The uproar about the Made in America festival potentially leaving the Benjamin Franklin Parkway next year has so focused on the back and forth between rapper Jay-Z and Mayor Kenney.
Desiree Perez, a top executive with Jay Z's Roc Nation, has said she was "shocked" to learn that Philadelphia planned to boot the festival off the Parkway in 2019. In a commentary published by the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, Jay-Z said the mayor has shown "zero appreciation for what Made in America has built."
Kenney has since called the brouhaha "an unfortunate misunderstanding" and said the city is "committed to continuing our partnership with the Made in America festival." What remains unclear is whether Kenney will back off from his demand that it move to a new venue in Philadelphia. And if the mayor doesn't, will Jay-Z pull the event from the city?
But along with those two principals, there's a third major player in the Made in America drama. Live Nation, the world's largest concert promotion company, presents the festival in tandem with Roc Nation.
In addition to putting on shows at venues around the region from the Festival Pier on Penn's Landing and the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Live Nation's local offices have a long history of partnering to produce events on the Parkway, from the Live 8 concert in 2005, to Pope Francis' visit in 2015, the NFL Draft in 2017 and many years of the Wawa Welcome America festival on July 4, which this year was headlined by Miami rapper Pitbull.
Geoff Gordon, Live Nation Philadelphia's regional president, says he is "extremely passionate" about finding a way to keep the festival on the Parkway. News of the city's decision to move the fest off the site from where it's been held annually since 2012 was originally reported in a BillyPenn news article.
"I'm trying to show support for everything Jay-Z does, for all the right reasons," Gordon says. In his Inquirer op-ed, the rapper and entertainment mogul, who is scheduled to perform at Lincoln Financial Field with his wife, Beyonce, in a Live Nation-promoted event July 30, said that the festival has generated $102.8 million in economic impact since its inception.
"He's a great artist, and a really great business partner, and one of the most creative people I've ever met," says Gordon.
But Gordon isn't arguing that the festival should remain downtown just because it's a good business deal for Live Nation, but because of its promotional value to the city.
He calls Made in America, whose featured acts scheduled on Labor Day weekend this year include Nicki Minaj, R&B-funk singer Janelle Monae, former Philadelphia DJ-producer Diplo, and North Philly rapper Meek Mill, "this world-class festival that we're so lucky to have."
"It's such a showcase for the city," Gordon, 51, originally from Rochester, N.Y., said about the festival, which is shown around the country and the world on Jay-Z's Tidal music streaming service.
"I remember the first year we did it, my friends from out of town saw the stream and said 'Hey, where'd you get those fountains?'" referring to the Washington Monument fountain and its two companion water-spewing works of public art on Eakins Oval, in front of the festival's main Rocky Stage.
"I said, 'Hey guys, they're there all the time.' I've been here for over 20 years, and they've never come to visit me, and sure enough after they saw Philadelphia on the stream, they came to visit, a couple of times. I think there's a real benefit to that. You can have a festival in a field anywhere, and its going to look like a field. But with that cityscape and that vibe and the main arteries of the city? It's awesome."
The close identification of the festival with the Parkway — and the Parkway with the identity of the city — was underscored by Gordon's Live Nation colleague Omar Al-Joulani, who told the Inquirer last week "by saying that they're not going to allow us back on the Parkway, they are saying that Made in America as we know it is over."
The push to reduce the number of events on the Parkway, which this year included the Eagles Super Bowl parade in addition to such annual events asthe Philadelphia Marathon and AIDs Walk, has been reinforced by a study released this year by the Parkway Council that polled Parkway residents — 87 percent of whom were 35 or older and 94 percent of whom were white. Only 26 percent wanted to see more music festivals.
Opponents of the hip-hop-heavy Made in America and other large events on the Parkway point out the difficulty — if not impossibility — of visiting Parkway museums while the fest is going on.
"We had some operational difficulties on the Parkway because of how long it kind of takes to set up and take down," Kenney said at a news conference last week. The Inquirer has reported that on Monday, the mayor will meet with Roc Nation's Perez and Philadelphia 76ers billionaire co-owner Michael Rubin, who was a force in working to get Meek Mill released from prison earlier this year, in an effort to resolve where the festival will take place next year.
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The Parkway study also expressed concern about damage being done to exhibits in the Parkway's museums and cultural institutions due to vibrations caused by the loud volume of music. An acoustics expert said last week that "buildings and art are probably more tolerant to vibration than you might think."
"I have total respect for the Art Museum and all the museums of the Parkway," says Gordon. "They're a huge part of the culture in the city. But so is this event. Especially to the younger generation that's helping grow the city. This music is their art. Made in America is their art."
Live Nation's footprint in the city has grown along with its burgeoning downtown millennial population in recent years. In 2015, the concert company opened the Fillmore Philadelphia, the popular Fishtown venue where the company hosted a daytime Kid Nation event this month to introduce neighborhood students to potential careers in the entertainment industry. In December, it will unveil Met Philadelphia, the result of a $56 million renovation of the mammoth, long-shuttered Metropolitan Opera House on North Broad Street.
Made in America is a perfect fit for the Parkway, Gordon says, because it fits in with a demographic shift in lifestyle choices among young adults that's shaping the way of life in Center City and in downtowns all over the country. In Philadelphia, millennials now made up fully 40 percent of the population, twice the rate of the entire metro area.
"The sea change is that when I was growing up, people aspired to get the big house out in the country or the suburbs," the Live Nation chief says. "That is not an aspiration of millennials. They want to be immersed in the environment and the excitement and the energy of the city. And if that doesn't describe Made in America, I don't know what does."