As much as anyone, former president Donald J. Trump facilitated Lil WeezyAna Fest’s return.
In January 2021, during his final hours in office, Trump issued 143 pardons and commutations. One went to Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., aka Lil Wayne.
Wayne was only days away from being sentenced after pleading guilty to being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. He faced up to 10 years behind bars on the federal charge.
Without the Trump-issued get-out-of-jail-free card, Wayne would have likely been in prison this Saturday.
Instead, he’ll be in downtown New Orleans at Champions Square for the sixth Lil WeezyAna Fest, celebrating the event’s return after a two-year COVID hiatus and a near disaster in 2019.
As country star Luke Bryan simultaneously headlines the nearby Smoothie King Center, Wayne will preside over a WeezyAna Fest roster that includes fellow New Orleans native Rob49 plus Moneybagg Yo and Coi Leray. If past years are any indication, expect numerous surprise guests to take turns on the microphone as well.
Showtime is 3 p.m., rain or shine. General admission tickets are $65 plus service charges.
A near-disaster in 2019
The inaugural Lil WeezyAna Fest in 2015 commemorated the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the city’s recovery, as well as Lil Wayne’s ascent to the top of the hip-hop hierarchy.
After four successive summers at Champions Square, Live Nation’s urban music division moved WeezyAna Fest to the grounds of the UNO Lakefront Arena in 2019. That reportedly doubled the festival’s capacity from 7,500 to 15,000.
On the oppressively hot afternoon of Sept. 7, 2019, organizers seemed unprepared for such a large crowd. Vendors ran out of bottled water, and there were no free water stations or shade.
Some fans in the densely packed crowd succumbed to the heat and required medical attention. The audience grew restless. At one point, the stage emcee announced, “I need everybody to be cool. No pushing or we’re gonna shut this (expletive) down.”
Between performances by rappers Meek Mill and Travis Scott, some people thought they heard gunshots. Police would later determine no shots were fired. Regardless, thousands of fans inside a barricaded VIP section and an adjacent general admission “pit” area suddenly panicked.
Two separate mass stampedes ensued. People fled toward the festival site’s perimeter fencing, tumbling over barricades, getting pushed, falling down and being trampled. For those caught up in the confusion, it was terrifying. The wave of humanity hit a row of concession booths like a tsunami, knocking over tables, fences and a medical tent.
As the thin line between order and chaos dissolved, some opportunists grabbed cash from tip jars and cash registers. Ambulances transported two festival attendees to a hospital. Many more were treated on-site for gashes and contusions.
Following the stampedes, the remaining vendors took off even as the show went on, likely because organizers feared canceling would cause more trouble. Travis Scott, despite a reputation for encouraging bad behavior, performed without incident, as did Lil Wayne and his surprise guests: Future, DJ Khaled and local favorites Choppa and Cheeky Blakk.
All in all, it was an ugly ending to the day. But it could have been much worse: two years later, in November 2021, a crowd surge at Travis Scott’s Live Nation-produced Astroworld Festival in Houston resulted in 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Lil Wayne’s legal woes
Given the 2019 WeezyAna Fest’s close call, it wasn’t a given that the event would return in 2020. The pandemic rendered that question moot by canceling every festival that summer. With COVID still hanging around in 2021, a slew of spring and summer festivals were once again shut down.
And then the feds almost shut down Lil Wayne.
On Dec. 23, 2019, Wayne landed in Miami, where he has a residence, on a private plane. Acting on an anonymous tip, Miami police searched the plane at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport.
They allegedly found a gold-plated .45-caliber Glock handgun and ammunition, as well as small amounts of cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, heroin, pain killers, prescription-strength cough syrup and more than $25,000 in cash.
Wayne wasn’t charged with drug possession. The gun, he said, was a Father’s Day gift. Unfortunately for him, it was also a parole violation.
In 2009, he had pled guilty to attempted weapon possession in New York. The felony charge stemmed from a July 22, 2007 incident in which police in Manhattan pulled over his tour bus and allegedly observed him tossing aside a Louis Vuitton bag containing a .40-caliber handgun.
Wayne was then at the height of his career. His 2008 album “Tha Carter III” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart and went on to become the best-selling album of the year. It won a Grammy Award for best rap album of 2008.
Following his plea agreement, he reported to New York’s Rikers Island in early 2010 and served eight months. He was released in November 2010.
As a convicted felon, Wayne is barred from bearing arms. After police found the golden gun on the plane in December 2019, he got slapped with another felony charge.
Then he became a Donald Trump fan.
In October 2020, he met with the president, ostensibly to discuss Trump’s “Platinum Plan” for economic development in the Black community. Wayne tweeted of photo of himself and Trump smiling and flashing a thumbs-up next to a row of American flags. Trump’s dark suit and red tie matched Wayne’s dark sweater with red trim.
“Besides what he’s done so far with criminal reform, the platinum plan is going to give the community real ownership,” Wayne tweeted. “He listened to what we had to say today and assured he will and can get it done.”
Months later, on his way out of the White House, Trump gave his Lil buddy a pardon.
Thus, Wayne was free to pop into the Caesars Superdome during the Essence Festival of Culture in July for a surprise appearance with Nicki Minaj, returning the favor of her surprise appearance at the 2018 WeezyAna Fest.
And he’s free to preside over the 2022 Lil WeezyAna Fest on Saturday.
Maybe he’ll leave a couple of free tickets for Trump.