As a Fairmount resident, I should hate Made in America but I don't | Ronnie Polaneczky

The crowd dances during Pusha T’s set at the Made in America Festival.

I get why many of my neighbors hated on the Budweiser Made in America Festival this past weekend. When you live in the Art Museum area, like we do, there’s lots to loathe about mega-spectacles on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

Jay-Z’s decibel-shattering extravaganza clogged streets, hijacked parking, and attracted noisy people high on life and possibly other substances.

Man, what an intrusion it was.

And, man, how I didn’t mind it. Living through the madness is an annoyance only if I forget that something incredible has happened in America’s birthplace over the last decade or so: Its Parkway has become America’s front yard.

The Live 8 concert in 2005. Jay-Z’s productions since 2012. The pope’s visit in 2015. The NFL draft last spring.

These gatherings are not only on a different scale from the Parkway’s former tame fare of holiday parades, ethnic festivals, and July Fourth celebrations.

They pull attendees and attention from far outside our boundaries. And an unexpected thing happens when outsiders get to know us: They crush on us.

They ooh and ahh over our manageable size. Our wonderful architecture. Our stewardship of the country’s history. Our insanely great food scene. Our crazy mix of highbrow and lowbrow cultures and traditions.

Yes (duh), we have problems that all big cities have – high poverty and the social ills it breeds; a maddening, entrenched bureaucracy; a creaking, ancient infrastructure held together by duct tape, spit, and City Hall’s prayers.

But we’re also accessible, charming, and authentic in ways that can be taken for granted by those who’ve lived here forever and don’t understand how precious those qualities are.

Outsiders get it and appreciate it. And it dawns on me that this flawed, nutty, underrated, over-modest city belongs to them as much as it does to me. It’s our shared, original home.

And it has one heck of a front yard that we all should be allowed to play in.

To naysayers, let me agree that Made in America has its problems, despite the city’s improved communication and collaboration with neighborhoods impacted by big Parkway events.

A ticket-only event, Made in America walls off a huge swath of public property for massive private profit. A two-day pass cost $200 this year, and because attendees are prohibited from bringing their own food and drinks, they got fleeced with impunity:  $16 for a can of Bud, $15 for a meatball sammy.

“The tickets are a little high for my normal price range,” said Dave Graham, a bartender at Whole Foods, as he named some acts — Alex G, Run the Jewels — he wished he could see.

Because the festival is contained – even workers are fed within the compound – neighborhood eateries don’t benefit.

“We don’t get extra business from it,” said Katerina Koutroubas, owner of Little Pete’s restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue. Plus, “you lose your regulars” who flee the city.

Performers crudely drop amplified  f-bombs, N-words, and the like, which non-festivalgoers shouldn’t have to put up with. I could actually hear the profanities from inside the otherwise hushed walls of the Chapel of Divine Love at 22nd and Green Streets., where the cloistered Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters keep a 24-hour prayer vigil.

And public transit is rerouted so far out of the neighborhood that residents “basically have two choices,” said Spring Garden resident Linda Greenawalt.

“You either stay, because there’s no transportation,” she said, “or you get out of Dodge for the weekend.”

Knowing all that, I tried hard to hate on Made in America as I wandered around the site over the weekend. But I kept meeting the nicest, most excited, and hilarious young people, whose exuberance would disarm Scrooge.

“It gives me a chance to meet a lot of really cool people,” said George Engelson, who lives right across from the festival’s main stage. On Saturday morning, he jerry-rigged a tarp above the sidewalk to shelter strangers during Saturday’s predicted rain. When I visited during the downpour later, dozens of grateful new friends were crowded beneath the makeshift canopy.

Philly native Kat Yu loved the idea of a big, happy, diverse crowd listening to diverse music.

“It’s a good time,” she said, “and I like seeing my city thrive.”

During my stroll, I took a breather on the front steps of my first-ever city apartment, on the 2200 block of Spring Garden Street. That was more than three decades ago, and I can still remember how thrilled I was to have a front seat to the Parkway’s growing number of concerts and festivals.

Back then, I’d throw open the windows to let in the noise. It was my time, baby. For Made in America’s young concertgoers, this past weekend was theirs. 

I hope they had a blast.

 

Ronnie Polaneczky spent the weekend tweeting from everywhere in Fairmount except inside the Made in America festival grounds. Click here see to what concertgoers, neighborhood residents, and local business owners had to say.