Pope Francis left D.C. too soon. He missed singer Miguel, local guy-gone-big rapper Wale and rock band the War on Drugs. He missed the fancy grilled cheese sandwiches and veggie-infused lemonade. He missed Drake, the only other guy in the city this week who could elicit similar adoration from scores of devoted followers.
The rapper/singer headlined the opening night of the weekend’s Landmark Music Festival held at West Potomac Park in Southwest Washington. The first event of its kind, the festival was launched to raise funds for the National Mall’s restoration.
Amid grey skies and cool breezes, fans filled the sprawling landscape to hear eclectic blends of rock, brass and Latin dance music. Across five stages, acts like fun. frontman Nate Ruess and D.C. bands like Ex Hex and U.S. Royalty played for the crowds, while the Strokes, alt-J and Chvrches were slated to play Landmark’s second day.
The opening day appeared to progress without any visible glitches. The location provided gorgeous views along the water and the performances were raucous and captivating. However, West Potomac Park isn’t easy to find. There were little to no parking options and the nearest Metro stations were a healthy walk from the festival grounds. After 10 hours of standing, trekking 15 minutes to the nearest transportation proved irksome.
During his set, D.C.’s Wale announced that he’s looking to curate his own local festival for next summer, loosely called “Walepalooza.” Inspired by Drake’s own OVO Fest in his native Toronto, it’s unclear just how serious the District rapper is about creating his own show.
Drake came to the District having just released a collaborative mixtape called “What a Time to Be Alive” with Atlanta rapper Future. This past summer, Drake took part in a brief and underwhelming rap feud with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, which yielded tracks “Charged Up” and “Back to Back.” His most recent solo album, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” found the rapper almost completely isolated, drifting further from the pack and relishing his perch atop rap’s hierarchy.
That could be why Drake stood alone Saturday night. Shortly after 8:30 p.m., the superstar emerged dressed in all black with fresh white sneakers. He leaped into a festive version of “Trophies,” jumping up and down and gritting his teeth. On “We Made It,” a celebratory number featuring rapper Soulja Boy, he shared victory with the fans: A display that read “If You’re Reading This We Made It” beamed triumphantly as loud horns and bass drums unfolded.
For more than an hour, Drake, who is currently finishing a new album called “Views From the 6,” ran through his catalogue with spirited fervor, stalking the massive stage as fire, smoke and flashing lights unfurled behind him. Though there must’ve been thousands of patrons there, Drake’s performance felt especially intimate given his propensity for lovelorn R&B tunes and conversational rhymes. The rapper portrays himself as an everyday dude with a lot of cash and a bleeding heart; he’s the good guy who can out-rap his foes and sing about it later. Love it or hate it, that makes Drake easy to connect with: He’s just telling a few stories to you and your friends, and by night’s end, you feel you know the guy a little better.
Following a brief DJ set, Drake returned with a series of slow jams that dragged the energy somewhat, though it didn’t fully dampen the vibe. After running through “0 to 100” and taking another subtle shot at Meek, Drake restored the intensity with a brief run-through of “H.Y.F.R.” and his 2013 hit, “Started From the Bottom.” He shunned fake friends with tracks from his recent solo work, “Know Yourself” and “Energy.” And the rapper went out with a literal bang, capping the day’s festivities with a raining fireworks show at set’s end. Not even the pope did that.