I spent Labor Day weekend sweatily pressed shoulder-to-shoulder with 60,000 other people in Philadelphia at the Made in America Festival. I was there for Beyonce only. Everyone else was there for Deadmau5, Phoenix, and a slew of other bands that I care very little about. I had a goal: to see if Festival Beyonce is the same as Stadium Beyonce, and to figure out what, if any, cracks there are in her seamless exterior. (Also, I saw Haim, and learned to love the center part.) Here are some assorted thoughts and lessons learned from my trip to Made in America.
1. I don’t love a festival. Before this weekend, I’d never really been to a music festival, but had always felt a tiny pang of longing each summer when the lineups would roll out and the pictures would start peppering my various social media feeds. Friends of friends in sundresses and sunnies making daisy chains and holding hands silhouetted against a desert sunset at Coachella! The epic three-hour-long R. Kelly playlist at Pitchfork Festival in Chicago! So many shared experiences with friends! So many photo opps! What a culturally relevant and exciting way to enrich my life! Made In America was my chance at that dream, dammit. After checking in and finding my friends, I discovered that the festival atmosphere contained almost everything I dislike in one location without re-entry: crowds, no shade, expensive beer, and lines. Things I did enjoy about the festival include Bud Light Strawb-a-rita and seeing how creative kids were getting these days with what passes for acceptable clothing in which to leave the house.
2. Philly is the city of brotherly love, where those brothers are actually bros. For most of my twenties, I was under the impression that the back alleys of Boston are where all the bros of North America spawned from, crawling out fully upright in Nantucket reds and freshly pressed gingham. I was wrong. It’s Philly. Made In America was like a showroom for every single kind of bro you could ever imagine exists. The Rap Bro, the EDM Bro, the “My Girlfriend Loves Beyonce” Bro.It was a veritable cornucopia of bro-dom, everywhere that I turned, assaulted with yet another specimen. They were all chugging Bud Light and beating their chests. Not many of them had shirts on, but most wore American flags in some iteration on their bodies. Amidst the throngs of festival goers, I saw dudes sitting on the shoulders of their friends, not a care in the world.
3. I’m too old for this shit. I’m not old-old. I’m actually pretty okay with my age, where I’m at in life, and how things have been shaking out thus far. A guaranteed way to make me feel like I should be pushing a walker is to dump my ass in a crowd full of tweens in crop-tops on Molly. As I was standing in the crowd waiting for Beyonce to take the stage, a tiny girl in an American flag bandana and little else waded over to me, and pointed at the bottle of water I had. “Could I have a sip? I feel like I’m gonna pass out,” she said. I took a long pull from the bottle and handed it over. “Just take it, don’t worry about it,” I said. She made her way back to her friends, and I heard her say “That lady gave us her water!” That. Lady. That was me.
4. Drum circles are acceptable if it’s Haim at the helm. If you don’t know, now you know — no one will ever be as cool as Haim. The indie sister act ended their set by whacking a set of drums with all of their might. They are the arbiters of that LA girl cool that involves the perfect cut-offs, battered motorcycle boots and the perfect center part.
5. EDM is a thing that I do not understand. When I was 15, “Hackers” transformed my life for a brief few months, inspiring a really horrible haircut and hours of listening to The Prodigy in my bedroom. My first boyfriend loved house music, and I went dutifully to see DJs at loud, awful clubs, once falling asleep sitting on top of a speaker at a Carl Cox gig. This is my past. I’m not ashamed. This new iteration of electronic music and its surrounding fanaticism is something that I will never understand, but seems like a great time to take a bunch of drugs and jump around with all your friends. It’s not for me this round, but that is a sentiment that never gets old.
6. There’s something special about screaming rap lyrics in a crowd of thousands. 2 Chainz is a national treasure, an avid food photographer and someone who makes music that I’m always happy to yell at the top of my lungs in the right setting, usually in a dark bar with my friends. Thankfully, he didn’t disappoint. 2 Chainz always seems psyched. He’s happy! All the time! He raps about Benihana and big booty women, and as a woman and a feminist and a person, I am not offended or insulted. I love it.
7. I will always love Beyonce. I do not consider myself a “fan” of anything, really. I find that kind of unfettered enthusiasm and slavish devotion to any one sort of thing, be it a sports team or a particularly delicious brand of hot sauce, unappealing.
Beyonce is the one crack in my veneer.
Maybe it’s because she and I are roughly the same age. Maybe it’s because she has been making music for as long as music has been a thing that I’ve concerned myself with. Maybe it’s because seeing her perform is like watching a beautiful, smooth-skinned automaton, programmed within an inch of its life, perfectly attuned to what does and does not make a good performance. She’s wise to the little nuances that will make an audience feel connected, even though, you think, as you watch the dancing, the hair, the signing, that if she were to nick her leg shaving, beneath the surface would reveal icy, cold metal. Maybe it’s because she embodies all aspects of womanhood as something she created and owns, not something she was given. It is the Mrs. Carter Tour, after all, and Mrs. Carter is a lady who does what she wants. Maybe it’s because during one of her costume changes, she intones over a mirror image video of the undulating S-curve of her body, “Harnessing the power of your body requires responsibility,” and for some reason, that resonates. Maybe it’s because she somehow, truly, has it all, and I’m just quietly taking notes and studying how to achieve that elusive goal.
As Drake says, girls love Beyonce. Boys love Beyonce. Everyone loves Beyonce.