The biggest problem with Budweiser’s Made In America Festival is that it does not make Philadelphia one of its main characters—the city barely even has a supporting role. Sure, for the past two years it has taken place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and the stage on the Museum of Art’s steps is called the (gulp) “Rocky Stage,” but it is possible for festival-goers to attend Made In America without ever experiencing Philadelphia.
This year, there was even a “Skate Park Stage” which was placed close to the recently opened Paine’s Park, but that did not even acknowledge its existence. And, while one of the vendors was selling roast pork sandwiches, a five minute walk would have allowed people to eat one of the best sandwiches in the world: The roast pork at DiNic’s, in Reading Terminal.
But, once you pass through the gates of Made In America, you cannot leave. There is a no re-entry policy. You are trapped. This makes sense for the festival organizers, of course, because one of the primary goals is for Budweiser to create a self-contained branding zone where you are forced to purchase its $11 beers. Though the festival-customized cans were pretty cool, when I attended the second day of this year’s Made In America, I would have preferred to drink a beer made by Yards, Triumph or Philadelphia Brewing Company.
Made In America, like many popular music festivals in the U.S. (Lollapalooza, Coachella, the list goes on), creates a temporary festival zone; this allows them to optimize revenues within that space. As a consequence, it cuts off other local restaurants, bars and shops. Also, this format does not allow festival-goers to have any type of meaningful connection with the city itself. You may be able to watch Wiz Khalifa perform on the art museum steps (which was great, by the way), but you cannot go into the museum, just as you cannot stroll around Constitution Hall or Rittenhouse Square or Old City or anywhere outside of Budweiser’s barricades.
Last weekend, when I attended some of the events surrounding Raleigh, North Carolina’s Hopscotch Festival, I saw an alternative to Made In America. During the day, I went to a party hosted by the Paradise of Bachelors record label (which is co-owned by a Philadelphia resident). Held at a gorgeous outdoor amphitheater surrounded by lovely green trees and blooming flowers, I saw several Philadelphia rock bands play, including Birds of Maya, Spacin’, and Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel. I also drank several beers made by Raleigh’s own Trophy Brewing Company.
Hopscotch was deeply, carefully integrated into the city. Across the festival’s three days, bands performed at over one dozen venues scattered across Raleigh. There were people wandering around, lounging in parks, eating at restaurants, drinking at bars, shopping at stores, going to art galleries, and so on. None of this is possible at Made In America. On Sunday evening, I saw the Breeders perform their classic alt-rock radio hit “Cannonball” in Raleigh’s City Plaza, located in the heart of the downtown area. At Hopscotch, the music was very important, but so was the city of Raleigh.
As many attendees who went to the first and second years of Made In America have noted, the festival, overall, has improved. It is a great addition to Philadelphia’s cultural landscape, and something that will continue to bring positive attention to the city. But I do not think it is possible for Made In America to do what Hopscotch did: With its massive scale and target demographic, it needs a more controlled environment. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But, Philadelphia needs more than one big music festival: Made In America is a good start, but it is hopefully just the beginning of Philadelphia’s music festival scene. We need a festival that allows people to experience the city. We need a festival that makes Philadelphia, if not the star, at least a star of the show.
Oh, and one that has better beer options and a DiNic’s sandwich.
Elliott Sharp is a music journalist living in West Philadelphia. He is currently the associate editor of RedBull.com/music, and a contributor to Philadelphia City Paper and Village Voice.