Last Friday, the seventh annual JMBYLA, a day-long festival with some of the biggest names in hip-hop including Travis Scott, Lil Wayne, Kevin Gates, Gunna, and Young Boy Never Broke Again, was held at Fair Park. Or at least adjacent to Fair Park, in the place where you would normally leave your car if you were to go to Fair Park.
JMBYLA’s lineup caters to the youth. This is largely the music that your dad “doesn’t get,” and the music that you probably pretend to get. When I showed up on Friday, it was a month before my 30th birthday, which barely makes sense considering I somehow turned 75 the moment I walked in. It’s the kind of event that proves that the difference between being 18-years-old and 30-years-old is actually 100 years.
It was a trek from where I parked my car to the gates of the festival. To get there, I walked through the eerie ghost town between Fair Park’s livestock buildings directly towards some ominous storm clouds, following a parade of teenagers wearing the kind of clothes that would do them no good in the rain.
Possible storms were on the forecast all day, and JMBYLA’s stance on inclement weather was bold, almost confrontational. Essentially: If it rains, it rains. There will be no cover. There will be no tents. You will not get your money back, and if you leave the confines of the festival at any time, you will under no condition be allowed back in. (In Austin, severe storms and damaging winds tore up the festival grounds on Friday, forcing JMBLYA to cancel its second stop on Saturday.)
JMBYLA was set up with two stages a few hundred yards apart from each other with performances staggered from one to the other. There was the Wolf Stage and the Shrimp Stage whose logo was a cartoon shrimp wearing sunglasses and a mink coat. On the way to the Wolf Stage I saw a twenty-something guy holding up his bloody arm so that a security guard could pour her water bottle onto the wound. “What happened? Did you fall?” she asked him. “Umm, no,” he responded before returning to his friends with a slightly more wet flesh wound. It was 1:30 p.m.
The Austin rapper WhooKilledKenny was the first act I saw perform. The crowd brought the mid-day energy he was looking for, and at the risk of trying to sound like one of the young people, singing the lyrics “we off the Molly” at 1:40 p.m. is certainly “a mood.” He also gained a lot of traction with a “f***rain” chant directed towards a nearby cloud.
James, a 15-year-old there with his friend Matt, told me mid-afternoon, “We can’t reenter this place, so we’re just kind of standing here until the good rappers come out.” But considering you aren’t allowed to leave, the festival became more crowded by the minute. And the only thing that emboldens people under a certain age as much as drugs and alcohol is more people, which ironically has the opposite effect on people over a certain age.
The two-stage scenario created an unexpected development: Because there were only 10 minute breaks between sets and it was general admission, people would leave sets during the acts’ most popular song in order to get a better spot for the next set at the opposite stage. Standing still directly between the two stages during any of those 10-minute breaks meant facing down an approaching sea of attendees coming at you like a stampede of bison that were skipping fourth period to be there.
A few hours after I arrived, a rapper named JPEGMAFIA pushed the limits of how raucous a crowd is willing to get before 3 p.m. He probably didn’t even need a microphone, but equipped with one he was one of the loudest and most physical performers I’ve ever seen. He sprinted the stage and rolled around on the ground while screaming every song. He got the crowd on board with the party he claimed he would throw when Donald Trump dies, before jumping into that same crowd. JPEGMAFIA also has beef with Morrissey, apparently. He went on an expletive-fueled tirade about him to a bunch of kids who have probably never heard a Smiths song but have now decided they should hate their lead singer.
There were certainly elements of Festival Culture at JMBYLA. It was a who’s who of obscure NBA jerseys; every group of seven or more dudes was basically a pack of Upperdeck basketball trading cards from 2002. Existing meant being in the background of selfies taken by teenage girls who definitely changed clothes (or more accurately removed clothes) since the last time they saw their parents. They all wanted the best possible photos of them at the scene, which is a parking lot.
