Lovers & Friends — the throwback hip-hop and R&B festival that has been postponed for the past two years — finally took place in Las Vegas this past weekend. In early 2020, when the festival line up dropped on social media, it seemed too good to be true. Any mention or reference of the festival garnered collective skepticism. Multiple acts kept being added then removed from the lineup, and no matter how many new dates were announced the event seemed to be stuck in a perpetual state of postponement.
But, after attending, I can say without a doubt the performances were well worth the wait.
At a time when nostalgia in entertainment reigns supreme, Lovers & Friends reminded its audience of 30 and 40 somethings of a foregone era in music. Now the festival wasn’t perfect: on Saturday — when I went — it was over 100 degrees in Vegas and halfway through the day the venue ran out of Gatorade and a few hours later ran out of water. (There were free water stations, but the water was just as hot as it was outside.) There was also a tense moment when three people got hurt after fans rushed the grounds. Overall though, for an ambitious first swing, Lovers & Friends provided a well needed trip down memory lane.
Here are the six takeaways from the first (and hopefully not last) Lovers & Friends festival.
The Groups Are Still Together
Of the nine groups scheduled to perform I was able to catch five: Nina Sky, Ying Yang Twins, 112, SWV, and TLC. Both SWV and 112 came out swinging with the synchronized choreography. The Ying Yang Twins kept fan’s asses shaking, per usual. SWV didn’t disappoint with the vocals. (As if they ever could.) And TLC gave us a medley of classics while paying tribute to their fallen sister, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
Some Of The Ladies Held It Down
If there’s one thing I truly miss about the R&B ladies of past eras is their originality. Kelis, Ashanti, Monica, Tweet, Cassie, Mya, and Ciara all brought their own unique individuality to the stage. Unfortunately, three of the main female artists I wanted to see didn’t perform. Neither Lil Kim, Foxy Brown or Brandy showed up. Brandy, who was supposed to perform with Timbaland, had COVID-19 and was replaced by Snoop Dogg, who of course put on a great show.
Nelly Is Still Fine
At the beginning of Nelly’s set, the rapper paid homage to Huey, most widely known for his hit “Pop, Lock and Drop It,” who recently passed away. For his performance he was joined by City Spud, longtime friend and the former St. Lunatic who did a ten year bid for armed robbery and who Nelly wore a band aid on his cheek for until he was released. Nelly was also joined by J-Kwon who performed “Tipsy” and Chingy who performed “Holidae In” and “Right Thurr.”
The Exes Kept It Classy
It could’ve been coincidence, but Nelly performing right after Ashanti and Usher right after TLC had to have made for some interesting run-ins backstage. The entire time Usher performed “U Got It Bad” I was ready for Chili to join him on stage for a cute little reunion. But that would’ve been asking for too much.
Ja Rule & Ashanti Persevered
While both have had their fair share of career ups and downs, the two former Murder Inc. label mates came out to a hype crowd of fans shamelessly belting out every word to their long slate of songs. Ashanti also announced she’s set to receive a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star later this year.
ATL Showed Up and Showed Out
I might be a little biased — I’m from Atlanta — but ATL artists showed up and showed out. The best of the night was obviously Usher, Ludacris, and Lil Jon. They each brought hits and should have closed out the night, especially considering the festival was named after their classic hit song together, and their set ended with a fireworks show. But for some reason Ms. Lauryn Hill was the closing act, which was a bit confusing as was her presence there in the first place because she didn’t really fit with the lineup or tone of the festival.
Other missteps include what appeared to be a lack of communication on the part of the festival’s production. To accommodate the sheer volume of performances, artists were placed on a strict time limit, particularly earlier in the day, resulting in some performances feeling rushed. If an act went over time the mics were cut off, sometimes mid song much to the artist’s confusion. Juvenile, The-Dream, and Ma$e all had their mics turned off during their performances. (Ma$e was the only one to have his set time extended since it was impacted by technical difficulties due to heat.)
But despite these shortcomings, Lovers & Friends was a great time for lovers of old school R&B.
Morgan A. Grain is an LA-based writer and producer with southern Atlanta roots whose work focuses on Black women’s contribution to entertainment, media, visual arts, and culture. You can follow her @writtenbymag.
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