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Janelle Monáe | Live at I Made Rock ‘n’ Roll Festival

1883 visits Indianapolis’ first-annual I Made Rock ‘n’ Roll Festival.

On a sunny Sunday in May, Indianapolis’ first-annual I Made Rock ‘n’ Roll Festival was ready to welcome music lovers to the American Legion Mall. Unlike most festivals, this one aimed to place Black rock music front and center, boasting a lineup of talented artists including Meet Me @ The Altar, Gary Clark Jr., Joy Oladokun, and the headliner Janelle Monáe. 

With all the major artists eager to participate in such a monumental project, it is worth pointing out that it has been several years in the making. The couple behind I Made Rock ‘n’ Roll, Malina and Alan Bacon, have aimed to uplift Black artists across all mediums for several years after founding their creative company GANGGANG in 2020. Since then, they’ve hosted a local art fair called Butter and eventually decided to take the leap to organize a music festival. 

And it proved to be a success. Sure, there were the typical festival hurdles, like lengthier lines at the food trucks. However, there was also a thoughtful emphasis on things not typically offered at major festivals—including free sunscreen for guests to use at the outdoor event. There were also various games to keep children entertained, local vendors, activations about the history of Black music, and delicious cocktails that ran about $10. 

Fans gathered to see Monáe’s headlining set start shortly before the sun went down. It was split into several chapters, with the phrase “A Thousand Versions of the Self” welcoming the crowd. By the time Monáe appeared in a flower-adorned outfit for the confident anthems “Float” and “Champagne Sh*t,” there was no mistaking that she was there to give one hell of a show. 

This feels like a relevant way to describe Monáe and their career. She is a creative chameleon, whether on stage, on screen, or the page. Or, as Monáe has described herself, they are an android. All of these iterations and artistic endeavors add up to who she is at the end of the day, going beyond just the standard level of human duality. 

The second chapter was introduced with “Pleasure is a state of mind,” teasing that Monáe would be performing selections from her 2023 album, The Age of Pleasure—tapping into the aspects of love and sexuality. As Monáe showcased her impeccable vocal range, the backdrop displayed a moving message: “Pleasure is safe. Pleasure is affirmation. Pleasure is consent. Pleasure is an abundant resource.” 

During “Paid in Pleasure,” they encouraged their dancers to select energetic fans from the crowd, rewarding them with the opportunity to show off their best dance skills on stage. The group more than delivered, as a few even rocked their own Monáe merch and expressed their gratitude for the joy they get from her music. 

Monáe’s final segment of her performance was prefaced by “The truth is, love ain’t got no off switch.” She soon emerged in her trademark sequined suit and hat, continuing the theme of presenting a new facet of herself—and this one proved, if there was any doubt from anyone in the crowd before, that they are a superstar. (I would later send a video of Monáe during this section, to which my dad remarked, “Cool! She can really sing and dance!!”—which is high praise, as he rarely uses exclamation points.) 

Even with the energy coming from Monáe, she also took a moment to connect with the crowd on a deeper level. After “Make Me Feel,” she delivered a moving, tearful prayer about those being affected around the world that resulted in applause.

“I pray for the babies in Gaza. I pray for the babies in Sudan while their own government has no regard for their lives while we use our cell phones for the materials that they are working for. I pray for the homeless people who have been pushed off park benches just because they want a place to rest their heads. I pray for every kid in school who has to deal with books about their identity and the LGBTQIA+ community being taken away from them. I pray for every black person who’s had to deal with books in their schools being taken away, that tell our history about our people being enslaved. I pray for those who have to go to another part just to get free healthcare. I pray for those of us who are told that we cannot do what we want with our bodies. I stand with you all who are fighting for our rights because you see humanity, you see the power of love, you see the power of community, you see what peace can do. I just want you to know that I love you, and I feel you. Bring wings to the weak and bring grace to the strong.”

Following the speech, Monáe embraced the loving energy, treating them to not one but two encores. Initially, “Tightrope” was suspected to be the final song, being arguably one of their most recognizable hits and a catchy pick for a sing-a-long. Even though curfew was approaching, Monáe continued to give the crowd what they wanted, closing the night out with “Come Alive (The War of the Roses).” After all, they would only be the headliner of this inaugural festival once. 

By the end of the night, despite feeling the weight of heat exhaustion and a pulled leg muscle, I still felt a sense of joy. Joy to be surrounded by those with a shared love of music. Joy after seeing smaller children giggling and playing with the hula hoops in the grass. Joy to have met so many wonderful and kind new friends from all over the country. And truly a joy to be alive, experiencing the magical first year of a festival and a piece of music history being made.

For more information on I Made Rock ‘N’ Roll Festival, visit imaderocknroll.com.

Words Lexi Lane

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