MIA schedule could match. He thanked members of the audience who might have been arrested earlier in the week but managed to make bail on time to make it to the festival, and brought his show to a climax with “Gang Signs,” his recent single with Schoolboy Q.
“I know it’s raining, but you guys are so beautiful,” Tinashe told the damp fans dancing in front of the Rocky stage on Sunday afternoon.
Dressed in bright yellow, along with her four dancers, the Los Angeles-based dance-pop singer even looked like she was dressed for the weather, covering up in a matching robe that looked like an enormous raincoat.
Backed by a full band featuring a guitarist prone to screeching, cliché-ridden solos, Tinashe put on an energetic show of percolating, insistent dance pop pulled from her 333 album. It wasn’t particularly distinctive, but it was enough for audience counting the hours until Justin Bieber’s arrival.
And no, she did not mention Ben Simmons, the apparently soon-to-be-ex-Sixers star whom she dated in 2018.
Dallas Mavericks point guard and former Villanova star Jalen Brunson was spotted in a VIP section during Moneybagg Yo’s performance at the Liberty Stage. The 2018 National College Player of the Year, drafted in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft by the Mavericks, Brunson has regularly trained in the Philadelphia area during the offseason.
This year’s edition of Jay-Z’s Made In America is the narrowest in terms of musical scope.
The festival debuted in 2012 with Jay-Z and Pearl Jam as headliners has made room for acts as diverse as Janelle Monae and Queens of the Stone Age, along with Philly indie acts such as Alex G and Japanese Breakfast and marquee names like Kanye West, Rihanna, Coldplay and The Weeknd. Now, it’s boiled down to a tightly focused hip-hop festival, with a smattering of pop or alt-R&B singers.
That hasn’t been bad for business. MIA’s brand is so strong and its rite of passage position as one last party before summer’s end guarantees it a huge audience — particularly this year, with and a big-draw headliner in Bieber and people desperate to connect after a year and a half of COVID hibernating.
But it has made for some one-dimensional listening and, with no electronic music stage this year, a thinner lineup.
Roddy Ricch put on a rock-solid performance reflective of his rising star stature. He showed emotional depth on moody ruminations like “Boom Boom Room,” from his 2019 album Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial. Rapper 42 Dugg joined him on “4 Da Gang” and he demonstrated his gravitas with “Die Young,” his 2018 breakout single that first brought him to the attention of Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill.
Los Angeles rapper Doja Cat — the pop star of the moment at MIA, with three songs in the top 15 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart — put on a high-energy show backed by a full band and phalanx of dancers on the Liberty stage.
Her high-pitched, thumping dance pop tunes like “Addiction” and the infectious Latin flavored “Woman” made aggressive crowd-pleasers. They were greeted with delight by a festival full of Beliebers who had been waiting all day for for something sugary.
“I didn’t know Philly was going to be like this,” the singer said early on, seemingly genuinely surprised by the reception.
Beiber popped into Center City sports store Mitchell & Ness a few hours before his set. Other shoppers were asked to wait outside.
As for the neighborhood reaction to an event that is both loved and loathed by those living around it, it was mixed early Sunday afternoon as attendees lined up to get into the outdoors venue.
Caitlyn Valentino, 34, an office manager who has lived near 25th and Fairmount for about 20 years, was out walking her dog, Rosie. She had forgotten Made in America was coming back this year until she was coming home Saturday and saw all the traffic.
“Oh, right,” she said she thought. “That’s coming back again. Shoot.”
She has never attended the event. It’s not too much of a pain, she said, but there is a lot of traffic congestion and they close off fields where she likes to walk Rosie.
Jon Henning, 35, of the 24th and Fairmount area, agreed.
“I think it’s good to bring business to the community but it certainly makes it tougher to live here,” he said, citing parking and traffic.
He’s also a little worried about having so many people come in with the delta variant surging and worried that people won’t follow the masking mandate inside the event. Henning, an engineer for Amazon, has lived in the area for about six years but has never been to Made In America.
“I’m a little too old for that,” he said, as he walked home with a takeout bag from a local restaurant.
Susan Brousseau, also in the Fairmount neighborhood, said she’s never been bothered by MIA.
“I think it’s really neat to be able to bring events like this to the city,” said the school administrator, who has lived in the area four years. “This is why you live in a city.”
She, her husband and two children walked around the outside of the concert venue Saturday night and were really impressed with how well it was being run. There were ample trash trucks and plenty of police presence, she said. From her home, she couldn’t even hear the music, she said.
Staff writers Damichael Cole and Josh Tolentino contributed to this article.
This is a developing story that will be updated throughout the night.