Inside Mac Millers Benefit Concert: Moving Tributes, Surprise Guests, And A Tearful Ending

On September 6, the day before Mac Miller‘s untimely death, he tweeted out a link to buy tickets for his Swimming tour, promising, “This show is going to be special every night.” The 26-date trek was slated to kick off on October 27 in San Francisco before touching down at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre on October 31. And while we’ll never get to see what Mac had in store for that live show, a formidable lineup of his hip-hop family assembled at the Greek on Halloween to fill the date with a benefit concert that honored Miller’s life in stunning, spirited, and certainly special fashion.

“Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah! / Lala how the life goes on.” As fans filed into the Greek on Wednesday evening for “Mac Miller: A Celebration of Life,” The Beatles’ classic White Album blasted from the outdoor venue’s speakers. There were plenty of Halloween costumes in the crowd — a skeleton, a Pikachu, an angel, a devil — but even more Miller-emblazoned tees and Pittsburgh gear. The merch tables sold black hoodies with the phrase “’92 til infinity” printed on the front, commemorating Miller’s birth year. In line at the concessions stand, a couple from Phoenix and two girls from Hawaii chatted about their long-but-“worth it” trips there.

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When the lights finally dimmed around 7 p.m., a montage of home videos appeared on the big screen, showing a young, smiley Mac dancing and blowing out birthday candles. Miller’s childhood best friend, Dylan Reynolds, took the stage a few minutes later to perform an acoustic cover of “Come Back to Earth,” the cathartic opening track from the rapper’s fifth and final album, Swimming. His sweet, simple performance kicked off three hours of musical tributes from Miller’s friends and collaborators — from J.I.D., who was supposed to open on the Swimming tour, to NJOMZA, who debuted a new song with the heartbreaking hook, “I miss you / I do / It’s true.”

But as inherently grim as the evening’s agenda was, it ended up being a largely celebratory occasion that only got more adrenalized with each performance. Action Bronson lit up a joint while rapping, “I’m just out here livin’ my best life.” Ty Dolla $ign smashed a guitar and bounded through the crowd during “Blasé,” which he said was one of Mac’s favorite songs. Anderson .Paak got behind the drum kit for a funk-fueled set that included his Mac collab, “Dang!,” while Thundercat‘s groovy contribution featured cameos from Vince Staples and John Mayer, the latter of whom later returned to cover Mac’s “Small Worlds.”

By the time Rae Sremmurd made a surprise appearance for “No Type” and “Powerglide” — with a shirtless Swae Lee proclaiming, “Let’s turn up, we on a good vibe” — the crowd was in full-on hype mode. Schoolboy Q kept the energy up with “That Part,” revealing that Mac was in the studio with him the night he wrote the track’s first verse. SZA reminded us that we’ll be all right “long as we got love,” while Chance the Rapper‘s set ran the gamut from sentimental (“Blessings”) to swaggering (“No Problem”). It helped that any lag time between performers was filled with something, whether it was a collection of video tributes from the likes of Lil Wayne and Donald Glover, to a moment of silence for the victims of last weekend’s Pittsburgh shooting.

Travis Scott was tasked with delivering the finale, and he ended his two-song offering (“Goosebumps” and a truncated but fiery “Sicko Mode”) by delivering one of the evening’s most moving speeches.

“We all know Mac is watching over us. I just want everybody to just stay strong,” he said, pacing the stage as a photo of a young, toothless Miller appeared behind him. “If you have a friend with you, always tell them you love them. Always give your mom a kiss, always give your dad a hug. No matter if you’re mad at somebody, the next day, just check on them. Everybody is somebody. We all one, no matter your skin color, your hair, if you’re a rapper, a basketball player. The key word to this whole shit is motherfucking love.”

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Motherfucking love was, undeniably, the spirit of the evening. Proceeds from the event benefitted the newly launched Mac Miller Circles Fund, which his family and the Pittsburgh Foundation posthumously established in his honor. It supports the enrichment of youth arts education in underserved communities, and it’s impossible not to think Miller would’ve loved his name being used to inspire new generations of budding artists.

Mac was actually the last person fans heard from at the end of the night. After all of the evening’s performers gathered onstage for one final goodbye, Miller’s voice blasted through the speakers, saying, “Thank you guys so much. Have a great night, everybody.”

Damn… and just when we thought we’d get through the night without crying.