Jay-Z, Springsteen offer music with an inclusive theme
Two of the biggest names in American music will go to work in Philadelphia on Labor Day weekend.
Saturday and Sunday on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Budweiser Made in America festival is expected to draw crowds of more than 40,000 a day for a multistage event headlined and "curated" by Brooklyn rap kingpin Jay-Z.
It will feature a dizzyingly diverse bill of acts including co-headlining grunge survivors Pearl Jam, old-school rappers Run-DMC, dubstep deejay Skrillex, punk rock veterans X, Philadelphia R&B poet Jill Scott, back-in-action neo-soul man D'Angelo, and many others.
Meanwhile, on Sunday and Monday, down the Broad Street Line at Citizens Bank Park, the protean force that is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will perform back-to-back three-hour-plus marathons. Mr. "Born in the U.S.A.," also the subject of an exhibit at the National Constitution Center that ends on Labor Day, is back in town less than six months after playing two nights at the Wells Fargo Center in support of Wrecking Ball, his latest disquisition on the human cost of the betrayal of the American dream.
As iconic pop superstars go, it would be hard to find two acts more different from each another, right?
One one hand, you have your 62-year-old Jersey Shore songwriter and guitarist, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer of long standing who's one of the last creatively vital music-making white men of the baby boom generation.
On the other, there's the 42-year-old African American from the Marcy Houses projects in Brooklyn who has made good on his "Big Pimpin' " boasts with one shrewd career move after another, including founding his own music festival. All his ventures have increased his stature while he has continued to score pop hits, most recently with his 2011 Kanye West collaboration, Watch the Throne.
Tickets remain for both Made in America and Springsteen. (The former are available through Ticketmaster.com, the latter on ComcastTix.com.) It's likely not because the outsize events are poaching each other's audiences, though. The fan bases are widely divergent. Despite a decade and a half in the game, the lyricist born Shawn Carter continues to attract a youthful, ethnically diverse crowd, while Springsteen's audience tends to look like he might had he not aged so well.
But despite obvious differences, something thematically similar will be happening on the South Philadelphia and Art Museum area outdoor stages. Specifically, there's an inclusive, there-are-no-barriers-between-us idea prominent in all of Made in America's messaging that echoes the communal, melting-pot credo that Springsteen has espoused in his rousing revival-tent concerts for decades.
"It's the hope that America is built on, that you can make it here," Jay-Z said, explaining in an Inquirer interview on the Art Museum steps when the fest was announced in May why it would be called Made in America. "Just strengthening that theme that America is a place of opportunity and hoping to inspire people to fulfill those opportunities, and to want more, and to want better, and to see the places we can go. So many people identify with me because of the place that I come from."
That's a sentiment similar to one that Springsteen - who played a Ben Franklin Parkway show of his own in support of then presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 - puts forth in his Irish jig immigrant's song "American Land," which he often includes in encores:
"The McNichols, the Posalskis, the Smiths, Zerillis too / The Blacks, the Irish, Italians, the Germans and the Jews / The Puerto Ricans, illegals, the Asians, Arabs miles from home, come across the water with a fire down below . . . There's treasure for the taking, for any hard working man who will make his home in the American land."
The Made in America festival - and its beer-giant sponsor - mean to make use of its streets of Philadelphia setting where the "Land of Hope and Dreams," to borrow a second Springsteen song title, was born. "It's such an iconic city," Jay-Z told The Inquirer in May, after announcing Made in America on the Art Museum steps with a giant American flag hanging behind him.
Made in America's eclecticism is in sync with the digital-shuffle culture age, where genre barriers have broken down, enabling success for polyglot artists such as MIA performers Janelle Monáe and Santigold. "The lines that separate us, I don't believe in that," Jay-Z said on the Art Museum steps. "I'm cool with anything and everything I'm hearing that's music. It comes under one definition for me."
In a Budweiser ad for Made in America that aired during the Olympics, Jay-Z puts the fest philosophy into words: "We are all trading off each other's culture," he says. "Country, rock, indie, rap: We're all going to find a way to come together. . . . To put that in display for the world is just being honest. That's what it's all about. We are finally living out our creed."
Made in America shares a name with a song on Watch the Throne whose hook was written by Frank Ocean, the rising R&B star and member of the Odd Future hip-hop collective, who will play MIA. It mentions the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and celebrates African American culture. "I pledge allegiance to my Grandma," Jay-Z raps. "For that banana pudding, our piece of Americana."
But the rapper stresses MIA is "for all people." That is echoed by Steve Stoute, the music exec turned adman who conceived the fest with Jay-Z. "Made in America speaks to all the values that America is built on," says Stoute. "Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor. Those values have nothing to do with genre of music or color of skin. . . . Everybody is invited."
Stoute says the fest embodies the concept elucidated in his book, The Tanning of America. "It's the notion of everyone coming together under one mental complexion over a period of time," he says. It's about "the next generation not seeing the world through separation, but seeing more things that make them the same."
Those high-minded underpinnings also aim to help Budweiser, a company that is owned by the Belgian conglomerate AB InBev, sell lots of beer.
Jay-Z is part of a generation for whom corporate tie-ins can be a point of pride or, for many in a transformed music business, a necessity. (Still, Budweiser Made in America is the rare major U.S. festival to have put a corporate name above its title. As industry blogger Bob Lefsetz quipped earlier this year, "Do they call it 'Coors Coachella'? Or Beck's 'Bonnaroo'?")
Springsteen, by contrast, remains one of the few big-star holdouts - Tom Waits is another - who doesn't allow his music to be used in ads. As a rapper whose ability to get paid demonstrates his position in the hip-hop hierarchy, Jay-Z has no such aversion.
Appropriately enough for a mahoff on whom the moniker "the Boss" fits better in 2012 than it does on Springsteen or tattooed MIA rapper Rick Ross, Jay-Z chooses his endorsement deals wisely. He has a scene-stealing cameo in a current ad for Duracell that turns on the idea that the last thing you want to be is "powerless."
The music at the south end of Broad street won't be nearly as diverse as on the Parkway. Springsteen is just one man with just one band. But one reason his shows are so long - and on the outdoor leg of the Wrecking Ball tour, which moved stateside this month, they've been the longest in 30 years - is they aim to encompass the full range of pop music.
While setting out to chronicle the ways in which the promise of America has been achieved or denied - often with clenched-jaw anger, as on Wrecking Ball's "We Take Care of Our Own" - Springsteen and the E Streeters draw from every root and branch of American pop music.
That means there will be rock and country and blues and R&B and gospel and soul in the air at Citizens Bank Park. And yes, rap, too. "Rocky Ground," a Wrecking Ball song of struggle and strife, includes a Springsteen-penned 16-bar verse.
You won't hear the Boss spitting that rhyme, though. When in Philadelphia next weekend, he'll be leaving the rapping to backing vocalist Michelle Moore.
And to Jay-Z.