When I first saw the artist line-up of the Soulquarius Festival, I didn’t believe it. With the likes of R. Kelly, Ashanti & Ja Rule, Brandy, Erykah Badu, The Dream, DMX, Monica, Pretty Ricky, and Mya, to name a few, it was a music festival dream come true for me (and for every 90’s baby R&B music lover, too). So I immediately hopped on the chance to purchase tickets for the Saturday, February 18th event at the Observatory Grounds in Santa Ana, California and planned to go with my girlfriend.
Dubbed an “R&B/hip-hop jam,” Soulquarius somehow managed to gather a wide range of artists passed their musical and performing prime. But that fact alone was what attracted people like me. I never thought I would be able to see some of these artists live since most of them are now “irrelevant” in today’s mainstream music. I was beyond excited. I was ready to travel back in time with the throwbacks. I also had high expectations.
Sadly those expectations weren’t met — largely because of the poorly planned production of the entire festival. Now before I go on to my rant, I just want to preface this by saying my girlfriend and I were extremely lucky in many circumstances throughout the day. But that wasn’t nearly enough to turn around this mess of an event.
Soulquarius was a rain or shine festival from 12 pm to 11 pm. It boasted four stages with three of them being outdoors and one being an indoor venue. The forecast said there was a 50% chance of rain, and luckily it only sprinkled for about an hour or so. The weather was probably the only thing on the festival’s side.
First off, parking was horrible. There were two on-site parking locations that cost $20-$30 depending on which was closer; and, another off-site location that cost $8 and had a free shuttle. Luckily on our way there, a friend of ours who had already reached the venue told us to go straight to the off-site lot because she wasted an hour waiting in traffic, only to find out that both on-site lots reached capacity. We got to the off-site lot around 2 pm and waited in a ridiculously long line for the shuttle.
When we arrived at the venue the line to get in was twice as long as the line for the shuttle, if not longer. It wrapped around the surrounding buildings, and the end was nowhere in sight. We lucked out again because another friend of ours had been waiting in line for two hours and was nearly at the front. So after a phone call and a couple of minutes of searching, we found her and nonchalantly cut the rest of the line (I know, don’t hate us). She also told us that Soulquarius didn’t start sound check until around 1 pm, so the set times were bound to be thrown off by the late start. Good news for us late comers, but poor execution by Soulquarius. Just another forecast of what was to come. It only took us about 15 minutes to get in and security didn’t even scan our tickets. We totally could’ve gotten in for free.
Soulquarius produced an app for festival-goers to download and it had all the information you needed. It had the performer line-up, set times, what stage they would be performing at, as well as the venue map. The Observatory already felt like a small venue, and we were just about to experience how small it was.
I already started noticing layout flaws just walking around when we got in. The only bathroom area was at the very entrance of the venue. So if you wanted to take a bathroom break, you had to walk back through the entire venue and deal with the crowds — which only got worse as time went on. Then it hit me; not only was the venue small, but the unusually large crowd was probably because security wasn’t careful with checking tickets.
Immediately after the bathroom area, was a small cramped strip of merchandise tents. One side was for VIP ticket holders, and the other was for General Admission. The lines for each tent stretched into the aisle where people were walking towards the bathroom or into the venue. This section was a huge traffic mess. Between sets — and even during — people trying to buy custom merchandise collided with a swarm of festivalgoers trying to squirm their way through.
The first artist we went to see was Lloyd, who was playing in the indoor venue. We rushed to the doors, and so did hundreds of other people. The two security guards inside had no chance. A mob of people, with my girlfriend and I in the middle of it all, forced their way through with no regard to who was in their way. We eventually made it inside, but at that point, the venue was over capacity. We were at the very back, we couldn’t even see Lloyd on stage, and there was no point in trying to get closer because the place was just too packed. After a couple of minutes of just listening to him perform, we decided it wasn’t worth it to stay and left.
We decided to wait for Monica at the main stage since her set time was right after Lloyd. But we, of course, had to deal with an unavoidable production flaw. With the overall late start of the festival, it took an extremely long time between sets for the next performer to come on stage. Monica came on about an hour after her scheduled time. With all the different stages, performers’ set times began to overlap rather than flow with the smooth schedule set by Soulquarius. We had no idea when people were supposed to perform. We also had to decide who we wanted to see more if we found out that performers were bound to overlap. It didn’t help that the staff hired for the event were completely clueless. They had no idea when artists were going to take the stage or that the festival was even running behind. It got to a point where we just decided to stay in one area because we didn’t want to deal with the ridiculous traffic/energy required to travel from stage to stage.
It didn’t take long for my girlfriend and me to get tired of the whole thing. We ended up leaving around 11 pm. Even though the festival was planned to go until 11, the entire schedule was about two hours behind by the time we left, and a handful of performers still hadn’t even gone on stage. I’m not sure when it ended exactly, and we were going to miss some of the main acts like R. Kelly and Brandy, but we were just fed up with it all.
Although the entire production of Soulquarius was faulty from the get-go, the artists we were able to see were largely entertaining. Personally, I don’t regret buying my ticket, but it was hard to enjoy the performances fully. Soulquarius organizers could have easily fixed the overpopulated issue with a bigger venue. They should have ensured that sound check for artists happened before the event, instead of just before and even during the event in front of impatient fans waiting just outside in the ridiculous line. This first time 90’s R&B/hip-hop festival had an impressive line-up, but it just wasn’t enough to cover up all of the flaws — especially with the resale ticket value of around $200+.
Would I attend Soulquarius next year if it was revived? Yes, if the festival was located at a bigger venue. There are a lot of other issues that the organizers need to smooth out if they want to rebound from this year’s attempt. But I’m just too big of an R&B/hip-hop fan to hold a grudge against them.