In a lot of ways, the Meadows Fest just gets it right. The 3-day Music & Arts festival in Queens, New York (presented by Founders Entertainment, the same minds behind Governors Ball) was a pleasure in its second year – not just with its boast-worthy music lineup, packed with surprise guests and special sets across the four stages, but with all the small details that make a big difference. 2017 attendees were greeted with an easy circular layout, mouthwatering snacks and drinks from local vendors, superhero groundskeepers who conquered every scrap of trash, a helpful, well-informed staff, and a good vibe maintained by almost everyone present. Snapshots were colored by custom pieces from legendary street artists like Greg Mike, WhIsBe, and Chris RWK. Security was relaxed, yet present. Drama and disaster – which seem closely tied to dehydration in weather as hot as it was this weekend – were at a minimum, largely thanks to the countless free bottles of Vitamin Water that were guzzled and restocked constantly. And though some may still poke fun at the Meadows’ name, given the asphalt on which it takes place, there were benches, crates, and inclined seats dotting the grounds, so fans lounged like cats when they weren’t raging behind a rail.
Friday started filling up with festival-goers fairly early on for a weekday, and they eased into the hot and humid afternoon with a chill set from Nashville alt-rock band Los Colognes at the Queens Blvd Stage. Rock fans who dashed straight over to the Shea Stage afterward were treated to a fast-paced performance from Circa Waves, hailing from Liverpool, England, whose intro of “Wake Up,” “Get Away,” and “Fossils” was a welcome rush of energy at 1:30pm. Once Lizzo and her girls took the mainstage, though, there was no excuse for still being tired. “What, so now I gotta wake y’all up?” Lizzo laughed, bursting into a soulful rendition of the old Folgers Coffee theme: “The best part of waking up…” she paused, waiting to see who might join in. “I heard some of y’all, you stupid as fuck,” she said, cracking up before finished out the jingle. “…is Folgers in your cup!” Better than caffeine, their ferocious, dance-powered performance put the spotlight on Lizzo’s regal stage presence and delivery, especially on catchy tracks like “Phone” and “En Love.” Opening up to her adoring fans, the songstress even admitted to having had a bad day, and emphasized the importance of self-love between songs.
Rapper 21 Savage seemed to be taking the self-love advice to the extreme, because he showed up for his set nearly twenty minutes late, looking a bit like he’d gotten caught up in a pre-party and immediately flipping off the crowd who had waited for him – though none of this appeared to disappoint his fans. The following hour featured a vocally-strong set from Sky Ferreira, whose classic lipstick-and-leather-jacket look matched the cool songs she dished out, including “24 Hours,” “Boys,” and even a cover of the 1985 ‘Til Tuesday hit, “Voices Carry” – a perfect fit for her range and style. 5pm came around and the humidity relented little, but Joey Bada$$ didn’t appear until 5:12pm, demanding attention with blaring air horn noises that signaled his somewhat delayed start. But the All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ got back into fans’ good graces by teasing some new music, letting them get down to a fresh track that may potentially be titled “Pull Up.” With a large, bandana-print American flag setting the backdrop behind him, the Pro Era founder got the crowd moving with a few simple commands as he delivered his verses. “Hands up if you’re feeling this shit,” he urged mid-performance, getting a big cluster of arms to surge into the air.
If you weren’t feeling shit yet, you were in for a serious wake-up call from Run the Jewels at the mainstage that evening, whose incendiary set became the Day 1 highlight for us and fellow jewel runners (and, unexpectedly, fellow RATM fans). The much-loved rap duo, made up of Killer Mike and El-P, are known to deliver an explosive live set, but their Meadows performance was next-level, featuring surprise guests Gangsta Boo (who killed it on the dirty verses of “Love Again”), Joi (who closed out the set with them on “Down”), and even the legendary Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, who brought mass destruction on the verses of “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” – while the crowd lost their minds over his mere presence, on this or any stage. Mike and El were in fine form as they mixed RTJ2 classics and new RTJ3 favorites for a truly crowd-pleasing show, and their synergy as a pair – whether they were locking eyes on big impacts, bantering between songs, or making a choreographed adjustment of each other’s clothes – was everything to their fans, who kept their hands raised in RTJ’s trademark fist-and-gun position for most of the show. Being a New York native, it was clearly a special night for El-P, who mentioned how honored he was to perform and noted that his mom was in the crowd. “I told her we were opening for Jay-Z, so she came,” he joked, with Mike adding, “That’s what any good mother would do.”
As a massive herd of rap fans (and rap mothers) raced over to find suitable spots for Hov’s headlining show, the night was already heating up with a dance-inducing performance by Milky Chance at the American Eagle Stage. The German folk rockers sounded clean and crisp throughout their energizing set, particularly on multi-platinum hit “Stolen Dance,” which made all their loyal fans up front go wild. Around that time, the suspense of Jay-Z’s long-awaited set had turned into a ticking time-bomb, and the sight of his impressive stage design, featuring a 40-foot metallic balloon dog by artist Jeff Koons, was enough to trigger screams until he appeared. Looking sharp in a Beatles Help! tee – likely a nod to Paul McCartney, who was kicking off his New York run at Madison Square Garden that same night – the rap icon gave fans the hits they’d been hoping for (starting right out with “Run This Town” and “No Church in the Wild”), plus a healthy dose of his months-old, thirteenth studio album, 4:44. He must have known the festival would be filled with surprise appearances, because he made sure to join in on the fun, bringing out none other than Damian Marley to supply his parts for “Bam,” the track on which he guested for 4:44. But even if you forgot everything else that happened in a fit of Jay-Z-obsessed joy, the impact of his opening quote remained like fingerprints on glass. “I’m going to say something right now,” announced Jay-Z to the thousands in front of him, just a few songs into his Meadows set. “I’m not gonna talk your ear off all night,” he said, “but love always trumps hate.” And the massive cheers that followed made it an undeniable fact.
Photos: Shayne Hanley
Article: Olivia Isenhart