Navigating the J.W. Marriott hotel at any point during the second day of the inaugural BET Experience required quick wit – and a lot of patience.
As the three day festival got underway Saturday, an overwhelming number of festival-goers flocked to the swanky hotel in the L.A. Live complex in downtown L.A., many seeking refuge from the unforgiving heat. Every crevice of the lobby appeared filled with those seeking AC.
But the hotel was already jam-packed for a day of wellness seminars and celebrity panels featuring rap moguls (Nick Cannon, Master P), actors (Boris Kodjoe, Nicole Ari Parker, Tatyana Ali) and athletes (Laila Ali, Lisa Leslie) – with the majority of the attendees going to panels that featured Snoop Dogg, T.I. and Pharrell.
Snoop, along with T.I., U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and more, attracted hundreds to a ballroom for a roundtable on eliminating gun violence – a desperately needed conversation steered by the two multiplatinum rappers who’ve found themselves in serious trouble with firearms over the years. The roundtable took on even more weight as audience members offered testimonials.
Some fans who couldn’t get into Snoop and T.I.’s chat – a few hundred were still in line midway through the chat – opted to try their luck for Pharrell’s “Genius Talk.” The line for the in-depth discussion into the mind of the Grammy-winning performer stretched hundreds deep down one hallway, making for a visibly frustrated crowd.
Those who braved the heat (kudos to them) at the Fan Fest area outside in an adjacent parking lot were rewarded with star power.
The deafening screams for a celebrity basketball game featuring Chris Brown washed over the intimate crowd that packed the Music Matters stage to see an impressive lineup of emerging talent.
Reaction to Brown speaks to the singer’s almost untouchable persona among his fans. In the days before his appearance, the oft-embattled R&B singer was accused of assaulting a woman at an Orange County nightclub and charged with a misdemeanor hit-and-run.
None of that mattered at the Fan Fest as the few thousand spectators that crammed a makeshift basketball court (and just about every other surrounding vista) cheered incessantly for the singer. The celebrity teams included actors Columbus Short and Keke Palmer, stars from VH1’s hit reality show “Basketball Wives L.A.,” as well as “Sugar” Shane Mosley.
But the turnout at the free Music Matters stage was disappointing considering many of those on the afternoon bill were part of a wave of artists rejuvenating the genre by pulling away from the conventional boundaries of R&B and hip-hop.
The heat played a crucial role, as did bigger celebrity draws in other places, but another major obstacle to a higher turnout seemed to be a lack of organization.
Much of the Music Matters lineup – which included Mateo, Elijah Blake, Ab-Soul, Austin Brown, Bridget Kelly, Ravaughn, K. Michelle and Grammy-winning songstress Marsha Ambrosius – shifted without warning, and finding information on updated set times was impossible, despite a sleek smartphone app that sent “breaking news” updates throughout the day.
The massive Fan Fest is what the network will ultimately need to spend the most time prepping for next year.
Securing the Los Angeles Convention Center and Expo Hall for future festivals (they couldn’t get it this year, but the site housed Fan Fest registration) will alleviate the frustrations that made the Fan Fest unbearable by Saturday afternoon.
Throughout the day festival-goers were forced to stand in slow-moving lines for the smaller, air conditioned tents that featured beauty lounges and the chance to meet performers like gospel singer Donnie McClurkin, 90s new jack swing outfit Bell Biv Devoe and casts from hit BET shows.
No crowd matched the one that showed up Saturday night for a curated bill of hip-hop and R&B with Snoop, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Miguel and Schoolboy Q (who, along with Lamar, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul, comprise the Black Hippy collective) at Staples Center.
The four-hour show was easily one of the most energetic crowds Staples Center has seen in recent years especially as the headliners were overly generous with their onstage guest list. The show included surprise pop-ups from Dr. Dre and Wale, appearances that nearly blew the roof off of the arena.
Thank God there was air conditioning.