Panorama Festival 2018: Janet Jackson, Gucci Mane & SZA Shine Despite the Gloomy Weather
The Panorama Festival has just completed its third year as one of the largest music events in New York City; the festival is just as persevering and gritty as the city that so proudly hosts it.
If you’ve been on the computer over the last 72-hours, you’ve probably read the words “Panorama” and “Canceled” in the same sentence. Day One of the highly-anticipated meta-event, which takes place at NYC’s Randall’s island, was promptly evacuated before the bulk of the day’s lineup had performed. Quickly, attendees were ushered away as menacing gusts of wind and flickering pulses of lightning shadowed overhead, even as thousands were still attempting to enter the festival.
Having The Weeknd, Migos, Dua Lipa, Jhené Aiko, Father John Misty and others scrapped from the first moments of your glossy summer festival doesn’t look great on paper. But the reality on the ground wasn’t nearly as grim as the headlines would suggest.
Panorama Festival, having just completed its third consecutive year as one of the largest music events in New York City, is just as persevering and gritty as the city that so proudly hosts it.
Before Day One would become a literal wash, I entered the festival grounds and beelined directly to watch Daniel Caesar perform, his name lit in mustard yellow lettering behind the stage.
Backed by a seven-piece band and adorned with two gold chains glistening against a black t-shirt, Daniel was poised and focused; his melody undulating softly over the trail of piano keys.
Dark clouds drifted ominously against the backdrop of the cityscape. They brought a warm breeze over the stage as Daniel addressed the crowd: “New York, New York, thank you so much for coming out. Even in the rain and shit.”
Daniel moved our attention across the stage to introduce each member of his band individually, ensuring each would grab their glimpse of limelight before the performance was over. He perfectly enunciated each line of fan favorites “Blessed” and “Get You” while the crowd joyously synced into his rhythm line-for-line. Perhaps most notable was the warmth and calm elicited by his set, just moments before staff came rushing in to call for evacuation as the rolling storm crept in from the Southwest.
Seemingly endless swaths of damp and disenfranchised fans walked back across the Robert F. Kennedy bridge, wondering why they had been sent away if violent bursts of lightning weren’t thrashing Randall’s island.
Ticketholders immediately flocked to Twitter in a desperate search for answers and a chance to air their grievances. The event’s website would go on to sport a banner that read, “We regret having to cancel the second half of Friday’s performances, but our first priority is always the safety of our fans, artists and staff.”
Since prioritizing safety is always a classy move, and because Panorama promptly offered refund information, there wasn’t much left to do but return home and take stock of the bite-sized festival experience of the day. While blinding white lightning flashed outside my window, I scrubbed the mud off my shoes and wondered what tomorrow would bring.
When the clouds had finally parted the next day, early performances continued on-schedule. This was until Lil Wayne, who was the final major addition to the festival, suddenly announced, “New York! Panorama! Due to mother nature I was delayed and won’t make it.”
While I appreciated seeing Weezy’s delightfully nonchalant commitment to appease his fans (“Kant wait to kome bak and rokk with my NY fans asap”), others weren’t quite as forgiving.
After leaving the freshly muddied grounds in front of the Panorama Stage, now devoid of Lil Wayne, we headed to St. Vincent, who’s performance captured the exodus from the recent cancellation.
Wearing a suggestive and purposefully esoteric crimson red one-piece, St. Vincent commanded the audience with thrashing drums and sharp electric power chords. Between nearly every track, she traded out one neon electric guitar for another; hot pink, powdered blue, iridescent shades for every vibration.
From “Sugarboy” to “Los Ageless” and a number of hits across 2017’s Masseduction, Anne Erin Clark’s tight pop riffs showcase a rare level of power and persuasion within a single set. She cried out to the crowd “There’s always something to dance about!” during her high-volume hits and then aptly closed with a softer ballad, “New York.”
When the applause finally died down, I left her set wondering if this is what Regina Spektor might sound like if she regularly drank Red Bull.
Next, SZA took to the Panorama Stage. She sauntered underneath three adjacent rainbows, while the static cassette intro to CTRL rolled through towering speakers.
As early as May, SZA had taken to Twitter to express her grave concern over her vocals, stating then (in now deleted tweets) that her “voice is permanently injured.”
