Words: Garrett Smith // Photos: Ellie Alonzo & Garrett Smith
Let’s just dive right in – we’ve never seen a Fest quite like this.
This past weekend, Dallas held its annual JMBLYA Fest, but this was so unlike any previous entry in the series. Immediately upon entry, we were greeted by a scene of raucous youth and wanton abandon, with a lovely puddle of reversed fortunes simmering in the sun not far from the entry gates.It was 3 PM, CST, Friday – and for better or worse, the people of JMBLYA 2017 were not holding back.
Let’s back up, for a quick second:
Artists 6lack, Snow Tha Product, Pell, YFN Lucci, and Young Dolph opened this year’s lineup with a decidedly early start set at 12:30, for a Friday. Regardless, the people of Dallas were out in force, having either taken off work or, in the case of the large portion of very young people attending, did not have anything holding them back from showing up to Fair Park and turning up around noon. And, trust us, age was not a factor in how wild this Fest was from start to end. The angular path from the photo pit, past the media tent, to the medical tent was something straight out of a war movie – a constant trickle of wheelchairs and two person carries fed into a stream of stretchers and medical attention. It was a hot day with thousands of bodies packed like sardines in order to get close to the stage; it’s no surprise that the medical and security teams had their work cut out for them.
Visions of warzones aside, the headliners of the day kicked off with Lil Uzi Vert, whose rapid fire delivery and maniacal stage presence left the masses trapped in an evangelical flurry of dance – needless to say, not everyone’s moves were a pretty sight.
After a lengthy stalling-session from the between-set DJ Mr Rogers, Uzi finally gave way to the iconic Georgia trio Migos. The originators of the dab had plenty of their fan base pulling versions of the viral dance move throughout their electrifying set, and having three performers with such presence moving about the stage was nothing short of dab-worthy.
Steve Aoki was in peak form, during his set, and by that we mean no expense nor gimmick was spared. If the party wasn’t poppin’ before, Aoki made sure it was, as only an aesthetic-focused, EDM DJ can. Aoki finished his set by taking a note from Marie Antoinette, throwing several full-sized birthday cakes into the awaiting faces of the front-row crowd. Thanks for letting us have our cake, and eat it too, dude.
Next came trap lord extraordinaire Gucci Mane, who kept the party going with his hard hitting yet charismatic style. Gucci’s set was exactly what one would expect from the Dirty Third rapper, mixing classic hits with recent chart-toppers. Not a moment was wasted, but as one of his songs demands, the crowd sure was.
Finally, as dusk settled in, we came to the performance we’d all been waiting for – recent Grammy winner and 23 year old independent label darling, Chance the Rapper. Despite making note of a leg injured in a basketball game, the youthful performer immediately danced his way along the stage, and demanded from his crowd the same kind of energy. After a few opening songs, Chance delved into a sort of Kanye-appreciation medley, and an unexpected highlight emerged – a revelatory rendition of “Ultralight Beam” that felt nothing short of a Sunday morning service. Chance’s verse finds a way to tightrope-tread between softly-spoken youth group choir member, and fire-and-brimstone preacher-turned-rapper. We can’t express the energy in the air, or the adoration in our hearts, but it was nothing short of the divine. After the medley – and just before diving into some Coloring Book fan favorites – Chance made a point to welcome what he assumed were many first-time concert-goers to his set, and to say, as if proselytizing from the pulpit, “I just want to make something where we can all go down the same path together.”
Let that little light of yours shine, Chance. Your fresh-faced charm and soft-to-soaring vocals are a lamp unto all our paths.With the fest complete, we fest-goers – the weary, the dehydrated, the bruised and breathless – stumbled our way to our cars and our homes, some of us traumatized, others of us revived by the baptism of sweat and song which left us in an all-day daze. We hope we did this fest justice, and that you’re as ready as we are for JMBLYA 2018 – because no coverage could paint a perfect image of a day like this.