Featuring a dazzling lineup of hip hop and neo-soul artists like Maxwell, D’Angelo, Angie Stone, Mos Def, Aloe Blacc, Common and Ngaiire, SoulFest launched its virgin tour in Sydney and Melbourne on October 18 and 19, Brisbane on October 25 and Auckland, New Zealand for October 26.
The first year for any festival is a tough gig. Plan and coordinate and organise as much as you like; cockups happen. Sadly, ticketholders approaching the front gate at the Melbourne show were informed that “due to a combination of operational and logistical issues – the local stage will not be operating today,” and were offered a full refund. This, needless to say, was a bummer. Local acts such as Ngaiire, EMRSN, Ms Murphy, Carmen Hendricks and Miracle were all cancelled, although neosoul.com has listed each artist here so you can check out what we missed in Melbourne.
Having said that, the sheer gravity of the international acts at SoulFest pulled their weight with 41-year-old gentleman and neo-souldier Maxwell headlining the night. “I wanna thank you so much for making my life what it is,” said the humble and suave-as-fuck Maxwell.
Known as the Monarch of Neo-Soul, D’Angelo played a powerful and illuminating show, and filled the earholes of many long-time fans with deep satisfaction. There was definitely a Prince vibe about D’Angelo during his show.
Common’s presence and energy rapidly stirred the crowd into a frenzy with his special concoction of conscious hip-hop, with two particular highlights: hurling a stool across the stage during one of his songs and wooing a lucky female audience member on stage with his syrupy lyrics.
Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey), on the other hand, was one of the few performers without a back-up band — 2 DJs backed him instead — and only seemed to deliver excitement and vivacity to the minority of ticketholders who paid for a ‘VIP pass’, allowing them special access to the venue’s front seat area. From the back, in the non-VIP section, on the grass amphitheatre, his natural charm and candour just wasn’t that visible or audible.
The most surprising highlight of the festival was the swirling energy circulating wildly in front of a tiny marquis behind the main amphitheatre, where local DJs played funk, soul and disco tunes to happy dancers and passers-by. There came a point where a dance circle spontaneously formed with all participants creating a stage of their very own.
Large festivals in their first year are prone to “operational and logistic issues” because of the immensity and novelty of the task, so it’s somewhat understandable that SoulFest ended up without its local soul talent for the Melbourne show. Next year, however, ticketholders might not be so forgiving. It was also kinda weird that there were tiered tickets for a music festival. Festivals are supposed to be about connecting with music and people, not segregating each other into sections based on how much you paid. Nevertheless, the international line up was super stellar and Mos Def actually turned up to play, so give credit where credit is due: we’re looking forward to next year, SoulFest.
Words by Iain Excellent
Photos by Chris Le Messurier