August 31, 2016
Hugh E. Dillon is torn. As a photographer and blogger who documents what’s going on in Philly, the annual Made in America festival is a blessing.
“I love the event, love that it happens in Philly,” he said. “It could have gone anywhere.”
But as a Fairmount resident who lives a stone’s throw from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, that's a different question. The noise and road closures amount to a weekend in hell. Since this is the first year he will not be credentialed to cover the two-day concert, he’s getting out of town.
“I’m doing what I recommend my readers do – go away,” Dillon said.
Love it or hate it, Made in America has drawn tens of thousands of music fans to the Ben Franklin Parkway every Labor Day Weekend since 2012 – including 2015 when attendance at the two-day festival topped 130,000. The crowds come to see pop stars like Rihanna and Coldplay, who are headlining this year’s event.
With Live Nation’s contract with the city set to expire after 2017, the question lingers: Will — and should — Made in America return after next year? If so, should it change, and how?
After Pope Francis came to town in September, former Mayor Michael Nutter chided the city's residents for complaining about road closures, disappointing returns for many small businesses and other nuisances caused by the three-day visit. Nutter asked the city as a whole in an interview with Philly Mag, “How do we enjoy success?”
That’s the perspective through which Fairmount resident Craig Keefer views Made in America.
“It’s not like Bonnaroo where you’re in some cornfield in the middle of the country. There's no festivals like this. The surroundings and the setting fit into what this vision is all about.” – Dan Parise, Made in America co-producer
He has to drive around the art museum – a “complete pain in the ass” when the Parkway starts getting shut down for the concert.
But when Keefer bought his house in the neighborhood eight years ago, he knew the perils of living near a spot that’s home to events like the annual Welcome America concert and fireworks show.
“But for the long-term vision of what it does for the greater good, it's a small inconvenience,” Keefer said, noting the exposure it brings Philly and the incoming business it brings for local bars and restaurants.
Derek Harper of Fairmount is similarly patient with those headaches. Sure, he can hear the music that Saturday when he wakes up — for reference, Harper impersonates an electronic music beat by making a “dun dun dun” noise – but ultimately, living near the parkway means dealing with the occasional big-scale event.
He doesn’t drive much and hasn’t had any major inconveniences since the festival began. A couple years back Harper even got to enjoy the festivities, he said. His wife’s from France, and when her nephew came to visit one year, he desperately wanted to check it out.
“We hung out around the perimeter and just heard some of the music,” Harper said.
Overall, the volume of complaints about the concert have declined since the inaugural event, said Kevin Moran, executive director of he Fairmount Community Development Corporation.
“In Year One, we were receiving all types of questions and concerns,” he said. “The level of phone calls and emails has gone down a lot.”
Made in America also provides a boost to businesses on a weekend when many residents typically have left town for the holiday.
Last year, the Nutter administration estimated Made in America has an $10 million economic impact on the city annually, according to Mike Dunn, spokesman for current Mayor Jim Kenney. Live Nation foots the bill for the entire event.
“Usually, it tends to be a lot steadier Saturday and Sunday that whole weekend,” says Luisa Magda, manager of Bishop’s Collar at 24th Street and Fairmount Avenue, within walking distance of the event. “We get a lot more out-of-towners coming in. It definitely does pick up a lot more.”
“It’s normally a slow weekend in the city,” said Patrick O'Neill, manager of The Belgian Café at 21st and Green streets.
He noted that the amount of customers he gets depends on the weather and the headliners; Beyoncé was good for business last year.
Echoing some residents, however, O’Neill said the concert makes parking a headache. And last year, the combination of naïve visitors, alcohol and scheming opportunists led to a problem, Magda said.
“There was an issue with pick-pocketing, specifically pocketbooks (hung) on the back of the chair,” she said. But, overall, “It’s a net-positive.”
“We had an SUV that was parked so close to our steps that I had to lean (on it) to get around my steps.” — Fairmount resident Julie Charnet
The crowds at both bars come and go in waves. The concert’s no-reentry policy means concertgoers can’t leave to grab a bite and a beer between acts. But neither manager seems to bothered by that, as they welcome the extra cash at a time when they’d normally hit a lull, and the concertgoers are usually pretty “mellow” when they stop in, Magda said.
