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Made in America festival hasn't been an easy sell in Los Angeles

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They made it in Philly. But can they make it in L.A.?

That's one of many questions surrounding the debut of the Budweiser Made in America music festival, which will take over downtown Los Angeles' Grand Park this Labor Day weekend.

The concert, the brainchild of rap mogul Shawn Carter — better known as Jay Z — will be the first paid event at the 2-year-old park that stretches between City Hall and the Music Center. Up to 50,000 people are expected to attend Saturday and Sunday to see acts including Kanye West, Imagine Dragons and John Mayer.

If promoters draw that many people, it would be the park's biggest crowd yet and a test of all that goes with it — including parking, traffic flow amid the street closures and crowd control. There are also concerns that the availability of beer at the venue could cause problems.

Still, the event has not sold out. Some note that though Made in America festival has done well in Philadelphia, the Southern California live music scene is much more competitive.

"The big question is going to be the site and how people like going down to the park," said Gary Bongiovanni, chief executive of the concert tracking firm Pollstar. "The thing in Philadelphia is a really unique idea, and it sounded like a totally unique experience for the locals. Los Angeles is a very busy market, and in many ways the fans in L.A. are spoiled with the number of options they have. They have their work cut out to establish themselves."

In its favor, Made in America has L.A.'s top public official — Mayor Eric Garcetti. He pointed to the estimated $10 million the festival pumped into Philadelphia during its first year.

"Los Angeles has needed a great music festival for so long," Garcetti said. "But people leave here to go elsewhere, either Coachella or they go to Austin for South by Southwest. One of the things I campaigned on — it was time to make L.A. a cultural destination too."

Garcetti, who has been criticized for getting the festival approved so quickly, without much public debate, said he also wanted to change perceptions that City Hall can't move quickly.

"There's a million ways not to get things done," he said. "The city and the county and the community and everybody can say, 'Not here in L.A.,' and that's why people don't do things. I want to show that L.A. is on the move."

Jay Z, Budweiser and promoter Live Nation first teamed to put on the Made in America festival in Philadelphia in 2012. This weekend the sister events will take place on both coasts.

But not everyone is eager to see the arrival of more than 40 pop, rap and electronic acts, along with dozens of food trucks and a skate park, to the streets of downtown Los Angeles, which are already overburdened by traffic and a construction boom.

At a community meeting with representatives of concert promoter Live Nation, the city and the LAPD this week, downtown residents voiced concerns about traffic, noise and crowd control. Some worried about the security in and around their apartment buildings and condos.

Kevin Michael Key, a community organizer for United Coalition East, said the beer sales could prove troublesome.

"You are going to have young frustrated [people] that can't afford to go but will come down to drink and smoke outside of the festival and get a free concert," Key said. "It's an explosive mix that I hope won't happen. And it's too late for any prevention strategies."

Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents downtown, also expressed concern about alcohol sales (among other issues) in discussions before the event was publicly announced in April. He declined comment for this story.

According to the promoters, beer will be sold only in five restricted "beer gardens" and must be consumed in those areas. No hard liquor will be sold. They also say there will be a robust presence of law enforcement.

Approximately 240 Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies will be present on the county-owned park grounds along with a private security firm, while the Los Angeles Police Department will have around 285 officers working the streets surrounding the festival.

A special LAPD team measuring decibel levels will also be spanning out into neighborhoods affected by the event. Lt. Rick Stabile of the LAPD assured residents at the community meeting that officers will be closely monitoring activity outside the festival, paying close attention to gate-crashers and tailgaters.

Promoter Live Nation has agreed to pay $500,000 to Los Angeles to cover public services, including police, and an additional $600,000 to Los Angeles County for use of the park and sheriff's services.

The park was being readied for its debut as a festival site Thursday, with stages, beer gardens and lighting rigs under construction. The Made in America website also appeared to be a work in progress. Its frequently asked questions page wasn't detailed until Wednesday, when set times were finally announced.

As festivals go, Made in America is something of a bargain — offering single-day passes for just under $100, or $185 for both days. Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival admission, by comparison, costs $375 (higher for VIP packages).

As of Thursday, however, just 36,000 of the 50,000 tickets had been sold. StubHub has tickets listed below face value and online discounter Gilt City offered two-for-one deals on single-day tickets. There has been relatively little in the way of promotional billboards and banners around Los Angeles.

Many locals — even those involved in the music business — were unaware of the festival mere days before its launch. "Made in America?" asked one L.A.-based record producer, who didn't want to anger industry colleagues and asked that his name not be used. "Sounds more like a John Cougar Mellencamp album than something in downtown L.A."

Other music industry observers have questioned the appeal of the lineup, noting that the key acts — which also include L.A. alt-rockers Weezer, South L.A. rapper Kendrick Lamar and superstar DJ Steve Aoki — have vastly different fan bases. There is also some puzzlement over the naming of the festival stages after pop icons of yesteryear: Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan and James Dean.

As for national recognition? Eventbrite, an online ticketing and registration platform, scanned more than 20 million online conversations over the last 12 months to identify the nation's 25 most-talked-about festivals. Made in America didn't make the cut, but Coachella, HARD Summer and Outside Lands were ranked as the most popular in California, according to the study released this week.

Perhaps a larger question is whether Los Angeles has room for another multi-day music festival, given that the city and its environs are already home to festivals including HARD Summer, BET Experience and FYF, which was held last weekend at Exposition Park and the Sports Arena. Then of course there is Coachella, just a two-hour drive from downtown.

Jay Z contends that the festival is meant to appeal to a wide range of tastes and offer an atmosphere beyond that of your average music show.

"The festival stands for and represents diversity, discovery.... great music," he said in an email. "There are amazing artists on the bill, we have a Cause Village [for charity], we have a skate park, we have amazing food trucks. This festival isn't about me — it's about an experience."

Promoters are also highlighting the festival's affordability.

"The city is underserved in terms of a festival that's easy to attend and affordable, and it has an A-level quality of artists," said Omar Al-Joulani, vice president of touring at Live Nation. Made in America "is in an accessible location, and we have a reasonable ticket price to see A-level talent across a wide spectrum of genres. It's a concert for the city, in the city."

Perhaps one final question surrounding the event: Will it be back next year?

"We'll see how it works out," Garcetti said. "We're pretty confident this is the right place to be. MIA stands for this all-American product in the heart of great urban cities, and that's exactly what we are branding L.A. to be. This is the most creative city in the world, and it's our moment."

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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