[EVENT RECAP] Oakland Music Festival
In its second year of production, the Oakland Music Festival continues to carve out an identity and make its mark as a cultural focal point for the city. The location, a corridor where Franklin meets Broadway, is fitting; the uptown area has long be lauded as Oakland’s “resurgence district”, a long time pet project of former mayor Jerry Brown. With stages flanked by the office headquarters of Pandora, local businesses and retailers like Oaklandish sponsoring and selling their products, and affiliated shows in surrounding bars, the festival itself is indicative of the city’s quickening pulse. The first iteration last year brought the likes of The Coup, Dam Funk and Religious Girls to The New Parish and the streets surrounding it, and this year the bigger area allowed a large main stage and more room to move around. The event was not without some expected growing pains, with a few organizational hiccups here and there, but in the end the eclectic musical offerings attracted a good crowd.
Ezale / Trill Team Six
My first stop of the day was the High Sidin’ Stage up at Club 21, a third floor bar on Franklin 21st. Trill Team 6, a collection of producers, beat makers and MC’s, was warming up the crowd. With Neto187 on the 1s and 2s and a live bass player plugged in to the booming house sound system, the verses of RNB Millionare Justin Flores were crisp but somewhat faint coming out of the speakers. As more people filled out the room and balcony overlooking the festival, Ezale moved through the room with his tiny braids in tow to take the stage.
Ezale’s set began with a small pill, which he showcased to the audience before promptly knocking into the back of his mouth. Neto187 and a booming bass played through his better known songs, including “5 Minutes of Funktown“, a raucous ode to the Highland Park neighborhood featuring 5 different cassette-era samples. Ezale danced and moved on stage, lending his talents to mic periodically to sing over full backup tracks. After “Foreal Foreal” and “Too High”, both songs which reference to Mac Dre, he jumped into the crowd in a fit of energy, causing the room to bounce and go stupid. After the show I got a few words in with the eccentric MC, who offered these words of wisdom: “live your life, stay blood.”
After the hyphy intro to the day and a Lagunitas Day Time beer backstage, I walked to The Town Stage. Sponsored by Oaklandish, a local clothing company which started in an art gallery in Jack London Square and first set up on shop on Broadway and 19th in 2011, it served as the main stage for the festival. Performing were The Lovemakers, a synth and guitar driven pop band with New Wave sensibilities and a mix of male and female vocals. Founding members Scott Blonde and Lisa Light engaged the crowd, happy to be playing again to their hometown after a short hiatus. With driving drums and electro-funk guitar strumming and sustained keys, the band stayed true to its early 80’s influences. Traces of Ric Ocasek and Debbie Harry leaked through the music like sap, boiling down and sticking to the audience like maple syrup.
I left the festival grounds and headed down to Lost & Found, an indoor/outdoor beer garden and restaurant on Telegraph. The bar was hosting music all day, with performances by Kendra McKinley, Emily Moldy and JC Villafan. I stopped by to catch some music around 3 and was greeted by Berel Alexander, who was performing on the outdoor patio. Part soul, California surf and R&B, he mixed warm and subdued singing with Jazz chords and improvisation. His childhood involved listening to this father’s vinyl collection, and the influences of Gaye, Cook and Redding were apparent in his vocal delivery. It was a nice departure from the more hectic main festival area, and the outdoor venue with large brick walls gave the sound a more back alley feel.
Queens D Light
Raised in Los Angeles, educated at Howard and finding a artistic place in the hip hop community of the Bay in local arts collective Them Hellas, Queens D Light is coming into her own as a formidable MC. After dropping her debut album, California Wildflower, back in May, she released a video for the single; titled “Love Pistol”, it features direction from Brandon Tauszik and production from the Emmy award winning Sprinkle Lab. Her set at the Hella Tight Stage around the corner at local bar Era was intimate and amiable. Supported by backing musical tracks, she flowed with a purpose, enunciating every syllable and evoking Left Eye and Lauren Hill. When she wasn’t happy happy with the mic volume on her first song, a new one, she performed the verse a cappella. “Fuck money / power respect at all costs. I can be the broke and still the richest / young gifted and drifted.” Her sharp tones and unapologetic attitude resonated with the crowd who had wandered in from the main festival area. She sincerely thanked people for coming out, and received a lot of love.
