A city that is responsible for a monopoly of great artists is home to Frank Ocean, Snoop Dogg, and Sublime among many others. Known for their incredibly diverse culture, it was an inviting community to showcase Smokin Grooves 2018 at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA.
The festival featured Erykah Badu, Miguel, The Roots, Jhene Aiko, Alina Baraz, NxWorries, and a ton of up-and-coming acts worth keeping an eye on.
Considering it was only their first year throwing this festival, it had to be considered a major success. According to one of the employees at the festival, over 15,000 tickets were sold. In comparison to the prior festivals held at the same venue just weeks before, this was a significant increase.
Taking into account that the festival was held at the Queen Mary, temperatures are usually cooler than its surrounding cities. You could see the festival’s sweater merchandise within the crowd. But don’t get me wrong, people came with the intentions to groove and the outfits to let them do so.
Among the diverse, young, alternative crowd, there were bright colors and patterns that were illuminating inspiration and creativity. The brilliance in style didn’t only come from the attendees, but the performers as well. Seen walking around, fitting the laid back vibe of the festival, you could see artists like Childish Major enjoying the performances of other musicians’ sets.
There were three stages set up for the notable R&B and hip-hop artists set to debut, and only the main stage was ever really hectic. I was pleasantly surprised by all the performances, whether I was familiar with them or not, and all the energy that each performer gave. One thing that they did all have in common, was the use of live instruments that gave the festival an old school vibe.
BEST: Miguel puts a rock twist on his performance
Miguel put on a show like no other with a wild set incorporating a rock vibe. Not to mention his crazy sex appeal which had every girl — and guy — weak in their legs. He was scheduled for an hour and not once did he lose stamina even given the fact that he was jumping around and singing with deep energy and passion. Displaying some of his latino heritage, he even performed a song in Spanish, proving to his fans and even people who may not have given him enough credit before that there is nothing he can’t do.
BEST: Jhene Aiko’s dreamy voice puts crowd into another dimension
Jhene Aiko filled her stage with flowers, plants, and live sounds of a harmonica. She effortlessly worked the stage as she washed away every one of my worries and kept things light and often spiritual. Shouting out her home town LA might have made it a little hard for me to be unbiased once she shared that a song of hers that was written on the street I grew up on. Interacting with her crowd, she had thrown out an array of flowers to the audience and even brought some audience members up on stage for a dance session . If you are ever in your feels after a heartbreak or indulging in a smoke sesh, her relaxed and delicate sound will reassure any situation.
WORST: Disorganization & bathrooms lines
With such a large turnout, it was oftentimes difficult for the employees at the festival to regulate the crowds. Right before any performance, there were many people coming in and out of such a narrow entrance to the pit creating heavy traffic. Additionally the bathroom lines were out of hand, in light of only having bathrooms near the main stage.
BEST: Erykah Badu’s aunt proved swag doesn’t have an age
At mostly any concert, I like to kick it with the homies I end up standing next to, and this time it happened to be Erykah Badu’s aunt. Admiring her energy and presence at the festival after just recently celebrating her 76th birthday, she consistently attends around four of her niece’s concerts a year. Accompanied by two family members, we decided to ditch her wheelchair and watch Jhene Aiko’s set from up front. This lady had such wise words and an admirable attitude. I hope to be badass like that at her age — or even now.
Aside from the hecticness and unorganized layout of the venue, I never find these factors uncommon in the festival culture. I genuinely enjoyed this festival and I believe it will continue to grow in the upcoming years as the lineup redeemed the cons. Each performer came with their own sense of style, and despite the being mostly R&B and hip-hop artists, everyone separately brought something different to the table.
Anderson .Paak of NxWorries acknowledged the diverse crowd, sang happy birthday to an audience member, and hosted a soul train dance off on stage. The Roots bringing out Busta Rhymes for a little hip-hop throwback. Masego playing a live saxophone, Brasstracks with a trumpet, H.E.R and her guitar, all made for one dope and groovy festival.
Photos by Joseph Baura/Goldenvoice