Made In America 2014

October 7, 2014

This past Labor Day weekend, I had the opportunity to attend and photograph the Budweiser Made In America Festival in Philadelphia. It was a pretty exciting moment for me in a few ways. First, I had just finished photographing Afropunk Fest '14 the weekend before. Second, I was pretty excited about some of the lineup. Finally, it was a paid assignment for a publication—my first ever! I was stoked and nervous all at the same time.

The atmosphere at this festival was notably different than that of Afropunk, for a few reasons. First, there was the branding. While Afropunk definitely had sponsors, they weren't nearly as prominent as the Budwiser branding along Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This also meant that if you were drinking, your options were limited to one brand immediately—for better or worse.

The next thing was the crowd. Afropunk's crowd was diverse and fashionable, energetic but courteous. Made In America played out more like a frat party at times: many more tattered polo tees, cargo shorts, and short shorts, much more drunken hijinks, more people who were noticeably under the influence. This isn't to say one festival is inherently better than the other, but they were definitely very different. As I described it to a friend, the scene was as if an American Eagle exploded—they were one of the sponsors, in fact! The press experience was quite different as well, but I'll get to that later.

Made In America was taking place on both the East and West coasts simultaneously (or as simultaneously as possible with a 3-hour time difference) with performances from one coast being beamed to the other during downtime. The lineup was varied, but mostly consisted  of a mixture of pop and EDM icons, pop trends, with a few old school acts and up-and-comers sprinkled in.  You could catch Big Daddy Kane perform on one stage, and then Baauer (of Harlem Shake notoriety) on another. Tiësto would spin on one stage while fans awaited Kings of Leon on another. As the day progressed, it wasn't uncommon to see people climbing the road signs and lamp posts or being lifted atop someone's shoulders.

I was shooting for Stereogum, and as I mentioned earlier, it was my first assignment, ever. I was paired with a writer, and basically I was to provide the visuals to accompany his article. That meant that whatever he wanted to write about, I had to shoot. It worked out really well since what he wanted to check out and what I wanted to check out matched most of the time.

It was my first time being hired press, and the experience at this festival was very different from other times that I've been granted a pass. For one thing, we had a press tent, which was perfect for people who wanted to take a load off, process images and create content, and it had WiFi so people could deliver that ready-made content as quickly as possible. Not only that, but it was a good place to socialize between sets. It was nice to get to know some of the people that I'd be seeing in the pit for the next couple of days. They were even kind enough to feed us.

I really enjoyed my time shooting. It was a very different experience than I'm used to. The stages were taller, the speakers were bigger, and the crowds were larger than any I had dealt with before. I decided to rent a second camera body and a lens for the event, and it really came in handy.

Day one went over without a snag, but day two was delayed a bit by a thunderstorm that hit Philly in the middle of Spoon's set. The entire area was evacuated until the lightning had stopped. After everyone returned to the grounds, it began to rain again! This time, there was no lightning, so everyone just got wet while enjoying the music.

This was my first experience with release forms and artist demands, as well. I was worried that there might be some really restrictive contracts to sign, but honestly, there was nothing ridiculous at all. The National (top left) had us sign a form that basically said we wouldn't reproduce the images commercially, which I think is perfectly acceptable. Kings of Leon (not pictured) also had a similar contract to be signed.

Other artists did not require any contracts to be signed, but they did have certain stipulations, which ranged from how many people could be in the pit, to where they could shoot from, to how the photos had to be processed!

The requests really weren't unreasonable, though. Everything was pretty organized and even the rain delay was handled pretty quickly.

The photo pit experience was really smooth. Everyone was respectable, there was plenty of space to shoot, and it seems like the organizers made sure that would happen. It's a good thing, too. After all, you want the people who are helping you document the event to make it look as good as possible. That means letting them work comfortably. Being able to get shade and a seat when the sun was beating down was a great relief, and I'm sure that being fed without having to line up at a food truck kept stress levels down too. 

When all was said and done, there was an article written up by Ryan Leas, which you can read here on Stereogum, and I got my first photo credit in a music publication. Hopefully more will follow. You are more than welcome to see more of my concert photography by checking out my concert portfolio.

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