Made In America: The Backstage Diaries, Day One
As the DJs got the Freedom tent rocking with amazing dance music, I decided to venture over to the Artists Village where the Roc Boys sat, alongside Latin sensation Prince Royce. Funny man Aziz Ansari walked around the grass lounge sipping beer and people watching.
I played kickball with Meek Mill’s son as D’Angelo chilled nearby. Gary Clark Jr. chatted-up members of Janelle’s band when Jay Electronica stopped to give him props on his set. Stalley hung out, readying for his own performance backed by Young Guru, while Wale just sort of bopped around being, well, Wale.
As Skrillex KILLED the stage, the magic hour approached and the entire artist village began to migrate to the main stage for Jay’s set.
Backstage was pandemonium. Meek Mill, Bridget Kelly and Mike Kyser greeted each other. Jay’s mom and sisters climbed the stairs to the birds’ nest above the stage that held Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jaden Smith and Def Jam OG Sean Pecas. The energy was palpable and a little hectic as the venue literally ran out of room to accommodate all the VIPs trying to get a good view of the show.
Then it happened.
Ron Howard, who’s directing a concert documentary about the festival, emerged. “Don’t worry guys, we’ll figure it out,” was all he needed to say. Soon I was standing in between Brian Grazer and Jimmy Iovine, as they discussed which shots they hoped to get. Unreal.
Hov threw up the peace sign when he saw Pearl Jam watching from the press pit. Freeway was all smiles as he posed with his son Jihad for pics. Too young to remember the golden Roc days, this was Jihad’s first time seeing Dad alongside Jay.
All of this happened before G.O.O.D. Music even touched the stage. Swizz Beatz watched intensely as Kanye led his crew through an impressive number of hits before reuniting with his big brother for yet another go round of the still epic “NIP.” You know you have a hit when the stand-by medical team is dancing on the roof of their ambulance.
As fireworks closed the show, the feeling of excitement met pride and patriotism. The crowd chanted “USA!” and I finally got it. This was so much more than a show. It was a rally call.
Now I’ve been to plenty Jay-Z after parties, complete with bottles of Ace, top DJs and the typical scene. That night was nothing like that.
As Nearly 50,000 people emptied the park, VIP moved on to the top of the museum stairs to just hang out. Standing at the very sight where Rocky proclaimed himself ready, Beyoncé chatted with a few friends as her husband filmed some final scenes for Ron. There was no music. The bar was running out of drinks, but no one seemed to care. The day was exhausting but adrenaline and spirits were high.
If this was day one, what would tomorrow hold?