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From T-Pain to Usher, Smokin Grooves Fest turns up the heat in 2019 with a slew of top-notch talent

Smokin Grooves Fest 2019 - Usher


Usher

By Rochelle Shipman //

Smokin Grooves Fest //
The Queen Mary – Long Beach, CA
June 15th, 2019 //

Much more than a supremely awkward sunburn, this year’s Soulection-helmed Smokin Grooves Fest went off without a hitch. The day began just like all of the best R&B songs — dark and moody, with the empty threat of rain and no sign of reprieve. After a few hours though, the sun broke through the drear, bathing the stylish, half-dressed attendees in a golden light fitting to almost every act playing the one-day festival at the Queen Mary.

The obvious draw in 2019 was the headliners — Usher making a rare, triumphant appearance and our queen, Erykah Badu, returning to continue her reign after last year’s installment. But if that wasn’t enough reason to attend, the young blood made sure no performance time went wasted on Saturday.

Rising star Choker kicked things off on the Groovin’ Stage, amassing an impressive crowd-in-wait for, as he called it, “a matinee show.” Armed with little more than some great earrings, a serious head of hair and his usual falsetto, Choker managed to deliver an intimate set despite the space between the stage and crowd. Fans in attendance could be heard soft-screaming to every word, clearly elated to finally see Choker in action.

The sun finally came out for none other than T-Pain. Bouncing onstage like Tigger, T-Pain made a case for deserving a later set time (and was probably indirectly responsible for the wave of people passing out around 6 p.m.). The man is a party in a human body, and he’s aging like a fine wine — his music, his dance moves, all of it. It’s clear he belongs on that stage, whether it’s 2:15 or 10:15 p.m.

Smokin Grooves Fest 2019 - T-Pain


T-Pain

If T-Pain brought the sun out, Raveena made it shine. The stunning songstress seemed to sparkle onstage, fresh off the release of her debut album Lucid. Her warm, dreamy vocals floated through the pristine afternoon, effectively hypnotizing a grateful crowd that didn’t seem to have an end. Even her smile was infectious. After another ethereal song, someone shouted out, “We love your energy!”

Bringing a different flavor of energy, though precisely what the crowd needed after Raveena’s mellow sound, was Leven Kali. The Los Angeles singer-songwriter has spent the last few years collaborating with some of R&B’s and hip hop’s most talented artists, but he just released his own first major project Low Tide. Kali’s performance at Smokin Grooves proved that we were right to wait for him to take his time. Fans of Anderson .Paak will recognize the same level of adrenaline, with Kali’s band delivering the psych-dance groove to form their own impressive foundation for the future.

Afternoon turned to evening with nothing but queens and Daniel Caesar, who, let’s be honest, sings like a goddamn queen himself. Chicago’s Ravyn Lenae brought her angelic voice back to Long Beach for another go-around as she stunted across the Smokin’ Stage in her high-heeled Converse boots. Kali Uchis, on the other hand, blessed us with the mere vision of her, running through the motions of her stellar Isolation tracks like she couldn’t be bothered while looking like a million bucks.

2018’s top dawg Ella Mai shook the crowd up, delivering a polished, poppy set to a group of spectators who couldn’t have been more in love. Dreamville’s first female signee Ari Lennox also returned for a second year, although this time, hot off the drop of her dazzling debut LP Shea Butter Baby, she was back with 10 times the amount of fans — and very deservedly so. The edge in her voice complemented the raw smile plastered on her face. Lennox knew she had earned her spot toward the top of the 2019 lineup, and that only made her fans scream that much louder.

Smokin Grooves Fest 2019 - Kali Uchis


Kali Uchis

As the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, the crowd swelled in front of the festival’s main stage, waiting for our lord and savior Erykah Badu. We waited. And we waited. Finally, 30 minutes later, Ms. Badu walked out and surveyed the scene before all was forgiven. Her shortened set was still probably more than the sun-dried fans could handle, with her vocals perfect and her vibe far-reaching and unmatched. As she threw her body left and right, jutting her limbs into the air and even jumping down to clasp a few lucky hands, you could feel a collective healing washing over the grounds. Before she left, she even thanked us for waiting for her, as though we had done her a favor. Psh.

How do you follow Erykah Badu? I didn’t think it could be done until about five seconds into Usher’s performance. He came out swinging, energy and choreography at 110 percent, so fast and fierce that I yelped, “Holy shit!” I grew up listening to Usher and respect him for days, but I didn’t expect him to put on one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve witnessed in 2019 so far. To say “he’s still got it” wouldn’t nearly be enough. So, just trust me when I say “you’ve gotta get yourself to an Usher show.”

Proving to be a supremely enjoyable day of music at its heart, Smokin Grooves showcased some strong, young talent and reminded us how lucky we are to have some of the OGs still willing to dance with us. With R&B’s new crop of talent continuing to innovate and inspire, here’s hoping that the festival will keep coming back year after year.

That’s right … I’m lookin’ at you, Joe Kay.

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