By Rahul Lal
The Meadows Music and Arts Festival is the latest mega-festival to hit New York. The festival kicked off yesterday with the first of two days at Flushing’s Citi Field. And while Stadium’s usual residents, the New York Mets, were on the road securing their spot in post-season play, local hip-hop star J. Cole made news with his performance at their home field.
Cole was originally supposed to be joined in the late night slot by R&B star The Weekend, who cancelled the day before the event (although he performed on Saturday Night Live) leaving many fans upset and disappointed. Me? Not as much as most because I was there for Cole.
J. Cole exudes intelligence and a refreshing amount of humility in an industry where that’s a rarity. While he may not carry the same celebrity that day two headliner Kanye West does, he still was able to go double-platinum without having any other artists feature on his album—a feat that is nearly impossible in this era.
The crowd waited for hours to make sure they could get the best possible standing position to see J. Cole perform. As soon as he came out, that same crowd who seemed tired, cranky and had few too many drinks in went into a hypnotic state, rhyming with the star and listening to every word like they were having a one-on-one conversation. While many artists are great at putting on massive shows, J. Cole was able to deliver an amazing set by spending half of it sitting on a stool just talking to the crowd. No fanfare, no skits, no tricks – just Cole.
Towards the end, he dropped a bomb on the crowd explaining that this was going to be his “last show for a very long time.” As soon as he said this, a range of emotions swept the crowd as some got angry, some felt happy to be there, others were just confused.
There’s something so perfectly fitting about his potential last concert taking place just a few miles away from his alma mater—St. John’s University—and his Forest Hills home that inspired the 2014 album. One of the most interesting parts about his performance hinged on the fact that he was wearing a Megan Rapinoe jersey. Rapinoe is a member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and has taken some heat in the press for taking a knee during the national anthem for equality. Cole went on to promote this idea of love and unity likening it to the microcosm that is New York City and the borough of Queens.
“I see black, I see white, I see Asian, I see Latino, I see Christian, Jewish, everything,” he said as he ordered the crowd to link arms with the people they were standing next to. “That’s the s— they won’t put on the news. That’s love out there.”
J. Cole, I hope that wasn’t your last performance but if it was, I’m truly grateful I got a chance to see it.
Another artist who was carrying that message of love was music royalty Damian Jr. Gong Marley.
Marley opened up the show with a tribute to the Earth and the country of Africa. Throughout the performance, a Jamaican flag was being waved across the stage and Marley went on to show off his long locks reaching down to his knees.
He brought it home for everybody to get a good taste of the Jamaican feel by reconnecting with the idea of love and performing his father’s “Could You Be Loved.” The crowd fell in a trance as the simple yet powerful words of Bob Marley echoed around the smaller Shea Stage.
One of the other high-energy acts was electro-funk stars Chromeo. While they have many famous songs, their presence was enough to get people who are both familiar and unfamiliar to move to the beat. Everything from lead singer David “Dave 1” Macklovitch running into the crowd and Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel’s robotic vocals resulted in a very memorable performance for fans. My personal favorite was their live performance of “Bonafide Lovin’,” a song that was released fairly early in their careers but is still considered one of their most popular.
I also got the chance to watch Post Malone and Grimes who were each bringing two completely different acts to the table. Post Malone had a much more laid back and calm set even performing renditions of 50 Cent’s “Window Shopper” and giving high-fives to the crowd before he left the stage. Grimes was able to capture a crowd with a series of dance routines, a spectacular visual show with very interesting lighting and her own energetic style. She wound up being one of my favorite acts of the day as she was able to give something unlike anything else I heard at the festival. From her animal noises to rapping in Russian for a portion, Grimes gave the fans a little bit of everything.
So far, New York’s latest festival seems to be successful. Tonight (October 2) is the second and final night, and features headliners Kanye West and Chance the Rapper.