SAN BERNARDINO -- Late Saturday afternoon, Day One of Rock the Bells had yet to find its stride.
As triple-digit heat pounded the San Manuel Amphitheater, all of those pesky logistical bumps were a bit tougher to digest in the sweltering Inland Empire heat.
Snarled lines for both will-call pickup and parking made arrival into the festival grounds sluggish.
But nothing agitated crowds more than the acts starting their sets late. One bled into another’s scheduled time, a problem that appeared persistent on all three stages Saturday afternoon.
Fans who awaited the cerebral alt-R&B of songstress Jhene Aiko (she was slated to go on before Earl Sweatshirt), were sorely disappointed as the singer’s set was bumped to another slot hours later.
Although the heat was hellish upon arrival, the festival’s return to the sprawling San Manuel, with its lush greens and seating around the main stage, rewarded festival-goers with a reprieve from the heat -- plenty of shade and fast-moving vendor lines helped too.
By early in the evening, Earl Sweatshirt and Chief Keef played to polarized yet hefty crowds, even though both acclaimed teen rhymeslayers got started substantially later than usual.
Last year Keef, the troubled Chicago teen known for crime-soaked raps and a rap sheet to match, was a no-show for his Rock the Bells debut. It was a disastrous moment that resulted in boos and festival-goers throwing items onstage as a DJ struggled to contain the jeering crowd.
Backed by an attention-craving entourage, the 18-year-old got lost Saturday in his own hype as he and his dozen-deep team struggled with sharing the mic. The posse rap approach can be pulled off at the fest, as evidenced by Black Hippy and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, who would hit the stage later in the night, but it requires the hype men to know when to fall back and let their voices be heard.
Keef’s unengaged set was a stark counter to Earl Sweatshirt, who drew one of the larger crowds early in the day and kept them moving with a nimble trace through the sinewy raps that fill his lauded debut, “Doris.”