An excitement hit Santa Ana Saturday morning on February 18 harder than the storm that ran through Southern California the entire week beforehand. Even though it was scheduled to pour down on the Observatory grounds, the days event assured that not even rain would be able to put out the fire that Soulquarius was long expected to bring with a quickly sold out day promising a dream-like experience for R&B fans with legendary acts representing the relevance of 90’s staples to the hype of modern day experimentalists.
Arriving the morning of, however, seemed to put the dream on hold as a line encircled the block of the venue grounds. For Southern Californians, it felt like waiting in line for Space Mountain at Disneyland after Thunder Mountain Closed, Matterhorn broke down and the Haunted Mansion unexpectedly got stuck. I mean a friend of mine arrived at the same time and I received a text that she had finally made it in, three hours later.
Overselling, crowded situations and missing a good portion of the days early scheduled performers like (Jon B, Nina Sky and the Ying Yang Twins), many were quick to take their concerns to social media to express their less than enthused attitudes about the festival before they even made it inside. It seemed, literally and metaphorically, the entrance marked the love-hate affair attendees seemed to have on this years inaugural fest.
Browsing visuals, which were undoubtedly some of the most stylish I’ve ever witnessed at a festival, provided a time passing activity as I trekked to the entrance. Looking like a retro 90’s fashion show collection, many seemed to be dressed in their best threads. However, with a 50% chance of rain and 100% chance of someone with food or beer getting a little too close during the Ying Yang Twins “Get Low,” it’d be a lie if I didn’t say i was a bit worried at the sight of girls in heels and men in all white outfits. But it proved early on that this crowd was a crowd of risk takers, and that, I could be about.
With a set up that was different than previous events, I was a bit lost without printed schedules and maps, a great app that was not kept up to date and hard to reload with faulty reception, and staff that were just as confused as the people trying to figure out their game plan. If the scheduling setbacks (which began 30 mins behind schedule and ended around 2.5 hours behind by the end of the night) weren’t the cause of missing sets, the overcrowding of stage spaces and time it’d take you to make it through people willing to defend their spot like their life depended on it (and life depends on hearing Mya’s “Case of the Ex”) would be the cause of further delays.
While I applaud the effort in anticipation of bad weather, and even poured a bit for the homies that had to endure Beach Goth without rain preparation; other adjustments, like the new placement of the House Party Stage (an outdoor set up) baffled as it laid just outside a bottleneck section of the grounds making people trek past a continuously populated section of merch buyers, restroom waiters and vip special merch collectors. At least a separated food court on the opposite end of the set up provided what seemed like the only consistently (and fairly) open space to grab a quick bite and some time away from congested spaces.
Buts all is fair in love and music festivals. (That’s a quote right?) And lets be real, shit happens. Luckily for Soulquarius, the event promoters (with help of music industry insiders and big time music fans) carefully crafted one of the best lineups that the festival scene has been able to acquire. As the many misfortunes of the day were met, it was overshadowed by the lit spirits of the crowds about to see the artists, that by reactions and response, felt more like family that raised generations of music lovers than simply artists of music’s pasts. It was a time and place that united multi-generational fans representing nearly a quarter of a century in legendary R&B music.
A 90’s baby with an 80’s soul and a millennial life, where else could I hear (a married) Jon B continue to break woman’s hearts with “They Don’t Know,” Monica empower your soul with “So Gone,“ and listen to Willow Smith soulfully remix “Whip My Hair” with her father Will watching from the sides?
The rest of the day found the queen of milkshakes herself Kelis bringing the house (party stage) down while she brought all the boys to the yard (literally as those previously trapped outside the gates were making it inside by her set) to watch her energetic performance as she dazzled in a dream purple sequenced jumpsuit mixing her hits with classic beats like Wu Tang‘s “Gravel Pit”.
Acts like Mya and Jhene Aiko reigned supreme on performing the R&B love songs that strum all of our heart strings while impressively paralleling the relevance of R and B from the last quarter century. BJ The Chicago Kid and The Internet shined through with sets fit to be thesis statements on how R&B is alive and well today under new, innovative life forms that will continue to thrive. Ashanti, Ja Rule and DMX brought the 90’s hype of aggressive dance beats that have you jumping and reciting songs word for word that represented anthems of everyone’s youth with hits like “Always on Time” and a personal favorite “Ruff Ryders Anthem.”
Erykah Badu provided one of the best acts of the night going down a setlist of tracks that laid much of the foundations for women and the overall culture of R&B to this day. Although the end of the night found another misfortune due to early closing onsite parking threats of towing with a late running festival, a good amount of the crowd still stayed behind to watch the final acts of the night. Brandy, relocated three times, provided a powerful mix of powerful ballads and hits that had her, and the crowd, pop and locking.
R. Kelly proved to close out the night by being R. Kelly and did the most during the final set of the night including an introduction including fire and smoke props, a slightly impromptu onstage handjob and a costumed caricature of himself that performed alongside him through an intoxicated/intoxicating run through his biggest hits through the years.
The only things that would’ve made the line up possibly any better, (this is completely personal but hint for next year?) would have been to see new comers Alina Baraz and Daniel Cesar on the list, a feuding Brandy and Monica performing “The Boy is Mine” and/or 112 headline as they run through their entire discography (what can I say, I’m a Bad Boy for life).
Overall, even though the day-long festivals technical shortcomings had me feeling like Soulquarius was the longest week of my life, it was beyond worth it to be time transported into the soul infested 90’s era that Soulquarius temporarily managed to create. Also have to mention the gratitude for the female performers of the night created some of the most thriving energy by how amazingly relevant, powerful and impassioned their performances had been that day.
Not only did Soulquarius attempt to fill a void in the music festival scene by reclaiming the relevance and importance of R&B, the festival provided a space where women and women fronted acts really took a large portion of the lineup hype and crowds day-of for their most impressive performances of the night which is not always the case in various music scenes.
Showcasing the very best talent of past and present R&B, you can rest assure that the future will be as carefully curated as the introduction of Soulquarius. With potential to be one of the best festival legacies, we just hope that in future years the organization will be as curated too.