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Ohio's Number Fest Brings Music and Mayhem to the Midwestern College Masses

ILoveMakonnen
Courtesy Photo

ILoveMakonnen performs at # Festival in Athens, Ohio on April 18, 2015.

Welcome to the nation’s biggest BYOB college town throwdown.

“What are you doing here?” Diplo asks.

He wears the same camo jacket he donned for our interview at Billboard’s office last week, but the settings couldn’t contrast more. New York's skyline is long gone, replaced by a sea of beer-swilling college kids who have descended upon Athens, Ohio for the 13th edition of #Fest (Number Fest) -- billed as the country's largest college music festival.

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I say I’m covering it on my way back from Coachella.

“Who needs Coachella? You’re at brochella,” he says, laughing. “Every rapper ever is in that tent.”

It certainly smells like it. Smoke hangs heavy in the artist lounge air, mixing with the scent of sweat and slightly better beer than the Keystone Ice being guzzled in GA.

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Wearing ripped periwinkle jeans and a red Ohio State shirt that matches his Nike Air Yeezys, ILoveMakonnen (commonly called Makonnen) lounges on a couch with his crew.

"I want to turn into a worm, dive deep and leave all of this shit," muses Makonnen. "I'm tired of smoking, I'm tired of selling -- I just want to be saved."

"You're tripping," a coughing friend chimes in. Laughter all around.

We head over for his performance. Eyes clenched amid the chaos, Makonnen takes a moment to himself backstage. Synth plucks ignite the crowd and he suddenly bounds onstage, belting the opening verses to "I Don't Sell Molly No More." 

Makonnen treats attendees to an energetic performance featuring numerous cuts off his new mixtape, Drink More Water 5, including the carefree chant-along "Whip It (Remix)." At one point, a dreadlocked dude with a blue hat and gold tooth makes a beeline from backstage to greet him. You know, as though there aren't 20,000 people looking on. Security removes him swiftly.

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"Got Ohio going up on a Thursday!" Makonnen yells. The crowd couldn't care less that it's actually Saturday, erupting as the Atlanta native launches into his hit Drake co-sign.

Walking back after his set, we notice an insectile drone hovering high above us and flickering with green light. A staff member explains that they’re forced to fly it at that altitude because it became a popular target for thrown beer cans last year. Only some skilled evasive maneuvers prevented a Black Hawk Down situation last year.

“That’d chop somebody’s neck up,” offers Makonnen.

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G-Eazy is up next. The lanky and leather clad rapper employs his impressive stage presence to fire up the drunken masses, who hoist a weird mishmash of American flags, Santa hats and handmade signs in time with the beat.

 “Are y’all getting fucked up today?” hollers G-Eazy. “After this show, I’m trying to come out and party with y’all. I don’t give a fuck. I’m trying to get drunk. All kinds of highs and shit.”

He removes his shirt to punctuate the point, causing the crowd to blossom with cheers. Mud wrestling ensues in earnest while beer cans sail skyward. One lands perfectly in the palm of a surprised attendee who chugs it without hesitation.

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Diplo easily draws the largest crowd of the day, taking the stage to the tune of 20,000 screams and Jack Ü's "Take U There."

 “I’ll be really honest with you guys -- I got stoned backstage with Makonnen,” he admits. “He really fucked me up.”

Dropping favorites like Dillon Francis's "Get Low" and his own "Revolution," Diplo draws his routine band of ragtag twerkers cavorting stage front. Many of those who didn't make the onstage cut are undeterred, crowd surfing to the front for a scramble at backstage glory. A phalanx of security guards awaits, ushering sweaty, sunburned girls back into the mud-caked mayhem.

"They go down so hard sometimes," one says, shrugging. "They all want to get on the tour bus."

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Miami DJ Borgeous closes out the night with his customary flurry of festival favorites, including "Tremor," the bombastic main stage stomper that put him on the map. He leads the audience in raucous chants and finishes with raver anthem "They Don't Know Us" as confetti billows.

As the stage falls silent and floodlights indicate the concert's end, the woozy horde heads home. Makonnen had put it perfectly earlier.

“It’s the dirtier you look, the better time you have,” he said. “If you come out here leaving clean, get your bougie ass out of here.”


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