Made in America staying on the Parkway is a win for Jay-Z, and for Philadelphia
Keeping Made in America on the Parkway was the right move for both Jay-Z and Philly.
Since the Made in America festival was first held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 2012, the Jay-Z-curated Labor Day event has annually forced street closures, irritated residents with profane language and excessive noise, and made of Philadelphia's grandest boulevard a mess that's both expensive and time-consuming to clean up.
And along with those inconveniences, the two-day event — which, after much drama in the last week, the city agreed on Monday to continue to host on the Parkway "for many years to come" — has also annually turned Philadelphia into a destination city on an otherwise sluggish end-of-summer weekend by presenting a world-class music festival that draws upward of 50,000 paying customers to the Parkway each day.
With names-in-lights headliners like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Jay-Z himself, it's put Philadelphia on the music-festival map and transformed the streets of the city where America was made.
Since 2012, the festival has had a $102.8 million economic impact on the city, according to a fired-up commentary Jay-Z wrote that was published in the Inquirer and Daily News last week.
Made in America is accessible to everyone, from residents of the North Philly neighborhoods where Meek Mill, one of this year's headliners, was raised, to Center City's burgeoning millennial population and the often-inebriated teen suburban hip-hop fans, who often seem to be the dominant demographic.
And maybe more important, it projects a positive image of the city, in overhead shots of crowds frolicking in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Rocky steps that are seen around the country and the world on Jay-Z's Tidal music-streaming service.
All of that might have made it seem like a no-brainer to keep Made in America, which began during the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter, in Philadelphia for as long as possible.
But somehow last week, a crisis was created when news broke that Mayor Kenney's office planned to move the festival off the Parkway. That news shocked the city's principal partners in putting on the fest, including Jay's Roc Nation entertainment company and Live Nation, the concert promoters who partner with the city regularly in producing gatherings like the July Wawa Welcome America fest, which has yet to be mentioned as an event that needs to be moved from the Parkway even though it attracts several times more people each year than Made in America.
Both Live Nation and Roc Nation said the decision was made without so much as a request for a face-to-face meeting. Jay-Z was piqued, as he called MIA "a multicultural platform that represents strength, freedom of speech, and perseverance for artists and music lovers."
He made sly reference to his 2001 hit "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" when he said, "We are shocked that the mayor of the city of Philadelphia would evict us from the heart of the city through a media outlet." And Live Nation exec Omar Al-Joulani made it clear how important the Parkway setting was to the producers: "By saying that they're not going to allow us back on the Parkway, they're saying that Made in America as we know it is over."
That seriousness of Made in America's commitment to the Parkway — "The Parkway is very important to Jay," Roc Nation COO Desiree Perez said last week — seems to have caught the city by surprise. The mayor's office's initial statement on the decision said, "It's unclear how MIA will want to proceed in the future but the city is interested in discussing alternate locations within Philadelphia for future years."
The naivete of that statement was that the mayor's office didn't seem to factor in that Made in America is a marquee event and Jay-Z a hugely popular global artist who could easily have moved Made in America to another major city — New York, Washington, and Boston come immediately to mind.
Thankfully, the city made the right decision and backed off the plan. The joint statement Kenney made with Perez acknowledged the "operational and community challenges associated with this large-scale event."
And the statements by Kenney and Perez after their meeting on Monday used the phrase "years to come," meaning that Jay-Z has come out a winner in this exchange, with a commitment to keep his festival here not only next year but for the foreseeable future. The good news is that that's not only a victory for the rapper, entertainment mahoff, and festival curator. It's also a win for the city of Philadelphia.