What’s in a name? Is the Made In America Festival really all that Made In America?

Posted by mmcmullan on 08/29/2013

Jay-Z and Anheuser-Busch are back in Philadelphia this weekend for another Made In America Festival, and it should be a big one: Last year’s inaugural event drew about 75,000 concert-goers, and an even larger Labor Day weekend crowd is expected this time around.

Despite disappointing ticket sales last year (promoters had hoped for closer to 100,000 concert-goers), the festival still makes financial sense for all involved. Philadelphia gets an influx of business and weekend of star treatment (Philly even made some money last year). The brewers of Budweiser get to associate their brand with chart-topping musical acts (plus: a big, thirsty, and captive audience to sell marked-up brews to). And Jay-Z gets to put the myriad arms of his business empire to use: Last year his ad agency, Translation, was heavily involved in the festival’s planning; Live Nation, with whom he signed a 10-year, $150M deal in ’08, sold the tickets; and made-in-China Duracell Powermat, the product in which Hova invests and for whom he serves as a spokesman, got plenty of advertising space. 

Clearly, there’s something sellable in a music festival in the city of brotherly love, according to Paul Chibe, vice president of U.S. marketing at Anheuser-Busch.

"Philadelphia is extremely attractive because there's not a competitive [East Coast] festival," said Chibe. "America was born in Philly. There was this whole thing [in internal talks] about America being made in Philly, Made in America, the birthplace of America. It's like the perfect place to put this thing."

All well and good. But wait: Just how Made In America is the Made In America Festival?

One intrepid blogger contacted Budweiser and Rocawear (the clothing line Jay-Z cofounded in 1999) about the merchandise that was sold during the 2012 event, who confirmed that those materials were, in fact, made in China. That’s about par for the course, seeing as nearly all apparel sold in the States these days is imported.

But what about on stage?

Here was Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder to the crowd during the band’s performance last year.

"We'd like to see a few more things made in America."

We would too! And in fact, so would the vast majority of Americans.

And President Obama, appearing in a video address, had this to say:

“To me, the idea of America is that no matter who you are, what you look like or where you come from, you can make it if you try … Jay-Z did. He didn’t come from power or privilege. He got ahead because he worked hard, learned from his mistakes, and just plain refused to quit. That’s what ‘Made in America’ means.”

Well, that’s a specious interpretation of the term, but one the administration might prefer: Presently, President Obama's campaign promise to create 1 million new manufacturing jobs -- you know, those that make Made In America products -- by the end of his second term is going nowhere, fast.

But unfortunately, that's where the connections between the movement devoted to bringing middle-class manufacturing employment back to the United States (that has fled the country in recent years) and the highly visible festival (promoted by a wing of an international beerselling conglomerate and a hip-hop mogul) that has cribbed its name end. And that's a real missed opportunity, especially in a city that was once known as the "workshop to the world."

Image from Flickr user Incase, used following Creative Commons guidelines.

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