Just weeks before festival mainstays like SXSW and Coachella kick off, R&B fanatics got their chance to experience Soulquarius, a day-long festival that presented one of the most diverse (and impressive) line-ups from the world of soul. Taking place on Saturday (Feb. 18) in Santa Ana, Calif., acts from various walks of R&B life ushered in feelings of love, nostalgia and a joy that can’t be duplicated at other festivals.
We can’t ignore the purple elephant in the room. Yes, the show didn’t start on time. Arriving early, I got to see just how much the storm the day before may have prevented festival organizers from setting up in a timely manner. After dealing with an infamous drought, January kicked off in Cali with rain, rain and more rain. While it was a wish come true, Orange County and other parts of the state faced floods and sinkholes. Eep.
With VIP tents rising on one side of grounds of The Observatory, hands did the same when Nina Sky helped open the festival on the House Party Stage. Performing their classics (“Turnin Me On,” “Move Your Body”), there were also fans who mouthed every word to underrated jams from their 2010 EP, The Other Side. Inside The Observatory, the same went down for Dreamville’s rising songbird Ari Lennox, was met with praise and support while performing cuts from her breakout EP, Pho.
Steps away were acts like Jon B, Kelis and the Ying Yang Twins who kept the R&B jam going in the echoes of complaints and confusion. As the sun began to come out, celebrity guests did as well. Wiz Khalifa was on board to perform with rising alt R&B act 24hrs while Issa Rae, Melina Matsoukas, theater shero Cynthia Erivo and Chewing Gum creator Michaela Coel fangirled over Willow Smith. Also feeling the rhythm and blues was a cherry-cola haired Keke Palmer, who managed to show love to fans while being whisked away to the talent tent.
Llyod helped bring the sexy to the festival with body rolls during his performance of “Southside,” (he would later join Ashanti and Ja Rule on the main stage to give the track its due diligence) as heartthrobs Ro James and Pretty Ricky provided the soundtrack to endless corner makeout sessions.
taking owning The Observatory stage was Ameriie, who’s All I Have cuts “I Just Died” and “Talkin’ to Me” would fit just fine in any playlist representing the sounds of the genre today. Monica also helped the time machine of soul take a trip to the 90s with her set on the main stage. As I watched tech managers freak out over sound issues, the crowd knew of no chaos as the singer belted through “Before You Walk Out Of My Life,” “Angel of Mine” and “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Those Days”). She also gave a love shoutout to her husband Shannon Brown, who joined her on stage as she moved on to modern gems “Sideline Ho” and “Everything to Me.”
The gap between then and now would be bridged by The Internet, with mother nature finally coming back around via sunset. While technical difficulties by organizers plagued the group (their set was sadly cut short), it didn’t stop fans far and wide from keeping their eyes glued to Syd. Delivering the bad news to fans, the artist made sure their final minutes were worth it with odes to her solo project, Fin.
Closing out the show for many was Erykah Badu, who recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of Baduizm. Before R.Kelly took the stage, Badu continued her praise to her debut album. “I’m gonna tell you guys some jokes,” Badu said in between songs. They warranted laughs, but “Didn’t Cha Know,” “Out My Mind, Just in Time” and “The Healer” guided the groove. In the same moment, The Dream and DMX continued to keep the small House Party Stage rocking, with everyone being treated to a turn-up.
For many, R&B was forgotten in the 2010s. Acts like Frank Ocean, Jhene Aiko, Miguel and The Weeknd have revitalized it, but with complaints from those who yearn for a traditional sound. Soulquarius provided both, not in the cleanest rollout, but hey, that’s what music is. Loving, heartbreaking, fun, confusing and most of all, real.