With the expiring contract, an opportunity to find out how the event might further benefit local businesses could present itself.
“Now is a great time to engage with the business community and get reliable responses to that question,” Fairmount CDC's Moran said.
Not all those who dwell along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway have a laissez-faire attitude about the concert.
“My neighbors can’t stand it,” said Dillon, who runs the local celebrity and gossip blog Philly Chit Chat.
The noise has been a constant problem, and the “complete takeover” of the parkway is the “biggest problem.” Dillon said when he had to rent a car for a job this week, the closures that started taking effect Monday were already causing issues.
“I couldn't even park near the art museum because there's no parking already.”
Julie Charnet, who lives about six blocks from the parkway, said last year the parking got so bad that some people were driving their cars right up onto the sidewalk — including right onto her doorstep.
“We had an SUV that was parked so close to our steps that I had to lean (on it) to get around my steps,” she remembered.
Neither Dillon nor Charnet think the solution is to purge the parkway of Made In America. It could just be better — or somewhere else.
For example, Charnet laments the garbage that gets left on the streets and wishes more trash cans were provided.
As a jazz vocalist who performs with her husband, a drummer, she’s supports any concert where musicians get paid and understands, “There's only so much you can do.” But she wishes they would just do something different.
“If they made a bigger effort for the residents that live in the neighborhood," Charnet said, "it would go a long way."
Dillon’s proposed a more drastic solution.
“It’s unfair,” he said of having it on the parkway. After 2017, he suggested the concert should be moved to another location that doesn’t block off a major thoroughfare, such as nearby Fairmount Park, the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia or FDR Park near the stadium complex.
“Love the event, don’t love it on parkway,” Dillon said.
The event is co-produced by Live Nation, Roc Nation (Jay Z’s company) and Diversified Production Services . DPS President Dan Parise said the concert's producers have tried to alleviate community concerns since the event began.
He says several steps have been taken — not to mention plenty of money spent — to reduce negative impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. Audio teams have been sent out to conduct sound studies each year, and from the second year on, a “sandbox” subwoofer on the main Rocky Stage has been used to absorb excess sound with — you guessed it — sand.
“Any large event like this is going to be an inconvenience. We try and minimize the inconvenience and make people as happy as possible, because not everyone is always going to be happy.” – Mayor Jim Kenney
And this year, for the first time, the Freedom Stage, which is set up on the northeast side of the Parkway, has been angled differently based on those studies to reduce noise pollution in the neighborhood.
As for the road closures, Parise said the outrage from some is overblown. He stresses that only certain lanes are shut down before Friday, and that the real street closures don’t take effect until Friday night before the concert.
“This perception of us coming in there and closing down all these roadways, it’s wrong,” Parise said.
You’ll hear no complaints from Kenney about Made in America. In his first year as mayor for the event, he praised Live Nation and its co-producers for deploying outreach teams two days before the concert to respond to community and patron concerns, and his administration said it will look closely at how this year's concert is run.
“Any large event like this is going to be an inconvenience,” Kenney said. “We try and minimize the inconvenience and make people as happy as possible, because not everyone is always going to be happy.”
Said Dunn, “I can say certainly that after each concert, the city does do an evaluation on how things went with a view toward improving. Just because the contract is locked in doesn’t mean we don’t work with the producers.”
Specific discussions with Live Nation about the future of Made in America after 2017 have not begun, Dunn said, and neither side would speculate about a potential location change. But both were adamant they wanted to continue the relationship: Kenney because of what it means for the city, and Parise because the festival is so "unique."
“The main thing is to keep it beyond 2017,” Kenney said.
“It’s not like Bonnaroo where you’re in some cornfield in the middle of the country,” Parise said. “There's no festivals like this. The surroundings and the setting fit into what this vision is all about.”
As for Dillon? He is opting for a trip to the Great Allentown Fair this Labor Day weekend, something he jokes is actually made in America.
“Rihanna’s not made in America,” Dillon said in jest, referring to her Barbadian heritage. “And Coldplay was made in the U.K.”