Jesse Boikins III
Musician and producer Jesse Boikins III was up next on the main stage, supported by a full band. His gravity defying head of hair and partially see through white shirt complimented a dynamic stage presence. The melodic bass lines popped with energy, and the smooth soulful vocals were punctured through by stiff electronic accents. He performed several songs from his latest release, Love Apparatus, and ended with a new one titled “Your Tonight Is Mine” from an upcoming release in November. The song starts with synth pecking and high-hat tapping, as Boikins sings “Just close your eyes and see through me / so I won’t have to explain”, and builds to a crashing and layered crescendo as he repeats “I just wan’t to be with you tonight”. Jesse is occupying a unique space in R&B where neo-soul meats afro-cuban sensibilities, and distinguishing himself from his peers like Frank Ocean by allowing more air into his production and through his digital manipulation of sound. “Oakland are you feeling good?” He asked. A resounding “yeah” was the response. “If you’re feeling good say schwaza!” “Schwaza!”
Switching from neo-soul to garage rock entailed walking around the corner to the Sideshow Stage. Sandwiched between two office buildings on a one-way street, the sound echoed off the buildings and shook the windows of the nearby headquarters of Pandora Radio. While the grime and grit of Meat Market’s guitar-driven sound punched through, the vocals suffered. The drums weren’t fully mic’d either, and some of the band’s more complex phrases and rhythmic accents were lost as a result.
Despite the sound issues the set got off to a rambunctious start, with a cover of Dead Moon’s “Walking on my Grave” as well as “Too Tired” from Meat Market’s single release on Suicide Squeeze Records. Later in set was the B-side instrumental from that release, “The Return of Prince Donathunn”, and they ended with an old favorite “TNT”.
Back from the rock and roll to the neo-soul, this time with the multifacetedSZA taking over the main stage. A St. Louis native, she combines the elements of old and new into her music; an Ella Fitzgerald rasp backed by chillwave keyboards and irregular drum patters that set the listener off tilt just enough to allow the vocals time to push you back into balance. Her work with producer Toro y Moi comes through in her songs, which darted between minimalist R&B, ethereal jazz and muffled guitar plucking. “Hiijack”, from the album Z, was a standout, in which she sings longingly over a trap house drumbeat and syncopated, phasing keyboard progression: “sometimes I keep you in my mind / sometimes I let you go up high.”
Backed by a live band, she wore her emotions on a sleeve and gave the audience a genuine performance. She swayed back and forth on stage, bringing the crowd in like a high tide under a full moon. While her popularity increases, she maintains a jovial, approachable persona that exudes a down-to-earthness that people can relate to. The first female artist signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, she is making a name for herself, and judging by the warm and enthusiastic reception in Oakland, her message is getting around.
Trackademicks & 1-O.A.K.
It was “champagne time” for the last act at the High Sidin’ Stage, Oakland-based beat maker and producer Trackademicks proclaimed with a keytar slung around his neck. Alongside fellow Honor Roll crew member 1-O.A.K., they set out to educate the audience in their favorite type of music, champagne soul. Songs started with a shimmering synth introduction, like the bubbles overflowing from a bottle of freshly uncorked Dom Pérignon. Raised in Alameda, Trackademicks became involved with Youth Radio as a kid, a local organization and internet radio station that educates urban youth on media technology. He’s been doing right by his hometown, remixing for the likes of Little Dragon and making beats for hip hop heads like Iamsu. Their set was an infectious dance party, and armed with drum pads the syncopated beats filled the corridor with a distinctly Bay Area hip hop sound.
The headliner of the festival was Los Angeles based rapper Dom Kennedy. Born in Leimert Park, Dom made a name for himself by being an independent artist and getting on the Billboard charts without a record deal. The loyalty of his fan base, which helped springboard and continues to support his career, was apparent at the set on The Town Stage. Scores of people pushed their way to the front of the barricades, and could be heard singing every word to “My Type of Party”. His rapping style was distinctly West Coast, with LA mid 90’s influences mixed with the more subtle styling of his contemporaries like Kendrick Lamar and Ty Dolla Sign.
His energetic set at the festival was surprisingly his first show in Oakland, and with the response he received from the audience should not be his last. He took time out of his set to shout out to Bay Area neighborhoods: “What’s up Oakland, is San Francisco in the house? How about Richmond? Am I forgetting anyone?” In a windbreaker and Dodgers cap, he crashed through his hour-plus long set like a man on a mission, taking few breaths while unloading a subject matter referencing outlandish partying, drinking beer in heaven, and staying true to something. Dom Kennedy’s music reflects his message; a self starter can take talent and turn it into a lifestyle.
Exhausted and with a ringing in my ears, I headed back home to my downtown apartment. Having a festival within walking distance of your house is never a bad thing. The organizers did a good job of bringing in a diverse array of musical acts, and also did the right thing by hosting the event in the city’s economic center and getting local businesses and retailers involved. The ticket price of $40 may have deterred some, as the festival didn’t become crowded until the end of the day. Long lines at the box office and some sound issues also hampered the event. At the end of the day, OMF succeeded in entrenching itself further in the Town’s cultural lexicon and building on the success of last year.