Updated May 16, 2022 - 7:22 am
It was kind of like a fish being fed up with water.
“I’m so sick of love songs,” Ne-Yo confessed in song — a love song, naturally.
Wrong place, my guy.
It was a bit past 7 p.m. on Saturday, the opening night of the two-day Lovers & Friends R&B and hip-hop music fest: Seven hours of love songs down, another six or so to go.
The day was hot — “I have officially sweated this suit out,” Ne-Yo, a Las Vegas native, noted of his fire-hydrant-red designer duds — musically amorous and nostalgia-minded.
Wave of panic
It was also occasionally tense. At a bit past 10 p.m., a wave of panic surged through the crowd near the main “Lovers” and “Friends” stages at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, causing thousands to flee frantically for the exits in a near-stampede, though no one seemed to know why at the time.
It was a chaotic scene; some vendors sheltered worried fans in the back of their booths.
All vendors then packed up for the night shortly afterwards, leaving early as the show was paused while the Metropolitan Police Department investigated a report of gunfire being heard near the festival, a report later deemed “unfounded” by said authorities.
A little under an hour later, the show resumed — albeit with a significantly reduced crowd and three concertgoers hospitalized with injuries. Though any fans that left could have returned to the fest, as re-entry was allowed throughout the day, many complained on social media that they didn’t know the concert had resumed, upset that they missed some of Lovers & Friends’ top-billed acts.
The fest’s PR team did not respond to an inquiry seeking additional details on the incident at the time this story was published.
Perhaps outside venue
After the show stoppage, Usher suggested that whatever precipitated the sudden flight of fans didn’t happen inside the venue.
“The issue was outside,” he said from the stage.
He didn’t let it dampen his spirits, regardless, performing with rappers and fellow Atlantans Lil Jon and Ludacris, the three of them alternating solo hits with their frequent collaborations, while dancers pretzeled their bodies on stripper poles behind them. They were joined by yet another citymate, rapper-producer Jermaine Dupri on his “Welcome to Atlanta,” their set culminating with the Lil Jon anthem from which “Lovers & Friends” takes its name.
Throughout the day, the vibe alternated between raucous and romantic, bombastic and bedroom-bound. Songs that soundtracked many a high school prom slow dance in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s were aired — as were plenty of gentleman’s club staples during that time span.
There was Keith Sweat, dripping with his surname on the Bling Stage, defying the sun in a sparkly, all-black suit while simultaneously defying Father Time as the inexhaustible lover-man craving your body at age 60. At the nearby Crunk Stage, ’90s heartthrobs Jodeci packed roughly 1,657 come-ons — give or take 1,000 — into a steamy 30-minute performance where they probably should have handed out cigarettes upon finishing.
Nostalgia is a transportive thing, capable of rocketing us to years gone by instantaneously, but when mixed with songs evocative of first loves, first crushes, first kisses, it can become that much more potent.
Two decades ago, how many lacerated teenage hearts were stitched back together by Ashanti’s “Foolish,” which she played at the Friends Stage 20 years after it topped the charts for 10 consecutive weeks as her debut solo single? She performed with rapper Ja Rule, the two reprising their role as the Romeo and Juliet of early-aughts gangsta rap lite.
The ’90s were a time of feminine comeuppance in the music mainstream, women articulating their wants and needs in clear, unabashed fashion and seeing to it that both were met on their terms.
There were numerous performers who embodied this at “Lovers & Friends,” from rapper Lil Kim doffing her sparkly heels at the Crunk Stage in order to command said stage more efficiently; TLC saying “no” to scrubs and “yes” to embracing their libidos on the Lovers Stage; Ms. Lauryn Hill closing the night, also on the Lovers Stage, with extended, unabridged jams that turned songs like “Everything is Everything” into something both hypnotic and hard-hitting at once as she performed until well past 1 a.m.
Heat didn’t help
Yeah, it was a long day, and the heat didn’t help — though there were at least attempts at combating the high temperatures.
Four large buses idled just inside in the venue entryway, offering air conditioning and some much needed shade on the sparely appointed festival grounds, where the asphalt beneath your feet could have passed for a large, open-air griddle. There were also numerous free water stations throughout the grounds.
In addition to over-taxed sweat glands, fans also had to deal with last minute line-up changes: Eve cancelled her appearance due to maternity leave, Brandy because of illness. Fat Joe and Trina dropped off Saturday’s line-up due to family obligations and scheduling conflicts, respectively, though both were scheduled to perform on Sunday.
Festival curator Snoop Dogg and Bay Area rapper E-40 were added to the bill to compensate for those who couldn’t make it on Saturday.
With so many acts performing, the schedule did start to run late by sundown — even before the aforementioned show delay.
To wit, the sound was cut on Nelly’s set after he ran over his allotted time on the Lovers Stage, where he was joined by St. Louis running mates J-Kwon and Chingy.
Though his performance came to abrupt, unexpected end, one of Nelly’s cohorts on stage was still able to encapsulate the core appeal of a festival like this.
“Let’s take these (people) back to day one,” he bellowed, bear-hugging the past.
As if we’d ever left.