The Meadows 2016 Festival Review: The 10 Best Performances

Founders' inaugural expansion to Queens is a worthy addition to the New York scene


For a minute there, it seemed like New York’s Founders Entertainment just couldn’t catch a break. First there was the tropical storm that wiped out 2013’s Governors Ball, which they recovered from well enough to throw a top event the following year. But then the 2015 clustercuss occurred, followed by this year’s heavy rain and canceled third day. On top of that, AEG encroached on their turf with Panorama, forcing a sale to Live Nation. Even the launch of The Meadows was marred with controversy, from misleading information about the location and involvement of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Alliance, to the cancellation, uncancellation, and then re-cancellation of headliner The Weeknd. And once again, the weather wasn’t looking good.

But it seems someone smiles on the young promoters on even years, because the launch of The Meadows was by and large a successful one. The skies may have been dark, but the rain held back, and frankly it was downright pleasant to attend a festival in cool temperatures instead of under a blazing sun. Yes, The Weeknd situation was a complete headache from all sides, but replacement performer J. Cole delivered a completely worthy show in the Canadian artist’s place (more on that later, of course).

As for the location, calling the E and F parking lot outside of Citi Field perfect would be a stretch, but it certainly could have been worse. I’d never actually been to a concrete festival before, and was largely dreading it. In the end, some sore knees and feet were the worst of it, while the setup as a whole made the best possible use of a less than desirable locale. Getting in and out was fairly easy, even during the rush caused by Kanye West‘s truncated set; I had more anxiety and frustration leaving the Coachella site after Radiohead in 2012 than I did on Sunday evening.

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The circular design of the event made navigating the grounds a simple chore. No stage was more than five minutes away from the other, and they were situated in such a way that sound bleed was never a concern. Schedulers utilized the same two-at-a-time alternating structure they’ve employed for years at Gov Ball, meaning the active stages were always at complete opposite corners of the festival. Locking production in the center of all four stages with a service road leading in under a pedestrian bridge undoubtedly made staffers’ work that much easier.

Food and beverage options were plentiful and placed on the outer rim of the festival’s footprint, leaving clear lines of sight from almost any point on the grounds. The eats were better even than those at Gov Ball, especially with the $25 Festival of Queens experience. Back by the main Meadows Stage was a little fenced off area featuring five local vendors each serving a different ethnic cuisine, including Colombian arepas, Thai noodle soup, Nepalese momos, and Mexican tacos. There was even Mexican ceviché, making this probably the only festival you could get a delicious cup of shrimp and squid made to order.

Of course, no inaugural festival is without its hiccups. The security seemed under-informed and largely disinterested, appearing to fly by the seat of their pants for most of the weekend. However, the bigger issue was something that’s in no way a fault of the festival, and, instead, comes down to just a basic truth of New York City music festivals: the crowd will always be young and ignorant. Maybe I’m jaded in my old age and years of attending festivals, but goddammit if most of the attendees didn’t act like drunken, drugged out brats. Sure, people will always go overboard, but that doesn’t make it any less sad or worrisome to see so many of them unable to handle themselves … or their friends.

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That lack of maturity really showed before Chance the Rapper performed on Sunday. A large crowd had been building at the Meadows Stage all day, half there for Chance, half for Kanye. As soon as pre-Chance act Bryson Tiller left the stage, the crowd surged forward, crushing those up front against the rails. A festival production member came out on stage and asked people to move back, first politely and with general concern, and gradually with more frustration. He was up there for a solid 30 minutes pleading with folks to show a bit of decency and concern for their fellow attendees by taking a simple step backwards. This isn’t a tall ask at big shows, to be sure, but what was so dismaying was how long this particular incident went on. It exposed a sense of entitled self-centeredness amongst the youthful audience that should be the antithesis of a festival vibe.

Naturally, this wasn’t everyone, and the discouraging feelings the situation aroused were far from prevalent over the course of the weekend. It’s simply something worth noting as the NYC festival scene continues to expand and the locals become more and more familiar with proper festival etiquette. But as the most recent sign of that expansion, The Meadows put on an admirable first edition. It was overall well-managed, undemanding, and most importantly, enjoyable. Even as it favored electronic and hip-hop artists, the lineup provided highlights from all genres. Click ahead to see the 10 acts that should be remembered as the ones that started Queens’ first music festival on the path towards success.

–Ben Kaye
News Editor


Best Excuse for Skipping Church/Rosh Hashanah


Sunday came packed with arguably more exciting acts than Saturday, and if you missed the noon sets, Chairlift was a great way to start the day. “Thanks for turning up on a Sunday for some smooth jazz,” Caroline Polachek joked after “Polymorphing”. But with lovely synth tunes like “Show U Off” and “Bruises”, the local duo (a four-piece live) was a perfectly pleasant way to start off day two. They delivered a moody sort of pop that was perfectly suited for an early slot at this particular festival, and capping off with the one-two punch of “Moth to the Flame” and the banging “Ch-Ching” did well to leave the audience in high spirits as they set off for a day filled with highlight performances.


