Advertisements

After 16 years, Smokin Grooves Fest makes its long-awaited return & blazes a new trail in Long Beach

Smokin Grooves Fest 2018 - NxWorries


Anderson .Paak of NxWorries

Photos by Joseph Gray & Natalie Somekh // Written by Joseph Gray //

Smokin Grooves Fest //
The Queen Mary – Long Beach, CA
June 16th, 2018 //

We are in the heart of festival season. This is a time of the year for music lovers that’s often synonymous with multiple days of unforgiving heat, dusty campgrounds and some young adults who are readily anxious for a mosh pit. The long food-truck lines and heart-shaped sunglasses, polka dots, ripped denim and tie-dyed garments that have become staples at a large majority of music festivals — particularly during the summer months — were present, but Smokin Grooves Fest offered a welcome alternative. And based on its history, Southern California concert promoter Goldenvoice wouldn’t have had it any other way.

For one day only, a sold-out crew enjoyed moderate temperatures at the overcast waterfront adjacent to the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach for Smokin Grooves’ long-awaited return. The event, which last took place 16 years ago, pushed hip-hop, R&B and soul to the forefront of popular music at the time by booking The Fugees, A Tribe Called Quest, Cypress Hill and a whole lot more when Lollapalooza and other rock-focused festivals weren’t showing them the same kind of love.

The crowd, relaxed with a peaceful aura but also energized, mirrored much of the lineup, which showcased veterans such as Erykah Badu, The Roots and Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) among buzzing newcomers like H.E.R., Smino, THEY. and Arin Ray across the 38-act bill.

I fall somewhere in the middle between those two age groups, so it was fitting that the uber-talented rapper/singer/drummer Anderson .Paak had just walked onto the “Free Your Mind” main stage when I showed up. .Paak, 32, wore a smile as expressive as his music, packaged with a bright nautical-themed ensemble. He effortlessly impressed with standouts “Suede”, “Another Time” and “What More Can I Say” off Yes Lawd!, his 2016 LP with Los Angeles hip-hop producer Knxwledge as part of their collaborative project NxWorries (pronounced “No Worries”). The duo’s set would eventually culminate in a playful dance-off between women, which fans showed their appreciation for before .Paak and Knxwledge said their goodbyes.

Many attendees went back and forth from the main stage to the two other aptly named stages — “Smokin'” and “Groovin'” — via an elevated overpass, where we overheard several praising the Brooklyn troop Phony Ppl for their soulfully funky grooves.

Smokin Grooves Fest 2018 - Miguel


Miguel

However, anticipation for The Roots kept me at the main stage. It proved to be a wise decision, as their nearly hour-long performance reminded me why the Grammy-winning band is still so revered after more than three decades. Black Thought got the crowd riled up with a 10-minute barrage of lyrical proficiency that so many have come to know as his “Hot 97 Freestyle” after it hit the internet in December and quickly went viral, while his bandmates exuberantly jumped with sousaphones and guitars during “You Got Me” and a number of other hits. But providing a jolt like he only can, the one and only Busta Rhymes showed up for a quick-but-memorable performance of “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” and “Pass the Courvoisier, Part II”.

The concert, nevertheless, was not without its faults, as some complained about the sound quality during various times, but neglecting hometown artists certainly wasn’t one of them.

Not long after the buzz around Thundercat’s bass-guitar skills subsided, fellow LA-area acts Jhené Aiko and Miguel were greeted with admiration. Aiko, for one, entertained fans behind flowers, acoustics and enchanting vocals with occasional curse words. Miguel, who proudly reminded us that he was from nearby San Pedro and Inglewood, kept the momentum, along with his fringed microphone stand, moving by performing several crowd-pleasers like “How Many Drinks?”, “Sure Thing” and “Come Through and Chill”, among others.

The event’s headliner was Erykah Badu, who performed during the tour’s second edition in 1997 and looked like she hasn’t missed a beat since. Playing a drum machine between songs while weaving some classic hip-hop instrumentals — one of which was Mobb Deep’s “Shook (Part II)” — into her set, the neo-soul queen dazzled with her seductive, incredible voice and responsive wit for an hour-long class on “How to Deliver a Full-on Show.”

Several journalists and photographers, myself included, mentioned at various times the need to leave early to avoid the traffic on the way. But Badu and others made liars out of us, and we couldn’t have been happier in the end.

Advertisements

let's hear it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s