But other than the social media urges of the kids, JMBYLA lacked the attendant frivolousness of most music festivals. There was a booth encouraging attendants to sign up for the Marines, which I truly believe should have required a Breathalyzer. There were food trucks and corn dog stands and long lines for beer, but it was mostly just open space between the two stages. You’ve probably been to family barbecues with more seating options. Most of the attendants I talked to were resting on the grass, and when I say grass I mean the small strips of parking lot medians where grass manages to grow.
I talked briefly to Kenzie and her boyfriend, Gage, both 18, while they carelessly lounged on a curb as the time for headliners approached closer. There had been no rain so far, but the threat still loomed. I asked them if they had a plan if it started to downfall. “I’m going to jump up and down and keep singing,” said Kenzie, who was there to see Travis Scott.
By about 7 p.m.,the gigantic parking lot was seemingly nearing its capacity. The crowd had only gotten younger as school had technically let out. It had filled with dudes who seemed to naturally grow flawless abs despite still being unable to grow unflawed mustaches, along with girls who sang along to every word of Sheck Wes’s “Mo Bamba.” They all made bad jokes and said mean things to each other and would push someone 12 people away from me, managing to set off a chain of events that knocked me off my spot. Numerous times I saw people trading minutes on strangers’ portable phone chargers for literal currency.
I was annoyed with these kids, partially because they were annoying, but mostly because they reminded me of the fleeting nature of youth. I was once like them. Maybe not cool, but you know, young. For the most part I didn’t know these artists and I definitely didn’t know every word to their songs like the thousands of people around me. When a girl told me that she was waiting to see DaBaby I tried to hold a conversation, but the rapper I was talking about was Lil Baby, who is apparently a completely different person.
Then it was time for Lil Nas X. For those who don’t know, Lil Nas X is a 20-year-old rapper whose song “Old Town Road” was removed from the top of Billboard’s country music charts for reasons that were at best self-serious and at worst racist. “Old Town Road” isn’t necessarily a good song, but it’s a fun songs and a catchy song, so when he came out in complete western wear for 10 minutes only to perform that one song to the crowd’s delight, I got it. “Old Town Road” is the kids at their most ironic and unserious, not caring about genre and being self-aware.
But these kids don’t just exist in 10-minute increments, and seven hours with them is enough to realize how out of touch I really am. Lil Wayne was my only shot at redemption. The peak of his relevance coincided with my time at the average age of JMBYLA attendees. I saw him perform when I was a freshman in college. Earlier in the day, a 16-year-old named Matt told me listening to Lil Wayne was like “talking to a wise old man.” Matt had braces.
But Wayne came out and delivered. He played the hits, including a song that came out in 2004, and I knew the words, and it was almost like I was one of them.
I cringed briefly when I saw some people texting during his set, and even more when a third of the crowd snuck out early to get a better spot for Travis Scott, but they couldn’t take me out of my element. I won’t name names, but a good deal of the rappers at JMBYLA played their lyrics on the speakers and only rapped into the microphone at their own convenience. Lil Wayne didn’t do this, and I respected him for it, because in my day, we walked 10 miles uphill to school and our rappers rapped every single word.
So, it didn’t bother me that I felt a few raindrops as I headed to Travis Scott, but it started to concern me when I got there and the rain picked up. Scott started his set with pyrotechnics and the crowd in the palm of his hand. But by the third song it was pouring rain and I made a run for a little tent that wasn’t meant to hold the 20-plus people trying to fit under it. I sprinted from makeshift cover to makeshift cover until I was about 200 yards away from the stage. I looked back and saw Travis Scott still performing, as if he was enjoying the chaos. This is a rapper whose song “Stargazing” contains the lyrics “it ain’t a mosh pit if ain’t no injuries.” The rain was combining with the fire to create walls of smoke. Some had taken cover like me. Many had stayed.
I thought about Kenzie’s strategy to “jump up and down and keep singing.” It looked like most of the crowd had followed her lead while the rain washed off the beer that had already been spilled on them. I watched on from a safe distance.
The thing about JMBYLA is that it’s about the kids, and one way or another, the kids manage to have a good time. So, sure, put it in a parking lot. They aren’t really all that picky.