Jaden Smith / All photos by Keem Griffey
When it comes to destinations for music festivals, DC isn’t generally one of the first cities that comes to mind. Frankly, for people living outside of the region, DC music pretty much begins and ends with Wale—and maybe Shy Glizzy and Fat Trel. That has begun to change over the past couple years, though. Back in 2012, Trillectro Music Festival was born in The District to bridge the gap between rap and electronic music. The following spring brought along Broccoli City Festival, which focuses not only on music but also on sustainability and health within urban communities. This past Saturday, the third annual Broccoli City Fest went down at the Gateway DC Pavilion, with performances from Tink, Kali Uchis, Joey Bada$$, Erykah Badu as DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown, Willow and Jaden Smith and others making a case for the city not only as a destination for cool musical experiences but also as a standard bearer for a certain eclectic strain of new black musical bohemianism.
Marlee in the Mixx
The weather was shitty all day; the sun didn’t peek out once on Saturday and by early afternoon, cold raindrops were piercing through to everybody’s skin. Nobody seemed to care, though. Everybody was hopping around to music, blowing blunt smoke in the air and taking uncountable amounts of selfies with their hoodies up or umbrellas in their hands.
The day started with a range of performers from DC and the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) taking the stage. Acts like Marlee In The Mixx and Ras Nebyu performed covers of Bob Marley’s hits and their own material that aspired to the same vibes. Virginia’s Sunny and Gabe followed with their breezy, electronic brand of neo-soul and surprised the crowd by bringing out D.R.A.M., who performed his hit “Cha Cha.” DC rapper Lightshow got the most crowd love of any of the regional acts with some of his sharpest mixtape cuts. Dudes bounced around and recited his lyrics word-for-word.
D.R.A.M., with Sunny and Gabe in the background
The local acts set the mood for the rest of the afternoon. The entire crowd screamed for Tink when she sang “Treat Me Like Somebody”: Her rising star appeal was obvious. But nothing came close to how Willow and Jaden Smith were received.
As Tink sang, I was hanging by the stage. The crowd was loud, but suddenly I heard more noise than usual behind me. I turned around to see Jaden walking by, with about 14 people trying to get high fives from him. Willow was close behind somehow attracting less harassment than her brother—probably because people were frozen while staring at her. They both made their way to the photo pit to dance while Tink finished out her set. Most of the people right behind the pit did that weird thing where they tried hard to act like Willow and Jaden weren’t right there in front of them, holding in their fandom.
There was less restraint when they came onstage. Jaden and Willow’s set was the grandest of the night, with a stadium-like sound quality that no other act seemed to have. They ran out onstage to a sea of people holding giant cardboard cutouts of their heads and altogether losing their shit. Standing in the crowd, I listened to a set of girls around me gush about Jaden: “He is sooo cute”; “I didn’t know Willow was taller than him”; “He just looked over here!” I was ruining people’s photo ops, too. As I was leaning on a fence and watching on the stage’s right side, a girl wiggled her way to where I standing, pushed me slightly, and asked if I could move over: She needed room to record videos on her phone and take selfies with her back to the stage.
Willow and Jaden Smith
Willow and Jaden’s pull went far beyond the music. Although part of their appeal is undeniably their celebrity, they've also found a way to stand for something artistically. Most of the crowd seemed to not know much of their lyrics, but their stronghold on everyone’s attention wasn’t topped for the rest of the night. Witnessing that fanfare in person was pretty mind blowing, but even more powerful was stepping back and analyzing a crowd of mostly black kids not afraid to experiment with their looks, lifestyle, and taste in music: The Smith kids were poster children for them.
By the time Joey Bada$$ got on stage, everyone had come down from their Willow and Jaden high. It had gotten colder, and heavier rain drove everyone to congregate under the venue’s pavilion. And as people waited for Erykah Badu to come out, it got so cold that people could see their breath—in late April.
As we all stood in the crowd with our toes numb from standing in wet grass for hours and waited, Broccoli City’s founder Brandon McEarchern came out on stage thanking everyone for coming and thugging it out the rain. He went on to share his struggles with getting funding for the festival, mentioning that potential backers thought that having a festival that encouraged the betterment of minorities wasn’t what people wanted—they’d rather “turn up and do molly”. Broccoli City became more than just a fun festival at that point. Brandon’s mission to empower people of color became clearer when I stepped back and looked into a crowd of 5,000 with mostly brown faces; the festival’s push for black bohemianism and unity felt promising when considering DC’s large black population.
With its emphasis on recycling, growing organic foods and fitness in urban communities, Broccoli City was just as pivotal in black progression as the protests going on at the same time in neighboring Baltimore in response to the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died from a severed vertebrae that he suffered while in Baltimore City police custody just a week prior. One was a demand for justice for black lives and the other a push to sustain and improve black lives. Before he stepped off of the stage, McEarchern urged the crowd to consider that “we need each other” and paid respects to Freddie Gray and other black victims of police with a moment of silence.
Erykah Badu a.k.a. DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown
Soon after, Erykah Badu, backed by Thundercat, walked silently onto the stage, hardly visible thanks to a gigantic afro and Robocop-type shades shielding her face. After a few seconds of frantic screams, the crowd joined her in silence as she raised her fist, prompting everyone else to follow. The only performer beyond her 20s and a mother figure for young kids of color looking to tap into their creativity and nerve to be different (just as Willow and Jaden are doing for teens right now), Badu’s presence was a proper closing moment Saturday. She DJed until the end of the night, mixing tracks from Biggie Smalls’ “Ten Crack Commandments” to Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle” to Kendrick Lamar’s “You Ain’t Gotta Lie,” during which she grabbed the mic and said, in a fitting moment of different musical generations aligning, “I should’ve been on this shit.”
Sunny of Sunny and Gabe
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