Photos from the Soulquarius Music Festival taken by Vickey Ford of Sneakshot for Okayplayer.
The inaugural Soulquarius music festival showed that R&B is steady blooming in the 2010s. A lineup of 28 acts from veterans (R. Kelly, Erykah Badu, Brandy, Mya, Ja Rule with Ashanti) to current faves (The Internet, Jhené Aiko, Ro James) all settled at The Observatory in Orange County, about 30 miles outside of Los Angeles, for a 12-hour “R&B jam” that left attendees both nostalgic for the good ole days and excited about the future.
With gates scheduled to open at 11 a.m., lines initially took up to three hours to enter. Those who were lucky to enter first were treated to Willow Smith (yes, her father was in attendance), Ying Yang Twins and former Babyface Edmonds protégé Jon B.
“This is a rain or shine event” is a legal disclaimer that is usually laughable in Southern Carolina. Despite rare torrential downpour Friday, the dark clouds that hung around all day did not have the rain to back up their threats. There was plenty of shine on stage though, as the grounds filled showing a crossroads of Gen X and Gen Y, for whom ’90s and 2000s urban music has become the cross-cultural nostalgia of choice lately. Monica sang “Angel Of Mine” on the outdoor main stage as Kelis got “Bossy” on the House Party stage, while newbie Ro James performed his Grammy-nominated debut at the indoor auditorium of the brick and mortar venue.
By midday the lines had emptied into the gates, filling the parking lot-turned-festival grounds with a showcase of style from SoCal skater to African-inspired urban chic. More current stars dominated the afternoon; The Internet had the youngest draw by far, packing the main stage area. BJ The Chicago Kid followed Ro James into the club and was a surprise standout, his voice a vestige of ’70s soul as he also played percussion over his 2017 Grammy-nominated breakout material. The Pharcyde, Too $hort, Amerie and Eric Bellinger helped to close out the daytime sessions.
By far the liveliest of the night were the tag team of Ja Rule and Ashanti, who turned the large grounds into a small club with 40 minutes of back-to-back radio hits from “Always On Time” to Ja’s smash collabs with Jennifer Lopez. Pretty Ricky also surprised many who had forgotten about them, when the capacity-filled Observatory room was singing along verbatim to every song; the 106 & Park mainstays proved they had as diehard a following as the more obvious options such as Amerie, Mya + DMX. Sadly, as the day progressed continuing set delays forced Pretty Ricky to shut down after only 10 minutes. By the time Jhené Aiko and Erykah Badu hit the main stage they were each an hour past their scheduled times, forcing the producers to make a tough executive decision: Brandy, possibly the most anticipated artist after Ja + Ashanti, was moved to the indoor venue for a much smaller crowd than she was expecting. This put attendees in a difficult position having to choose between seeing her or the headliner, R. Kelly. Both sets, if you left one to catch the rest of the other, proved to be high energy, loaded with classics and worthy of the full attention they were intended to have.
Logistics were not always on the side of this festival which drew ticket holders from as far as New York, Florida and Washington D.C. Luckily the quality of talent made up for some of the headaches. Most importantly, the EDM and indie rock-dominated festival circuit was offered a successful new and relevant R&B-themed alternative which should warrant a return in 2018.