I loathe crowds. People shouting, constantly bumping into me and stepping on my freshly manicured toes are enough to send this introvert back into to the quiet comfort of solitude.
That’s why I seriously hesitated when a friend invited me to join her at this year’s Made in America, a two-day music festival in Philadelphia over the Labor Day weekend. Perhaps, admittedly, it was also because I wasn’t “made in America” and anything reeking of that much “American pride” gives me pause and flashes of cultural supremacy. But I digress.
I justified coughing up the cash for the chance to see Beyoncé. I wasn’t actually a huge fan of the five-time Grammy singer, but I'd heard she was an incredible performer. Plus, some of my favorite artists, including Bey’s sister Solange and English songstress Emeli Sande, were a part of the lineup. I was cautiously in.
When I arrived at the Jay Z-produced festival, the massive, red Budweiser banner strung across Philly’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, I entered the sea of bodies and was immediately in need of a drink.
“You already looked stressed,” my friend quipped. My furrowed forehead likely gave it away.
On our way to the main stage, we passed two women already wasted. It was 2 p.m. One was passed out, leaning against a pole, vomit splashed across her chest. The other was laying face down on the grass as the paramedics approached.
The first act on our to-see list was rapper A$AP Rocky (he was recently charged with slapping a fan at the festival, so needless to say I won’t be supporting him again).
“Is that Jay Z up there?” one blonde asked me. I tried with all my might not to roll my eyes. Though I personally couldn’t tell you what else A$AP Rocky was known for beside his song “Fuckin’ Problems,” I could tell you he looks nothing like Shawn Corey Carter.
My iTunes isn’t exactly overflowing with the latest hip-hop releases, but I hold rappers to the same misogynistic standards as the rest of our woman-hating culture. Depending on the day, setting and where my ratchet-o-meter falls, my feminist ears can selectively tune out lyrics like “I love bad bitches” and “turn a dyke bitch out, have her fucking boys.” What I can never grow numb to is white folks shouting the n-word.
In almost 90-degree weather, not enough free water stations, practically no shade, and glaring sun, I glared at anyone who uttered the slur. Both the Brooklyn and Trinidad in me came out every five minutes. Anytime someone thought it was okay to drunkenly push past me without saying “Excuse me,” I fired them an icy look or not-so-politely pointed out they were stepping on my things.
But despite it being a literal and figurative hot mess, my favorite moments were when I got to vibe out solo to Solange in a nearly vacant section close to the stage. And when folks settled down at nightfall for Ms. Carter's performance. I watched the seemingly timid star completely transform. The legends are true. Sasha Fierce is real and I left officially almost a Beyoncé stan.
Somehow in the turnout of tens of thousands braless women, shirtless men, impeccable boho-festival-chic fashion and more American flags than I could stomach, I managed to run into familiar faces from high school and college. The reunions were short and unexpected -– a sweet reminder of how large, obnoxious events like these can bring together people from all walks of life, and all chapters of yours.
So while I had to practice not calling people every cuss word I know, I can finally check “music festival” off my bucket list. It was an exhaustingly entertaining couple of days. I wouldn’t do it again, but I’m glad I did (and didn’t hurt anyone in the process).