This summer, when New York City’s annual Governors Ball Music Festival met a new rival in the Panorama Music Festival, which took place on the same Randall’s Island grounds mere weeks later, questions arose about the sustainability of a growing New York City festival circuit. The list of artists capable of headlining weekends like these is not very long, and the number of young attendees willing to come see them seems pretty finite. The announcement of this month’s inaugural Meadows Festival promised a third weekend of music in the city, but the fest smartly ditched the grass fields of Randall’s Island for the parking lot of Citi Field, in Queens.
The setting of the Meadows solved a few of the problems of the New York City festivals that came before it, though it left a few unaddressed. Staging the weekend’s events next to Citi Field made everything accessible by train, whereas Randall’s Island can only be reached by shuttle bus or a moderately excruciating walk. The hard cement was preferable to the slipperiness of the Randall’s Island’s mud, loosening the damage done by a shock of rain like the one that preempted Gov Ball’s Sunday-night Kanye West performance. But like the Randall’s Island festivals — and Governors Island events like the now-defunct Rock the Bells — it was still tough to find cell service around the main stage.
At its best, the Meadows suggested that the city’s economy of downtown cool is frustratingly limited in its focus on Williamsburg and the Lower East Side. For the curious, it rewarded the verve to trek deeper into the surrounding neighborhoods to check out delicacies you can’t get just anywhere in the city. If you only came to see the show, you got a lineup that carefully juggled indie rock, hip-hop, and dance music across four different stages. You could experience the Meadows exclusively as a rap show if you charted a course through the World’s Fair, Post Malone, J. Cole, Pusha T, Mac Miller, Chance the Rapper, and Kanye West sets. Or you could branch out and see Empire of the Sun, Kygo, the 1975, and the like.
One peculiar booking involved left-field R&B performer Twin Shadow attempting the risky business of performing Prince’s Purple Rain in full (and bafflingly dropping Sign o’ the Times’ “Starfish and Coffee” into the middle of the set list). Late Sunday, Chicago’s Chance the Rapper brought his Magnificent Coloring World Tour to the main stage and wowed the crowd with a mix of confident musicianship and kids’-show puppetry. Earlier in the day Pittsburgh’s Mac Miller undercut a fast-paced rap set with a handful of songs from his soulful new The Divine Feminine to discover that the crowd knew and loved the new stuff.
The Meadows’ lineup had range but suffered some setbacks: Original Saturday headliner the Weeknd canceled, citing curfew laws before scheduling an appearance on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live the same evening. He was replaced by J. Cole, whose energetic Saturday-evening show will allegedly be his last for a while. Sunday flew higher until Kanye West’s headlining set was cut short by the unexpected news of the Paris robbery of his wife, Kim Kardashian, after which the rapper retreated from the venue mid-song to be with family. (It’s a shame the weekend news made plenty of mention of the disorienting moment in “Heartless” where Kanye’s set abruptly ended but not the hour of professionalism that preceded it.)
In spite of the pains of being the new festival in a town already trying to juggle a few others, the Meadows showed promise and drew a slew of great performers to a borough flatly overlooked in the booking of shows around the city. It’s hard to facilitate a live event of this magnitude anywhere in New York without incident, and the Meadows dazzled in spite of a few unique and unpredictable headaches of its own — another hiccup at a local Kanye show after the Gov Ball rainout! Here’s hoping future editions go off with fewer hitches.