Best Indie Band


The Meadows felt decidedly like a hip-hop/dance event, with the main stages dominated by electronic music and rappers. Even so, there were plenty of attractions for guitar lovers, and Yeasayer was a standout in the pack. Their eclectic sound helps bridge the ever-narrowing gap between indie and electro styles, which fit in perfectly here considering they were not so much the former as The Temper Trap and yet not so much the latter as Chairlift. Their mid-day set acted like the third leg in a relay race anchored by the evening’s performers. They set the pace with stellar renditions of “Henrietta” and “O.N.E.” as they pumped up an eager crowd for the final half of day one. Banter may have been limited (Frightened Rabbit takes the crowd interaction crown this year), but what they lacked in conversation they more than made up for in ebullience.


Most Classic Hip-Hop Performance

Pusha T

As dominate as rap was throughout the festival, there was at least a wide enough variety to keep things interesting. G.O.O.D. Music President Pusha T was on hand to provide fans with an old school, hard-hitting, one-man-and-a-DJ style performance that was exactly what Meadows attendees came for. He drew a huge crowd (likely surged by Jack Garratt’s failing equipment over on the Linden Blvd stage), who were all too willing to raise hands high as Pusha spit bars about “money, pussy, alcohol.” They even took over singing Kanye’s chorus on “Runaway”; “I ain’t doin’ no singing,” Pusha said, “so if you know the words, sing it.” Classics like Clipse’s “Grindin'” got as big a response as “Don’t Like”, a sign that a good chunk of the audience was well-steeped in hip-hop history. Performances like this one were what made the festival so satisfying for many.


Best Band with the Oldest Hits


By a fairly wide margin, Metric was the oldest rock band to perform at The Meadows. Heck, the band members are old enough to have birthed at least half the audience members. Despite being a legacy act by the festival’s standard, the Canadian outfit brought it harder than almost any other guitar slingers on the bill. In front of a solid sized crowd, the quartet demonstrated what it really meant to be rock stars, stepping forward to shred during cuts like “Black Sheep” and “Youth Without Youth”. Emily Haines bounded out from behind her fuzz-covered synth stacks at every opportunity — right from the opener “Speed Collapse” — racing to the far stretches of the stage to sing into as many faces as possible. I frankly expected Metric’s set to be fairly under attended, and perhaps passersby were simply drawn into an engaging performance. Whatever the case, those who caught the set certainly left wowed from watching a band putting on a true, powerhouse rock show.


Most Appreciated Replacement Headliner

J. Cole

Losing The Weeknd — twice — was a blow for Founders/Meadows as well as fans. Surely there were those who bought tickets just to see him. But if you hadn’t known better, you never would’ve guess that J. Cole wasn’t always the intended headliner. The packed-in crowd went wild when he came out with “Fire Squad”, then again during the callbacks on followup “Wet Dreamz”. Although he made note of his recent role, he never once acted like he was meant to be anything but the top act on the bill, expressing satisfaction at his status before “Blow Up”.  Not only did he chew up the stage for tracks like “A Tale of 2 Citiez”, but he proved to be one of the few rap artists capable of actually taking a seat on a stool center stage during certain songs (“No Role Modelz”) and not lose a touch of energy. Towards the end of his performance, J. Cole mentioned that this would be his last show “for a very long time;” if that’s the case, at least he’s entering hiatus on a high note.


Best Set to Brighten Up Your Day

Sylvan Esso

The Meadows’ first-ever day was a dreary one, complete with overcast skies and sour faces for most of the afternoon. Thankfully, everything seemed to perk up when Sylvan Esso hit the stage. Amelia Meath’s confident, bright badassery owned what was ostensibly a large stage for a band made up of only a singer and a wild ‘n out DJ. Even said producer, Nick Sanborn, seemed to enjoy watching her as much as the crowd did while she twisted, kicked, and just got down with her bad self. The set was loaded with new material, songs which contained even more high-energy danceability than those on their self-titled debut. Naturally, the older stuff brought tons of joy, with “Dress” in particular getting hands turning in the air, but if the way the fresh stuff played is any indication, the duo could see new heights when they finally release their highly anticipated sophomore LP. Even if you had no idea what the pair were playing, you couldn’t help but have a smile on your face listening to it unfold.


Most Kanye Performance

Kanye West

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I’ve seen Kanye West perform at festivals four times at this point, and I can say unequivocally that his set at Meadows is the best I’ve ever witnessed. That said, I’m going to put this out there now: Kanye needs to stop headlining anything but the absolute biggest music festivals.

Only Kanye takes up an entire third of the merch tables for his own overpriced wares, with a separate line that sticks out deep into the festival grounds as just another obstacle to weave your way through. Only Kanye attracts so many people buying tickets just for him that it’s impossible for those who want to see other, earlier acts to get within 100-odd feet of the stage. Only Kanye brings in so many hungry fans that VIP sections are overwhelmed and production crews have to beg people to move back so that those same folks from that last sentence aren’t crushed against the barrier. Only Kanye can have an hour and fifteen minute gap between his set and the one before it, and yet still come on 35 minutes late and get away with it.