In white sneakers and a floral dress, SZA performed CTRL’s “Supermodel,” “Go Gina,” “Drew Barrymore” and “Broken Clocks,” with, practically, a front to back rendition and overarching confidence that simply wasn’t there when I first saw her perform at Panorama (which was in 2016.)
Flowers blossomed in slow-motion across LED screens during Kendrick Lamar’s guest verse on “Doves In The Wind,” his voice booming over the crowd. In this moment, I realize how seamlessly TDE has integrated itself into the zenith of rap culture from every angle.
As the set concluded we turned our attention to Gucci Mane at The Pavilion.
With Gucci’s signature ice cream cone emblazoned behind him (the cone read “BRRR” for those of us unfamiliar with Gucci-isms), he took the stage beaming from ear-to-ear. Gucci’s excitement and swagger are infectious, so despite the painstaking persistence of auditory issues that came out of the performance, fans still enjoyed classic bangers like “I Don’t Love Her,” “Lemonade,” and everybody’s favorite collegiate throwback “Wasted.” Gucci also briefly introduced his newest signee, Asian Doll, before his set would draw to a close.
Finally, Janet Jackson took to the main stage, where thousands flocked to show their support. Janet Jackson started the performance by addressing political instability and police brutality within the opening of her set.
She then delivered a level of synchronized dance and precision that was indisputable, whether you’re a diehard fan of the Jackson legacy or a mere bystander.
Highlights included “All For You” and “Together Again” where Janet paid homage to her father Joe Jackson, who just passed earlier this summer, less than a month before his 90th birthday.
Images of Janet as a child with her father flashed against the screen, and for those moments, the indelible impact of the Jackson family permeated Panorama completely.
With flawless summer skies finally overhead, the size of the crowd seemed to double overnight. The mud had finally dried. The sun shimmered. Spirits were high.
Mount Kimbie took to The Pavilion, performing with live instrumentation that held up with remarkable cohesion, despite the glitchy and complex nature of their sound. Their live performance brought a warmer, more human quality to purposefully disparate tracks that might otherwise feel alien.
The voice of UK legend King Krule accompanied select collaborative tracks, while songs like “Before I Move Off” and “Made To Stray” helped to affirm what maybe once was only a hint that Mount Kimbie is one of the most expansive and creatively unhindered acts in the business. Few groups can slowly synchronize discord into tightly wound, blissful rhythms like they can.
One hundred yards away, David Byrne, legendary founding member of Talking Heads, bellowed out classics with his live band, dressed in an all grey suit to match his similarly hued grey hair.
One particularly notable moment came when he matched the tone of political awareness Janet Jackson had brought the night before. Byrne chanted “Say his name!” and inserted the names of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and others that have suffered unjust fates.
Next, Fleet Foxes delivered fan favorites, playing with ten live musicians, including a brass quartet, to offer up their own folk resurrection to nodding crowds who danced into the fading light of dusk.
The xx then took to the Panorama Stage, using wide instrumental stretches and an MPC to infuse breakbeat and bass into what were once melancholy tracks.
Their performance was an incredible highlight, imbued with energy and magnetism that simply isn’t replicated while playing on your home stereo. Jamie xx’s “Loud Places” erupted the crowd while screens dripped with Dayglo rainbow visuals. Jamie smacked drums while tucked discreetly toward the back of the stage, sure not to steal the show.
Odesza helped the festival’s climax climb even higher with a crystalline sound, mesmerizing light show and flawlessly seductive iconography. Each song was coordinated with drum line percussion and occasional pyrotechnics to create a transcendent experience for even electronic skeptics.
Finally, The Killers took the main stage with a forceful performance, complete with Brandon Flowers in a tight, maroon and gold encrusted suit.
The Killers would help to conclude an intensive three-day weekend with power-pop hooks and hits like “Mr. Brightside” and perhaps their most unifying anthem, “All These Things That I’ve Done.”
As the set concluded and by the time crowds began to dissipate and make their way back to the central arteries of the city, the mood was noticeably lighter and more euphoric than Day One. Panorama had come full circle, delivering both nostalgia and contemporary entertainment to wildly different demographics, each seeking their own slice of summertime bliss.
And after it’s all said and done, one age old adage rings especially true: you can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.