My husband and I think what went on at the “Made in America” festival is something that “grownups” need to take note of. It made us hopeful about the future, and it’s been a while since we’ve felt that.
We were by far the oldest folks in the crowd at the “Made in America” festival. Graying sideburns, distance glasses, and comfortable sandals gave us away and momentarily set us self-consciously apart from the firm flesh and taught skin of our fellow concertgoers.
Our own kid had come under separate cover and had spent the day on the parkway, enjoying a full lineup of music in the sun. We had ambled uptown in the late afternoon, had stopped for dinner and a drink. Slowpokes.
A long line of police cars gave way to a security pat-down line, which opened into a throng of teens and twenty-somethings. Girls wore bandeaus, tube dresses or cut-offs. A few had sequined American flag bras that shimmered over bare bellies and short-shorts. Some wore long sundresses, which they used as blankets and spread out around them so that other kids could have a place to nap. The guys were in t-shirts, shorts and baseball caps: worn backwards, forwards, or off to the side and up high on the head.
Black bodies, white bodies, brown bodies, all moved comfortably through the crowds, sometimes leaning onto bodies they didn’t know, dancing between sets, in lines for the port-o-potties and food trucks. There was face-painting and pot-smoking, grass for lounging and a tent for raving.
The distance between the bodies grew smaller the darker it got. The guy standing on our right, a short and sturdy young man with a fraternity branding on his upper arm, leaned back toward us so that his glossy-haired, Asian girlfriend could doze in his arms, her belly to his, her head on his chest, arms hung over his shoulders and looped around his neck.
“Time?” she murmured, eyes still closed.
“Fifteen minutes to go,” I said.
“Mmmmmm.” She snuggled her face in deeper.
The guy on our left was planning ways to keep our view from being obstructed by newcomers wedging their way up front. Jay-Z was due out at 9:30 and a bunch of us had been standing in this good spot since 7:00.
His girlfriend, a lithe, blond, cheerleader type, told him, “Now don’t let them get right in front of us like that. Let’s tell ’em we’ve been here all night.”
When a wiry kid in a white undershirt, who looked like an extra from The Jersey Shore, wormed his way between us and settled in next to the couple, the boyfriend turned his sunglasses, baseball cap and gold chain in the direction of the kid and said, “Un hun. I don’t think so, homie. You go that way,” and pointed back behind our sweaty row. The little guy slid behind us and vanished in search of an alternate route.
At 9:30 sharp, the lights on the stage went down, the jumbotrons turned dark, and the massive, Batman-like wings on either side of the art museum steps began to glow. Without introduction, Jay-Z’s voice boomed from someplace higher than the stage, and the crowd erupted in screams, chants and cheers. Close to 80,000 arms raised up and towards the music, pointing, lunging, forming diamond shapes with their open hands. And when he finally appeared and belted, “Allow me to reintroduce myself…” close to 40,000 voices sang along.
The white girl next to me shrieked every gritty verse and nasty noun in perfect time. The black kid in front of her with long, muscled arms, pointed his finger at the stage, his head down and pumping along with the deafening bass. He knew every word. And when Jay held the mic out to the crowd and let them sing without him, the Jumbotron beamed back his grin, which showed what it must be to have this many humans with your words engrained in their consciousness, branded into their young adulthoods, and more than that, what it must be to be responsible for this.
An hour and a half later, after a surprise visit from Kanye that brought the house completely down, the crowd pumped itself out of the parkway: hot, slow, elated, up but not amped. Kids climbed slowly from George Washington’s statue as cameramen and techs scrambled down from scaffolding, dragging wires behind them.
And while we ambled back down between the flags, we saw the beautiful, multicolored, glistening crowd move past the voter registration booths and bored policemen who hadn’t had to make a single arrest, and we figured that this country is actually going to be okay. It is going to be better than we thought. Because while we were agonizing over what’s wrong with us, and while we were hating the hate that separates us, and figuring out ways to fix what we have broken, these kids were getting ready to come do this. And the very best part is, they own this country.
Jessie Williams is a writer, music fan and Philadelphian.