Kanye West returned to NYC to play The Meadows (Photo Credit: SamAlive)
When I exited the 7 train at Mets-Willets Point in Corona, Queens to the distant sounds of rock music rolling over asphalt, I’ll admit my expectations for The Meadows had been set low. Despite the rare use of the CitiField/Flushing Meadows Park venue and the, dare I say, exciting lineup, it was just hard for me to understand what necessity Founders Entertainment saw in launching a brand new festival. Was this a triumphant attempt to satiate Kanye fans after inclement weather affected his scheduled Governor’s Ball performance for the second time in six years? Was this a well-orchestrated flipping of the bird to AEG Live, a competitor in the festival space who had aggressively tried to push the independent production company out of their weekend time slot and Randall’s Island home this past June? Or was The Meadows simply just another stab taken by Founders to further solidify themselves as the originators of New York’s premiere mainstream party brand?
Assuming The Meadows only came into existence to fulfill one of these three destinies, I decided to keep my schedule loose and my mind open. A wishy-washy headliner and Founders’ many attempts to accommodate The Weeknd made it difficult to plan appropriately for the first day anyway. After a quick surveillance of the space, it was easy for me to pinpoint a few of The Meadows key traits. For starters it wasn’t a frilly festival. People who came for this event, came not for art installations (though those plywood paintings were pretty cool) or the typical high-end summer festival experience (it took place in a stadium parking lot for God sake), but rather, they came for the music, and to support the artists they love. This was not a festival for people to see and be seen. This was actually a focused music event. And then it hit me: Holy shit. The Meadows didn’t suck.
Festival favorites Chromeo gave festivalgoers a reason to dance on Saturday afternoon. (Photo Credit: J N Silva)
And that’s when I started to understand why a place like New York City could benefit from another festival – of course this could only be the case if it wasn’t JUST another festival. The cloudy skies couldn’t block these surprisingly bright performances. In the end, The Meadows stood out as the bae bae black sheep amongst a flock of fluffy white basics. So why would I consider going back to The Meadows when I didn’t even give Panorama a second glance?
1.) Its New York’s only fall music festival. – Did people in the Big Apple REALLY need to extend festival season by another weekend? Probably not, but based on the turnout, it was obvious that they wanted to. Not only did The Meadows give festival goers two full days to rage in proper sweater weather, it also filled a notable void. With cities like New Orleans, Austin and even Chicago already hosting major outdoor fall music events, it was time for NYC to buck up and bring their own destination party to the table. Despite it being the first weekend of October, the weather actually held up! I for one enjoyed seeing disco-inspired funk lordz like Chromeo without having to withstand swamp ass. I loved sporting my Members Only jacket and barely breaking a sweat while Pretty Lights played a signature, high-energy glitch hop set. These are the moments we crave while hydrating our broken bodies with the sweet, sweet nectar of $14 Bud Light cans in sweltering July heat.
Canadian experimental artist Grimes rocked The Meadows stage on Saturday night (Photo Credit: J N Silva)
2.) The lineup offered a diverse blend of rare and elusive performances. – While The Meadows’ put most of their marketing behind mega-headlining names, once on site, I saw how they were actively giving big opportunities to a pocket of lesser known artists, as well as those who seem to be just plain picky with their appearances. Take former mask donning producer Zhu who has never played Electric Zoo or EDC NY in their history of existence, or Los Angeles based synth rocker Twin Shadow who chose The Meadows as the stage to repeat his rare performance of Prince’s Purple Rain in its entirety. Even Canadian experimental artist Grimes, who I’ve been underwhelmed by in the past, gave an enthralling performance on Saturday night – one of the few times we’ve seen her on a festival stage. The Meadows proved to be a perfect place for artists to step outside of their comfort zones, and can you believe it, the audience was receptive!
Festival goers made the trek to CitiField for The Meadows (Photo Credit: SamAlive)
3.) It brought people to a part of the city they never visit. – Sure, the same can be said of Randall’s Island, but at this point, Randall’s Island has become the go-to venue for first festival attempts (remember the very short-lived Catalpa? Yeah, me either.) Corona, Queens and Flushing Meadows Park are probably uncharted territory for anyone who doesn’t give a shit about the Mets, but believe it or not, it’s actually a pretty slammin’ spot! Queens has yet to have their big music moment outside of EDC NY or the Forest Hills Stadium. Is this going to be the festival that reminds people that there is in fact life just off the 7 train?
4.) It served as a reminder that the best festivals take time to find their voice. – While The Meadows didn’t hit the scene with a lot of fanfare, it proved that good music is still enough to carry a multi-day event. What was lacking in stage design, landscaping and on-site activities, was more than made up for with primo talent. Of course, there were little indicators that The Meadows is packing a serious sense of humor. The artist/media lounge was playfully referred to as “The Freeloader’s Lounge”, and the LED backdrops offered silly artist-centric riddles to help pass the time between set changeovers. If The Meadows returns next fall, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it fully embrace a “lovable goofball of New York City Festivals” persona. That said, I still think the biggest joke of the weekend was that Kanye merch line. Those were the ugliest f*cking sweatshirts I’ve ever seen, and suckers waited in line for more than 4 hours on Saturday afternoon to snag them! People have to know they are getting trolled, right?
Wassaic-based rockers Mail the Horse kicked off Sunday performances (Photo Credit: Wrenne Evans)
5.) It celebrated local flavor. – Local flair was strong on both the food and music lineups. Infatuation Village, which was located across from the Queens Blvd. stage (I should add that all of the stage names were nods to nearby Queens locations) offered attendees a chance to sample award-winning dishes from New York’s favorite food trucks and brick and mortar restaurants including heavy hitter’s like Bushwick’s own Roberta’s. Those who had a desire to really soak up the borough’s best bites could embark on a mouth-watering curated experience from “The Feastival of Queens”. Dishes from legendary hot spots like Tortas Neza, Arepa Lady, Pata Paplean and other borough gut busters were given a chance to shine thanks to Queens-based food writer Joe DiStefano, aka “The Guy Who Ate Queens”. These decadent morsels were best enjoyed alongside performances from local artists like Queens rap collective World’s Fair, Wassaic rockers Mail the Horse and those Brooklyn-based Yeasayer synth gods we haven’t had a chance to see in quite a while.
Will The Meadows be back next year? I sure hope so. Despite yet another Kanye debacle (I mean who could have predicted that a jewelry heist would force him to cut his set short – are we living in a movie?) and the conflict posed by The Weeknd’s SNL Premiere performance, The Meadows still managed to have a commendable first showing. Organizers should take a big hint here – maybe this festival doesn’t need giant headlining names to be a success. A focus on rare performances and curated experiences might be just want it takes to produce a festival with staying power. There’s a lot of power in the unexpected. As it turns out, The Meadows was the festival New York didn’t know it needed. I’m genuinely excited to see if Founders has what it takes to surprise us again in 2017.