For any outside observer (or tipsy attendee who had forgotten the lineup, god love ‘em), a quick glance at clothing was enough to confirm the big draw at the Meadows Festival on Sunday. The Chili Peppers t-shirts seemed to multiply like rabbits from the start of Day 3 to their headlining set later that night, and many fans wearing them loyally held down the space in front of the mainstage nearly eight hours before then, just to see them up close – a well-earned spot in Sunday’s asphalt-baking heat. Even so, there was clearly still a huge hip-hop presence at the Queens festival on Day 3, and New York legends like Nas and Ghostface Killah had obsessed crowds of their own pushing for a spot near the action. The final fest day is often a calorie-burner in terms of good stuff to run to – and whether out of thoughtful planning or sudden-death munchies, it’s usually the best day for tasting extravagant new treats. This year’s shout-out goes to Wowfulls, the refreshing Oreo ice cream served in 1950’s-style Hong Kong egg waffles, buried in Pocky and toppings, which was heaven on earth.
For a band with as big of a following as Arkells (albeit a largely Canadian one), it was somewhat bizarre to see them filling the earliest slot of the day at noon – but being the pro performers that they are, the guys visibly enjoyed the challenge. “I feel like we’ve got our spirit dancers in the back out there,” said frontman Max Kerman with a grin. “We are few, but we are mighty.” Showing off killer harmonies on show-opener “A Little Rain (A Song For Pete)” from their new album, the spirit dancers morphed into real ones, and Arkells ended up with almost four times the audience they’d started with by the end of their set – featuring the clever and catchy “Private School,” on which they invited a guitar-savvy fan onstage to rock out with them. Not long after, the good vibes drifted and landed over at the Queens Blvd Stage – and with very good reason. Seemingly energized by the fiery sunlight drenching the festival grounds, Fantastic Negrito delivered one of those next-level, rock, rhythm and blues performances that just can’t be duplicated – the kind that are so searing and real, it almost makes your chest ache. It kicked off with “Plastic Hamburgers,” a song that’s more political and spiritually intense than one might glean from the title, and from that point on, everyone was wrapped around his finger.
The first part of the day continued to rock as Chicago’s Wild Belle – fronted by siblings Elliot and Natalie Bergman – brought their cool vocals, vintage style, and badass bari sax solos to the party. At the same time, Kamaiyah (who looked fab in a bright-orange Rugrats jacket), had the hip-hop side of things covered at the Shea Stage with tracks from her debut LP, A Good Night in the Ghetto, which got a good-sized group bouncing in spite of the sticky humidity. The fact that both 3-letter names (CRX and GTA) were booked for the exact same time slot seemed almost like a prank on anyone drinking or third-day-braindead, but the vastly different genres helped alleviate any confusion. LA rockers CRX promptly destroyed their show at the mainstage as frontman Nick Valensi brought dark, sultry vocals and an excellent range to their shred-heavy set – particularly on opener “Broken Bones,” which yanked everyone’s attention off their phones and onto the band. “What’s up New Yorkers?” Nick said casually. “This is fun.” He wasn’t the only one who thought so, because GTA, the Miami-based house/trap duo made up of Julio Mejia and Matt Toth, were clearly having a blast mixing over at the Queens Blvd Stage – even throwing in some “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” by Panic! at the Disco, to the thrill of all the ‘05 emo/pop punk enthusiasts present (not just me, I swear). The audience was remarkably lit for a Day 3 afternoon, but they seemed to hit a wall during Foster the People, whose sound didn’t quite translate in the festival setting. The audience was sizable, but many had a question-mark expression on their face as the radio darlings wandered into the realm of indietronica and neo-psych, which sounded a bit like an aimless jam session at times.
As usual, though, the power of the Wu-Tang Clan worked its magic, because everyone woke up and turned up for Ghostface Killah’s 5pm set at the American Eagle Stage, which was a sick and hit-filled start to the evening. Even better, it’s one that was documented, because hip-hop magnate Russell Simmons arrived just beforehand to inform us that a film was being shot during the performance. The fun part, though, was seeing Simmons grooving in the photo pit – just like all the other fans who had packed a wide area around the stage, keeping their W signs held high out of respect for the Wu. Backed by Killah Priest and his usual entourage, Ghostface Killah delivered a pulse-racing set with old favorites from 5th album Fishscale, 2nd album Supreme Clientele, and his 1996 debut album, Ironman. Even with both Nas and Weezer starting right as he wrapped at 6pm, many stayed ‘til the end – because, after all, the hard part wasn’t getting to the next set; it was deciding between the two of them.
Maybe a few years ago, a rock vs. rap slot would have split the masses pretty painlessly, but with this genre-fluid crowd, it was like Sophie’s Choice. If you were fast-moving and willing to sacrifice a bit of each, though, it was possible to catch both shows – and it was definitely worth the sprint. Rivers Cuomo was in fine form as he led Weezer’s crowd-pleasing set, rocking on upbeat opener “Hash Pipe,” “Mexican Fender,” a grungy cover of “Hey Ya” by OutKast, “Undone – The Sweater Song,” and “Say It Ain’t So,” among other favorites. When fans demanded more, Weezer gave them an encore of “Buddy Holly,” which featured a tease of “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes. Meanwhile, Nas was setting fire to the mainstage in a memorable Meadows performance that started off with “The Message,” whipping out hits that spanned his 25-plus-year career in the rap game. He also paid a heartfelt tribute to Mobb Deep’s Prodigy, performing several of his songs for the appreciative crowd, including “It’s Mine” and “Shook Ones Part II.” “I do believe hip-hop is alive,” Nas said adamantly.
Before the clock was even close to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 8:30pm set time, the age-old, find-a-spot-where-you-won’t-ge