by Victoria Wasylak
Photos courtesy of The Meadows
Not even a hotline psychic could have predicted the crowd at The Meadows booing at Kanye West on Sunday October 2, but the unthinkable happened when the rapper left the stage suddenly due to what he called a “family emergency.”
Planning the inaugural event for a festival presents itself as a daunting question on its own, let alone coordinating around a headlining act dropping out. The Meadows faced this task not once, but technically thrice, quite the conundrum, considering that the festival only had two headliners to begin with.
The madness started on September 22, when The Meadows announced that The Weeknd would not be performing because of a scheduling conflict, and that J. Cole had replaced him as the Saturday headliner. While the press release did not specify why Abel Tesfaye had cancelled his set, his performance on SNL seemed to be the cause of the sudden cancellation. Later that week, Tesfaye tweeted that he would be performing on Saturday, but earlier in the afternoon. The Meadows moved the set times to accommodate accordingly, only to have him drop out of the lineup for good less than 24 hours beforehand. Set times shifted yet again, leaving significant time gaps in between the set times of the main stage.
The final blow came to The Meadows when Kanye West, perhaps the most anticipated guest of the weekend, left the stage abruptly during his performance of “Heartless,” cutting his set 20 minutes short. Fans in their prized The Life of Pablo merch gasped as the rapper demanded that the music stop and that he leave immediately because of a family emergency. Later that night, the news broke that his wife Kim Kardashian had been held at gunpoint by robbers during her stay in Paris.
The Meadows did as much damage control as they could; the Weeknd, despite his cancellation, was promptly replaced by J. Cole, and the incident with West could not have been avoided, no matter how many PR agents the festival hires. The hype for West in particular was grand. The line for Yeezy merch surpassed any line for food or drinks, except perhaps for the gathering of fans who waited in front of The Meadows stage prior to his performance. Despite the complications, many young fans left the festival feeling hopeful about the second iteration of The Meadows in 2017.
Rory Harwood, a University of Massachusetts Amherst student, said that the Weeknd’s cancellation was more disappointing than upsetting because he has seen T perform once before.
“I’m not annoyed—I’m just a little bummed,” he said. “It’s good that they got J. Cole to replace him.” said Harwood.
Many college students echoed the same sentiment and said that they were more disheartened than irritated about the two headlining debacles.
For Hadley Alter (CAS ’19), The Meadows was the first major festival she had ever attended. Although Alter missed out on The Weeknd’s performance, she said the songs that Kanye did perform were impressive.
“It was a bummer for The Weeknd to only cancel a few days before the festival because I had really been looking forward to seeing him perform,” she said. “I was, of course, disappointed that Kanye couldn’t finish his set, but it was unbelievable to see him live for the short time he did perform. At the end of the day, despite the headlining fiascos, it was all about the music and hanging out with friends, and I would definitely go again in a heartbeat.”
Shalini Ramaswamy (COM ’19) said that she took into account the fact that this was the inaugural festival for The Meadows when she purchased her ticket, even though The Meadows is run by the same people who plan Governor’s Ball.
“I knew going into the festival that it was the first year, so I naturally expected there to be some road bumps,” she said. “The Weeknd cancelling a few days prior and Kanye cutting his set short was disappointing, however, understandable considering the circumstances.”
Even performers Coast Modern of Los Angeles, California, who performed Sunday afternoon, said they reveled in the overall festival and what they say of West’s performance.
“The Meadows was a glorious middle finger to fall because the people showed up, turned up and we all partied festival-style like it was the dead of summer,” the band said. “Also we saw Kanye's vibetron spaceship descend.”
Festival junkies know that there is far more to a music festival than just the headlining acts, after all. The Meadows pumped out roughly 10 hours of music each day from supporting acts like Chance the Rapper, Empire of the Sun and Pretty Lights. Boston Calling veterans Chormeo and former Buzz cover story star BORNS blissfully blended funk and rock, and rappers Pusha T and Mac Miller each had their chance to commandeer the stage. Electronic pastel sprite Grimes could have even given J. Cole some serious competition when she shook the ground with her live rendition of “Venus Fly.” Migrant attendees flocked between the four stages, circling the grounds in tribes and bringing flag poles and Kim K and Kanye cutouts with them.
In every other aspect, The Meadows was reflective of its New York City roots. Food vendor choices were as varied as the city’s ethnic demographic, hawking everything from ramen burgers to alligator and other “swamp meats.” A section named “Festival of Queens” served guests samples from the best Queens restaurants for $25, from mouthwatering Columbian and Grecian chow, to the perfected basics of Italian cuisine. Combined with planes flying overhead into then fog leaving LaGuardia Airport, the rattling 7 train framing the horizon and the Met’s Citi Field across the road, The Meadows formed the quintessential Queens experience, regardless of headliners.
“As far as the overall festival, I think they did a great job with food choices and the stages,” Ramaswamy said. “The location was also super easy to access. I think the Meadows had a great first run and I can’t wait to see how they improve it next year.”