Review: Despite a winning lineup, Soulquarius proves not worth the headaches

Erykah Badu performs during the inaugural Soulquarius festival at the Observatory grounds Saturday in Santa Ana.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Soulquarius had the type of buzz inaugural festivals could only hope for.

The stacked lineup was an ambitious tracing of the last quarter century of R&B, and the daylong Saturday festival at the Observatory grounds in Santa Ana had long been sold out.

New jack swing and R&B representing the genre’s ’90s golden age, as well as neo-soul, hip-hop soul and current alternative explorations of all of the above were on the bill. No surprise there, as most modern festivals are a sample platter of genres, but Soulquarius’ strength was its devotion to a generation of influential acts long ignored from major festival bookings — Brandy, Monica, Mya, Ameriie, Jon B and Ashanti.


If graded solely on its musical offerings, Soulquarius hit a number of high marks. But a festival today needs more than just a willing lineup.

As a festival space, the Observatory has had a checkered past, as noted by the logistical hiccups of last year’s Beach Goth. Many of the same issues returned for Soulquarius.

On-site parking, general and VIP, was depleted a few hours after gates opened, forcing ticket holders to trek four miles to the O.C. Fairgrounds and shuttle to the site or else find street parking. Those shuttling were sternly warned that their cars would be towed if concertgoers were late in returning.

Concertgoers groove to the sounds of Erykah Badu at Soulquarius in Santa Ana.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)


The line to get in was startling, snarling for blocks, with some festivalgoers complaining that wait times topped four hours.

That meant that catching the day’s early acts — an imaginative showing by Willow Smith and nostalgic throwbacks from Jon B and Nina Sky — was next to impossible.

Navigating the layout proved to be exhausting, with a dangerous bottleneck between a smaller stage near the festival’s entrance and the main thoroughfare to the other stages (placing the merch tables in the middle of the path felt like a cruel joke, as lines of fans slowed the path to a crawl).

“We were packed together like sardines, with everybody pushing and shoving to get through. I saw one girl having what looked like a panic attack and crying,” said Ben Chodos, 27, of Westchester.


“Event staff was nowhere to be found at any point during this.”

Complaints continued throughout the day.

“I quickly regretted my decision to come to this show after three hours of being in line,” said 28-year-old Roger Salgado of Santa Ana. “I managed to see three [acts] and not for lack of trying … I feel ... ripped off, bamboozled.”

Taking in the offerings at the Observatory and its smaller Constellation Room stage felt unsafe, given that the indoor venues’ capacity — listed at 1,000 and 350, respectively — maxed out multiple times. Overall attendance figures were unavailable, and organizers had yet to respond to requests for comments as of press time Sunday.


Set times for the main stage were at least two hours behind schedule, and performances on the side stages also ran late. Organizers were savvy enough to have a wonderfully constructed mobile app, but they failed to update the consistently changing set times.

The disorganization was enough that fans took to social media to demand refunds of the Observatory-presented event, understandable given that general admission tickets were $115 (more for VIP).

It’s a shame, as promoters nailed a dream lineup for R&B fans.

There were sparkling sets from headliner Erykah Badu and Kelis, whose funky, forward-thinking interpretations of R&B foreshadowed the current alternative movement in the genre. Young artists such as Jhené Aiko and the Internet, who were also on Saturday’s bill, connected the dots between the past and present.


Monica relied almost solely on her hit ballads from the early ’90s, which made for plenty of slow grinding under the dreary sky, and the Dream again showed why he’s such an R&B auteur with sinewy, hook-driven jams that were plucked from R. Kelly’s lusty playbook.

BJ the Chicago Kid’s searing set of romantic grooves and Ameriie’s underrated offerings of spirited R&B were perfectly programmed inside the Observatory, while Ja Rule & Ashanti’s bouncy set of R&B/hip-hop nostalgia brought much needed energy to the main stage.

Sadly, hundreds of fans spent the final hours of the festival stuck outside the Observatory doors after an eleventh hour switch of one of the night’s biggest draws, Brandy, who saw her time shifted repeatedly ahead of what became an incredibly hard-to-get-into closing set.

The holdup? Organizers actually booked a separate ticketed show for buzzy singer 6LACK inside the venue. It was promoted as the after-party to the festival, which was fine in theory, but Soulquarius was far from over.


Imagine trying to get into a venue to see an act and having to circumvent a line of non-festivalgoers 1,000 deep. It was chaos, and security guards struggled to keep the 6LACK ticket holders out while letting festivalgoers in.

“I appreciate you guys waiting for me,” Brandy said gratefully during a set that competed with R. Kelly’s closing show on the main stage.

Then it was off to hope your car hadn’t been towed.

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