Opening day of the inaugural Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater broke the venue's single-day attendance record, bringing in more than 17,000 fans Saturday.
The response was so strong producers are already talking about bringing the festival back next year.
The 10-hour concert extravaganza, headlined by chart-topping R&B sensation The Weeknd, brought in more fans than a regular sold-out concert at the amphitheater, as the venue's capacity increased thanks to the addition of two stages. The Beach Stage, where fans went wild over DJs like Party Thieves, marked the venue's first use of the beach west of its entrance for a concert.
"I'm ecstatic," said John Amato, president of Billboard, which produced the festival with Live Nation, the operator of Nikon at Jones Beach Theater. "It's exceeding expectations so far." Based on Saturday's turnout and advanced sales for Sunday, Amato expects the festival to return to the venue next year.
He said fans have embraced the concept of a major pop festival. "This is what the audience for a pop festival looks like," Amato said of the crowd, which was diverse and multigenerational, though it skewed younger than the usual Nikon at Jones Beach Theater crowd. "I think they've really come out for the best pop lineup that New York has seen in a long time."
The Weeknd brought his mysterious brand of R&B to life in his headlining set, spending plenty of time in the shadows singing in his sweet falsetto. But when it came time for the spotlight, he was ready, like when he led the crowd in a sing-along of "Crew Love," his collaboration with Drake.
"Can I get sexy for you tonight?" The Weeknd asked to the delight of the crowd.
The lineup of more than two dozen acts, ranging from Jason Derulo to newcomers like Australia's Conrad Sewell, packed the three stages with nearly continuous music. But music pounded from nearly every corner of the venue, with radio stations like Hot 97 and WBLI blasting their own music in the concessions area.
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The early part of the festival had fans enjoying all the changes to the venue for the day. The seats closest to the main stage have been removed, allowing many more fans the chance to get close to the artists. Getting to the Beach Stage takes fans through areas that are normally reserved for VIPs.
Wandering the grounds led to a silent disco sponsored by Samsung, temporary tattoos from Nordstrom Rack and even a friendly game of cornhole in the Citi VIP area.
Of course, the most important discoveries were the musical ones. Halsey showed why she's on her way to headliner status with her trippy indie-pop songs. The Faint put some extra zing into their new new wave.
British pop group Little Mix became the first act to pack the pit in front of the main stage to capacity, sending their fans, the Mixers, rushing to find seats. The group's high-energy 3 p.m. set opened with a bang, thanks to the group's hit "Salute."
But the pit really came to life for rapper Lil Wayne, who also nearly packed the entire amphitheater for his 6:30 p.m. set. Fans were bouncing up and down and throwing up their hands with Wayne for "A Milli" and a more soulful version of "Lollipop."
Santigold turned the Samsung Level Stage into an arena sized event with her hype dancers, costume changes and crowd sing-alongs.
"We are trying a lot of new stuff tonight," she said. "New songs, new costumes, new dance moves and even a new bubble machine."
The crowd accepted whatever she delivered, especially her new single, "Radio," which was the highlight of the set.
"She kills it every time -- just such a performer," said Jesse Jacobs, 35, of Centereach, who caught her show at Hammerstein Ballroom last year.
To close out her show, Santigold wanted to leave with a big bang.
"We got one more so go all out on this one!" she declared. The crowd danced hard during finale, "Big Mouth" as instructed.
"I just love her," said Jaime James, 38, of East Setauket. "Every song is amazing."
The crowd also showed up in full force at The Beach Stage to see R&B pop diva Christina Milian. After delivering some old school jams like "Dip It Low," Milian told the crowd, "I've given ya some throwback, now I gotta give ya some new, new."
Debuting her new song, "Do It" brought a special guest to the stage, her beau Lil Wayne, which made the crowd roar.
Wayne and Milian got cozy on stage and the fans ate it up.
"I love that man," Milian declared as Wayne exited.
ZZ Ward brought some much needed bluesy rock to the Samsung Level Stage.
Looking like a cross between actress Kirsten Wiig and Taylor Swift, Ward mixed older hits like "365 Days" and "Put the Gun Down" with new songs "Love 3x" and "Ride or Die" from her upcoming album, "This Means War."
Drew Woodley, 27, of Manhattan had a big grin on his face throughout her set.
"She's the only reason I came her today," he says. "ZZ is the most soulful, down-home singer out there. Even her band is inspiring."
Bob Thompson, 48, traveled from Harrison with his 12 year-old daughter Lily to see Ward.
"We got turned on to her a few years ago," he says. "She's the real deal. Her whole presentation is inspired by old blues."
For the most part, crowds were orderly and police saw no major problems during the first few hours of Saturday's show, State Police Lt. Tony Astacio said. Police made one driving while intoxicated arrest and responded to a handful of smaller incidents, but the festival's daytime events went smoothly, Astacio said.
"The big push is going to be Sunday," he said. "You'll see double, triple the number of people."
Cars had pulled into the parking lot outside the theater in a slow trickle on Saturday, leaving more room for tailgating, early arrivers said.
"We thought there would be more traffic, but there just wasn't," said Carmine Scalercio, 18, of Coram.
Scalercio and his friends arrived at 11 a.m., when the doors opened, and decided to use the downtime to relax by their sport utility vehicle before the show.
Dan Carlos, of Carle Place, came prepared to tailgate. He packed a large red cooler with sandwiches and plastic containers of grapes and bruschetta.
In addition to the music from the stages, Hot 97 has set up a booth in the center of the concessions area, while the various VIP areas occasionally have their own music as well.
Given the hot sunny day, shade was at a premium, leading some fans to sit under viewing decks and in whatever section of the stands was out of direct sunlight at the moment.
Australia's Conrad Sewell won over the crowd on the Samsung Level Stage with a mix of ballads and Sam Smith-styled London Soul like the groove-driven "Who You Lovin.' "
"This is my first festival," said the newcomer, best known for his EDM anthem "Firestone" with Kygo. "I'm so glad to see you all here."
Ronkonkoma family man George Rodriguez, 45, brought his two granddaughters and great niece to the concert anticipating a lively performance by pop-rap artist Nicki Minaj, not realizing she is slated to take the stage Sunday.
Rodriguez said he and the three young girls were supposed to go school shopping on Saturday, but changed plans when his son gifted him the free tickets.
"They were for the wrong day," said the grandfather, a carpenter, who also skipped work to attend the concert.
He said he would settle for a strong performance by crooner Jason Derulo.
As for the girls, they just wanted to spend a Saturday evening away from home. "I want to see singers," said granddaughter Jasmine Marino, 7.
Karen Gray, 43, took a road trip all the way from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, with her two children to attend the inaugural Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival.
Hanging out underneath the VIP risers catching some shade, the trio watched CRUISR open the Samsung stage, which was set up behind the amphitheater.
"These guys are openers?" Gray asked. "Wow, they are really good."
With Laura Blasey, Deon J. Hampton and David J. Criblez
WHAT Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival
WHEN|WHERE 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh
INFO $75; 516-221-1000, livenation.com