Not only that, but he then goes and cuts his set short by 20 minutes, meaning he played for less than half his allotted set time. Of course, this is no disrespect to the traumatic situation Kim Kardashian West experienced and it’s admirable that West cares so much about her well-being that he was willing to end the performance early. I’m not going to begrudge the man for worrying about the mother of his children, especially with details now out about what a horrific ordeal she went through. It just stings a little bit after he cared so little about his fans that he couldn’t even get to the stage on time.

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Look, this was still a monster of a show; Kanye lined up hits like “Black Skinhead”, “Niggas in Paris”, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, “Power”, and “Blood on the Leaves” — in that order — and murdered them one by one. He jumped down to the barrier during “Don’t Like”, giving those fans who waited so terribly long a true treat. It wasn’t perfect, even beyond the grueling delay, as he had to restart both “Freestyle 4” and “Facts”, presumably because he felt he’d messed up somehow. And considering both Chance the Rapper and Pusha T were on site, the lack of cameos was disappointing.

But as good as it was, it doesn’t belong at festivals this size. Sure, he can still do Coachella, Lollapalooza, something like Bonnaroo (but obviously not exactly Bonnaroo, as those bridges have been burned). At something like Meadows, though, with its relatively small footprint and only one competing performer, the tardiness, special exceptions, and unpredictability make the show as much of a burden as a pleasure.


Best Cover Band

Twin Shadow

This summer saw a ton of Prince tributes, but getting Twin Shadow to perform a front-to-back cover of Purple Rain was a unique get for the inaugural Meadows. Yet as exclusive as the performance was, it was sadly under-attended. When George Lewis Jr. called out for help on the final refrain of “Starfish & Coffee”, he was greeted by a small pond of “blank faces;” he actually stopped the song at the end to make sure “at least 200 people leave knowing the words to this song,” taught the crowd the lyrics, and had his band start up again to finish it out properly.

Still, a meager audience wasn’t going to stop Lewis Jr. and his band from doing their damnedest to respectfully honor a legendary performer. Alongside Janelle Monáe’s guitarist, Kellindo Parker, Twin Shadow made a solid case for being an heir to Prince’s legacy, playing his guitar as if he were as likely to tear it apart as make love to it. He also made sure to put his own unique touch on things (something that might separate a “tribute” band from a “cover” band), with “When Doves Cry” drenched in crunchy rock and “I Would Die 4 U” taking on an electronic air.

Like a musical magician, Lewis Jr. found a way to mashup Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” with “Darling Nikki” and turn it into one of the single best songs of the fest. Those who were unwilling to give up their long-held spot for Kanye or chose to catch The 1975 missed out on the type of set that makes for a truly memorable festival experience.


Best Set from the Worst Fit for the Festival


Savages are an incredible band — both live and on record — but they really had no business on The Meadows’ bill. They were sandwiched between a bunch of electronic and dance acts, and the sparse crowd was evidence of what sort of attendees this festival pulled in. That said, Jehnny Beth and the band made it feel like they were playing for an audience tenfold the size of that which was in front of them. Not only were they probably the most technically and physically impressive act of the weekend, their transcendent energy was unmatched. “We don’t want you to be bored,” Beth said before “I Need Something New”. “Are you bored?” The crowd’s emphatic “No!” was as serious and heartfelt as the performance. She rode the crowd on her knee during “Hit Me”, and was in their face for practically every other song. They even dropped in a tribute cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”, cementing this as a supremely strong festival set, despite feeling atypical for the festival environment in which it was.


Most Adept at Adapting Their Own Tour into a Festival Show

Chance the Rapper

It’s far from uncommon for touring musicians to treat festival gigs as simply another stop on lengthy tours; the trick is that there’s a big difference between playing an outdoor festival stage and a typical venue. That can often leave such performances feeling somewhat underwhelming and lead to phrases like, “Well, you should see them play their own show.” But as we’ve all learned over the last few years, Chance the Rapper is no ordinary performer, and his ability to bring his own touring show to a large event proved to be just another one of his many talents.

Chance managed to make his Meadows set feel just like any other stop on his Magnificent Coloring Book world tour, to the detriment of neither. In fact, he was so excited to finally bring the show to New York City that he forgot to introduce the thing until he was already four songs in. All the highlights of his recent gigs were there, including the giant, fuzzy puppet costumes like the choir on “Sunday Candy” and a lion named Carlos who kept calling Chance “big fella” and directed the emotional flow of the set. It ran like a true show, feeling scripted in the best ways as Chance took the time to put forth a story and not just a concert. Watching him sit down at a piano next to someone in a blue, furry outfit to sing “Same Drugs” should have been silly yet it was downright sweet when presented in the proper context.

He delivered bangers like “No Problem”, throwback cuts like “Brain Cells”, and features like his verse on ‘Ye’s “Ultralight Beam”, all of it wrapped in the loving storybook theater of his current tour. Chance even went so far as to tease a new album as “How Great” bled into a “Blessings” reprise (“Did you know that your blessing/ It’s not on my mixtape/ But it’s coming”). In so many ways it was everything you could want from a Chance the Rapper show, and the fact that it came in the middle of a festival only makes that more impressive.

Check out our complete gallery of the weekend below.


Photographer: Ben Kaye