Music

Smokin’ Grooves’ Excellent 2022 Festival Proved You Can Have Too Much Of A Good Thing

Seeing the 2022 Smokin’ Grooves lineup was the first time I felt real anxiety about catching everything at a music festival I wanted to. From top to bottom, the flyer was stacked with names I had a real investment in, from artists Uproxx currently covers such as Jhene Aiko, Kamasi Washington, Miguel, and The Roots to nostalgic faves like Angie Stone, Bilal, Macy Gray, and Musiq Soulchild. Needless to say, some executive decisions had to be made; about halfway through the fest, I gave up on the “nostalgic faves” portion of the proceedings after rushing back and forth between the two stages set up at LA’s State Historic Park became untenable. By the time TDE singer SiR hit the Smokin’ Grooves stage, I was pretty much parked there for the duration.

To be fair, this is a great problem for most festivals to have, and as an (ahem) older attendee with investments in many of the newer/younger acts like Uproxx cover star Foushee, I’ll admit my predicament was probably unique among festival-goers, who would usually only have a burning need to see a handful of acts and check out the rest out of curiosity. But Smokin’ Grooves was unique among festivals in that it was really the first time I legitimately wanted to see nearly every act on the bill, which speaks to the focus with which the fest’s organizers put that bill together. While suitably eclectic and diverse covering the breadth of hip-hop, R&B, jazz, and soul, the lineup found that distinctive pocket where all those things co-exist.

Unfortunately, that means that the lineup, jam-packed with back-to-back sets requiring full band setups, was a little crowded, and that caused some fraying at the seams holding everything together. Early in the show, a number of acts on the Smokin’ Grooves stage had microphones cut mid-song as they went over their time. The Jupiter stage seemed to handle the transitions more gracefully, allowing bands to play off as the stage turntable wheeled them around to bring the next act on. Even with these measures in place — and to be clear, I love the use of the turntable to get bands set up and onstage in time for their sets — minor delays built up over the course of the festival, resulting in the headliner Erykah Badu‘s set being cut in half due to sound curfew.

Look, I understand the logistics of putting on such a big event, let alone trying to turn a profit, but having any artists getting cut off is a bad look — especially the headliner. Granted, artists can be… let’s just say “stubborn” about the whole “sticking to their time” thing, as well as the whole “showing up on time” thing. It’s an issue that has existed as long as the recording industry has and will likely exist until it collapses. Since we all know this, though, it might be worth festival organizers looking at and eventually accepting the possibility of putting fewer acts on the bill in hopes of allowing more time for the logistical snags that will pop up no matter how well you plan. Artists also hold some responsibility, as well. If the city sends a citation because you couldn’t be bothered to leave the house 20 minutes early, that’s on you. Finally, and this is more of a personal quibble, it’d be nice if festivals brought back hosts who could keep things moving along and cut down on confusion between sets, even when they’re back-to-back.

But these were minor issues in the grand scheme of things. Smokin’ Grooves wound up being my favorite festival since the return of live events, based almost solely on the lineup and the venue. Aside from some of the less experienced artists, nearly every set was put on by veteran performers who knocked it out of the proverbial park. From Blu and Exile, who smartly stuck to mostly Below The Heavens selections, to Jhene Aiko, who graciously paused her set a few times to help distressed fans in the crowd, the vibes throughout the day were immaculate. So was the sequencing of the main stage; part of the reason I decided to stay there was the incredible build after SiR’s set, with Smino, Thundercat, The Internet, Aiko, The Roots, and Miguel, taking the stage and cranking up the energy with each new act.

Sure, it would have been nice to continue bouncing back and forth to the Jupiter stage — and easy, thanks to the simple, picture-perfect layout of the venue (I know it’s a smaller fest, but I sure would like to see way more events at this park). Slum Village and Dead Prez were truly meaningful to me in high school, while Roy Ayers is a legend and Toro Y Moi always puts on a great show. But as I made my way to the rideshare pick-up zone — a bit of a walk, to be sure, one of the only minor drawbacks to the venue — I could still hear the strains of Kamasi Washington’s sax lulling me back. Even too much of a good thing, it turns, can sometimes leave you wanting more.

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