With all of the hype and promotion by City Hall, festival had a lot to live up to

Posted: September 04, 2012

With all of the hype and promotion by City Hall, the Budweiser Made in America two-day festival that climaxed in rain and music Sunday night on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway had a lot to live up to.

The Jay-Z-driven mega-event, attracting the likes of Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and closing act Pearl Jam - combined with a Bruce Springsteen concert in South Philadelphia - turned the city for one weekend into the live-entertainment capital of America.

The events, which went off without any major security hitches, were anticipated to boost the city's image as a pop-culture and music center while generating income for hotels and local businesses.

The Made in America crowds were big - on the order of 74,000 - but it may take days to sort out whether the event was a financial success. The city invested in it, but Mayor Nutter repeatedly declined to say how much it had spent.

Hopes were for as many as 100,000 paid attendees, coming from all over the East to see and hear 30 acts, representing genres as diverse as hip-hop and grunge-rock on what is traditionally a slow Labor Day weekend.

Made in America lived up to its billing for the most part, many who attended or put together the event said.

But will it return for an encore next year? City officials say they need to wait and see the numbers, or the bills, first.

"It was a good crowd," Nutter said as he was leaving Made in America en route to the Springsteen concert at Citizens Bank Park. "We are going to sit down and tabulate the costs. The promoter is picking up the bulk of it, and the city is trying to minimize it for them as much as possible.

"I . . . consider this as an investment," he said. "As far as the future, from the beginning, Jay-Z and his people wanted a repeat event. We'll see how it goes. . . . We're very interested in exploring a future."

Early drizzle and clouds on Sunday threatened to keep some away, and did. Made in America promoter Live Nation said the event sold about 40,000 tickets each day. An estimated 40,000 were on hand Saturday, but only about 34,000 turned out on Sunday.

The Parkway venue had a capacity to hold 50,000 each day, meaning Live Nation was "in the red," said Geoff Gordon, regional president of Live Nation, who booked the talent and promoted the concert.

Ticket prices ranged from $75 to $350.

Gordon declined to comment on how much of the expenses Live Nation was picking up and how much the city was picking up.

City and tourism officials said the event was a risk because many people ordinarily head to the Jersey Shore to enjoy the final weekend of summer.

To keep more people in the city this year, as well as attract out-of-towners, Jay-Z and Pearl Jam - two of the biggest acts in pop music - combined to headline the festival, which was to benefit the Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey branches of the United Way.

Several acts that took the stage on Sunday, such as Santigold and Jill Scott, have deep Philly roots. Some, like Rita Ora, were proteges of Jay-Z.

Holden Collick, 22, of Long Beach, N.Y., came for the second day and stayed with a friend in Manayunk.

"This is an awesome mix of different genres," said the junior at Brandeis University. "I told my friends it's a miniature Coachella, a West Coast festival."

That type of word of mouth is what the promoter and organizers were hoping for.

The festival appeared to be a hit with fans. Few had anything more than minor complaints to report from both days.

"It's been pretty sweet," said 30-year-old Jesse Singh of Cleveland.

Singh, a self-described outdoor music festival connoisseur, said the promise of acts like Run-DMC and Pearl Jam drew him to Pennsylvania. He said he had been to similar events in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. He was amazed to learn this was the first incarnation of Made in America.

"They've really got their act together with safety and cleaning up here," he said. "Come on, you've got people from Jersey, Philly, and New York here. That's a pretty rowdy crowd."

Nutter said there was a reason it went as seamlessly as it did. He said changes were made as late as Saturday night on staffing and deployment of resources.

Singh added he'd definitely be back if there is a Made in America next year - a sentiment echoed by many.

Nicole Lounsbury and friend Amanda Sergeant, both 23, and both from Philadelphia, had only one request.

"The DJ tent is too small," Sergeant said Sunday afternoon. "There's not enough room for everyone to dance. Make it bigger next year."

Rich Bossert, chief of EMS operations for the city, said that, other than basic cases of dehydration, there were no reported injuries over the two days. There was one arrest, and one person had to go to the hospital for dehydration on Saturday.

"I'm totally amazed there's been no problems, or fights, both days," he said Sunday. "Today is a lot better. The crowd is not as young, they're a little bit more mature. There's been no police activity today."

Local businesses, such as Jack's Firehouse on Fairmount Avenue, a restaurant and bar less than a half-mile from the Parkway's exit gates, made out from the festival.

"Business was a little flatter than normal during the dinner hour, and it picked up during brunch," owner Mick Houston said. "Then, at around 11:30 Saturday night, the place got mobbed . . . and they were all spending money."

"It has been great for us on the Parkway and managed well by the city with no major problems," said James Brown, general manager and regional director of the Windsor Suites Hotel at 1700 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. "We need more events on historically slow weekends like this."

Added Bill Walsh, general manager of the Philadelphia Marriott at 12th and Market Streets: "The Made in America concert transformed Labor Day weekend for Philadelphia hotels. It was not only a boost for our local economy, but also a boost for the morale of all Philadelphians. We hope that this can be the start of a great tradition."

People were still streaming in after 8 p.m. Sunday. As Pearl Jam, a band credited with making grunge rock fashionable, assumed the Rocky Stage at 9 p.m., the crowd appeared to be having a very good time even as the drizzle returned.

Nutter said that, aside from the ticket sales and filled hotel rooms and restaurants, the event brought to Philadelphia something every city craves: buzz.

Philly got it through thousands of tweets and YouTube videos, including hip-hop sensation Drake of Canada, who urged his Twitter followers to watch him Sunday via live streaming.

"This is getting international exposure for the city and showing what a great city Philadelphia is to visit even if they weren't able to come to this," he said.

But even those who didn't fork over the money for a Made in America ticket got to experience it.

Disputing assurances by Nutter and other city officials last week that only those within a fence around Made in America venues would hear and see the acts, lots of people outside the gates did just that - to the chagrin of some residents and delight of others.

"It's like opening my window and listening to Pandora," Shayna Lowy, 23, who lives at 21st and Spring Garden Streets, said as she enjoyed the music Sunday.

"It's great," said Matt Norwood, 30, who listened and watched Run-DMC perform with his brother, Dan, of Northern Liberties, as they stood just outside the fence off Pennsylvania Avenue near Spring Garden Street.

They were clearly pleased they could see a third of the jumbo screen by the Rocky Stage and hear clearly.

Inquirer staff writers Dan DeLuca, Melissa Dribben, Jan Hefler, Jonathan Lai, and Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this story.

Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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