Rapper J. Cole performs onstage during The Meadows Music & Arts Festival on October 1, 2016 in New York City
New York (AFP) - Rapper J. Cole took fans on his path to achieving self-confidence Saturday as he inaugurated The Meadows, the latest entrant to the fast-growing US music festival scene.
Taking place at the tail-end of the summer festival season, The Meadows is spread across the spacious parking lot of the New York Mets baseball team's Citi Field and will close Sunday with rap superstar Kanye West, one of the biggest draws in live music.
Unlike West, whose musical trajectory has gone from meditative to braggadocios, J. Cole has devoted himself to self-reflection.
Cole's last album, the Grammy-nominated "2014 Forest Hills Drive," revolves around his purchase of his own childhood home in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a starting point for exploring his life as well as the broader divides of modern America.
At times perched pensively on a stool on stage, Cole provided running commentary on his thinking behind the songs, from explaining how "there was a time when I wasn't so sure" to his moment where he felt "confident for the first time in my life."
Pinpointing his moment of empowerment, Cole hailed St. John's University -- a short distance away within the borough of Queens -- where he was a high-achieving student while making his start in the New York music industry.
His delivery was forceful -- he tinkered with his track "No Role Modelz" to interject a profanity against Republican presidential contender Donald Trump -- even if his material makes for unlikely anthems.
The crowd swayed in an enthusiastic sing-along as Cole performed "Wet Dreamz," a song about the awkwardness of first-time sex rather than the more common rap theme of conquest.
- Rising festival competition -
J. Cole admitted to the crowd that he was a late replacement for a bigger name, R&B sensation The Weeknd, who recently debuted new music.
The Weeknd canceled so he could sing to a much larger audience on television's "Saturday Night Live." He briefly rescheduled his set to an earlier time before finally confirming it was scrapped.
"Maybe the festival can split The Weeknd's fees among all the tour bands and we can all go for ice cream," Scott Hutchison, frontman of Scottish rockers Frightened Rabbit, mischievously suggested from stage.
The Weeknd's no-show was particularly unwelcome for promoters of The Meadows, who have put on the Governors Ball festival in New York since 2011 but in July faced competition from yet another newcomer to the metropolis, Panorama, by the company behind Coachella in California.
Governors Ball in June snagged West for a performance in advance of his ongoing tour, but his set was canceled due to weather.
Festivals have soared in number in the past decade, fed by demand from the millennial generation, and have emerged as a crucial money-maker for musicians.
Instead of Governors Ball's contained island location, The Meadows opted for the stadium's easy transportation connections.
As planes flew overhead from nearby La Guardia airport, The Meadows showcased its identity through food from across ethnically diverse Queens including a special sampling menu of cuisine from Colombia, Mexico, Nepal and Thailand.
- Jr. Gong -
Other performers at The Meadows included Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, the youngest son of reggae icon Bob Marley, whose likeness appeared on the screen as a group member proudly danced with a Rastafarian flag.
The 38-year-old Marley, who sports majestic dreadlocks that dangle to the floor, offered a look of Jamaican music's transition with his reggae infused with faster dance hall rhythms and rap as witnessed on his take of his father's "Could You Be Loved."
Australian electro duo Empire of the Sun put on one of the most visibly engaging sets, with science-fiction imagery and sudden lines in Korean as dancers wore outfits from supersized conical hats to frizzled rose-red blouses.
Frontman Luke Steele, his blue gown between "Star Trek" and priestly, smashed his guitar by ramming it head-down to the beat of the drum -- but quickly returned with a new guitar, a crew member having quickly swept away the debris.