Labor Day may have come and gone, but Festival Season is still far from over in New York. Friday (Sept. 15) marked the beginning of the Meadows Music & Arts Festival in Flushing Meadows, Queens — the first of a three-day lineup featuring some of the biggest names in hip-hop, pop, dance and alternative. And of course, the night was graced by a visit from one of the Big Apple’s all time musical greats, stopping by to give the fest his official blessing.
Read Billboard staffers’ chronological recap of some of Day 1’s highlights below.
1:50 p.m. “If you’d like to purchase some of our music, go to MySpace.com,” quips Kieran Shudall, frontman of U.K. indie quartet Circa Waves. From there, the band launches into “Stuck,” a highlight from this year’s Different Creatures LP, with the song’s thundering bass and piercing guitars inspiring some of the early-afternoon crowd’s first physical involvement of the day. What was the name of that website again? — Andrew Unterberger
2:41 p.m. “I know it’s early,” allows Jackson Stell, better known by DJ name Big Wild. “But it’s never too early to get fucking crazy.” To demonstrate, he cues up a drum-n-bass remix of Dick Dale’s surf-rock classic “Misirlou,” and proceeds to start head-banging, skanking, air-guitaring and spraying the audience with his water bottle. Point taken. — A.U.
3:01 p.m. The duo known as Marian Hill dive right into their best-known hit “Down” — a strategic move to draw a crowd from the start (the catchy synth-pop production helped). Later in the set, vocalist Samantha Gongol sings “Good,” a song perfectly suited for the start to a promising weekend ahead. — Lyndsey Havens
3:15 p.m. Fifteen minutes into his hour of allotted stage time, there’s still no sign of 21 Savage, despite the best efforts of the myriad fans chanting “TWEN-TY-ONE!” and “WHERE-IS-SA-VAGE?” to conjure the breakout rapper. Finally, his DJ shows to begin his audio setup, and minutes later, Savage himself emerges from the ether. “Everybody put their middle fingers in their right now — on the count of three, I want everybody to say ‘FUCK NYC TRAFFIC!'” the MC offers in indirect explantation. — A.U.
4:30 p.m.: “Sorry, kinda have really bad stage fright right now,” confesses cult favorite singer-songwriter Sky Ferreira, shaking her arms as if to tremble out her nerves. Despite her anxiety, she offers exemplary covers of a couple pop classics: ‘Til Tuesday’s early-MTV stunner “Voices Carry,” and the Commodores’ evergreen slow jam “Easy” — the latter performed by Ferreira in a slowed-down version for the Baby Driver soundtrack. The performance remains uncomfortable but transfixing. — A.U.
4:40 p.m. “Can I get a momma?!” Quavo shouts out his mom during Migos‘ rowdy set, asking the crowd to make some noise if they have love for themselves and their mommas. Naturally, the crowd responds accordingly. — L.H.
5:22 p.m. “You know this is my hometown right?” Joey Bada$$ calls out as the sun sets behind him. “I heard my only competition was Hov!” He then launches into “For My People,” one of the standout tracks off his sophomore album All AmeriKKKan Bada$$, with the packed crowd singing along to the anthemic hook. — D.R.
5:37 p.m. Indie-pop duo Tegan & Sara slow things down to commemorate the upcoming 10th anniversary of their classic 2007 album The Con by delivering a stripped-down, acoustic version of closer “Call It Off.” Earlier in the set, Tegan noted that this performance would mark the last show of their current album cycle (in support of 2016’s Love You To Death) — making sure to end their touring on a high note. — L.H.
6:02 p.m. As is customary for hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, Killer Mike and El-P take the stage to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” — appropriate for the Flushing Meadows location — before ripping straight into the relentless, bass-heavy “Run the Jewels.” — D.R.
6:55 p.m. “I think it’s our very first time in Queens,” says Two Door Cinema Club frontman Alex Trimble. The Northern Ireland natives then gives a toe-tapping performance of Tourist History highlight “Eat That Up, It’s Good For You.” — L.H.
7:33 p.m. Milky Chance serve up an Island-infused instrumental medley to finish off 2014 single “Flashed Junk Mind,” while the stage flash a rainbow of bright lights that’s pulsed to the beat. — L.H.
7:47 p.m. “So I’ve been working on new music,” Dev Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange) announces. “Here’s one of the new songs.” He then launches into a slow, shimmering disco strutter, based around the refrain “Can you brak sometimes?” (as delivered by Hynes and his female backing trio) and closing with a surprisingly soulful flute solo. Promising stuff, and after the song’s end, Hynes is still humming the hook to himself. — A.U.
8:21 p.m. Jay-Z doesn’t waste a second of his near-two hour headlining set, which sees the Brooklyn legend perform next to a larger-than-life silver balloon dog. After opening with a rousing “Run This Town,” Jay takes off running full-speed through his hit-heavy catalogue.
Jay rarely stops to waste time talking, but when he does he makes sure it’s worth it. “Love trumps hate,” he affirmed before “No Church In The Wild,” later paying homage to Linkin Park‘s Chester Bennington with an impassioned performance of “Numb/Encore,” off their 2004 collaborative set Collision Course. “Sing it so loud he can hear it all the way in heaven,” Jay instructs the crowd.
Elsewhere in the set, Jay welcomes Damian Marley to the stage — the set’s only guest performer — for 4:44 track “Bam” and Marley’s own “Welcome To Jamrock.” It’s not until midway through that he takes a moment to introduce himself: “My name is H-to-the-izzo.” He makes sure to hit on all the favorites, from “N*ggas In Paris” to “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and plenty more.
He saves the most tender moment for last: For the musical version of a cool-down, Jay ends with The Blueprint 3‘s “Forever Young,” which he sings while clinging onto his mic stand. For as long as Jay has dominated, his set feels fresh as ever. — L.H.