In Its First Year, Bay Area Vibez Sets The Bar High For Urban Music Festivals

bay area vibes dope hustle
Photo Credit: Dope Hustle

Many dance music fans in the Bay Area probably knew about Beyond Wonderland happening at the Shoreline Amphitheatre this past weekend, as it’s been running for years and has one of the most powerful promoters in the world backing it: Insomniac. While many of my friends and peers were attending that two-day EDM festival, those who wanted something new and different headed to Oakland’s Middle Harbor Shoreline Park for the first-ever Bay Area Vibez festival. I wrote a preview of this urban music and arts festival last week, and in case you missed it, Bay Area Vibez spanned two days featuring some of the biggest names not just in dance music but in music in general. I’m talking juggernauts like Nas, Damian Marley, Stephen Marley, Bassnectar, Z-Trip, Aloe Blacc, and many more. My experience was a very positive one and I want to make sure awareness of this festival spreads, as the founders got on stage upon its ending and described it as “the festival that wasn’t supposed to happen”.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for about 18 months now. Coming from a relatively small dance music scene in Boston, I continue to be amazed by the sheer volume of events happening around not just San Francisco, but the entire Bay Area, Northern California and, frankly, the entire West Coast. I’m talking tiny street festivals, to big sold-out shows, to brand new music festivals to ones that have been running for years. If you’re like me, and your weekend’s biggest problems are figuring out what musical events to attend, things are probably going okay for you.

When I first saw the flyer for Bay Area Vibez, I knew I was going to be there. For me, it was the collection of Nas, Bassnectar, Damian Marley, Paper Diamond, Cut Chemist, and a few more that really called out to me – all at a venue on the water close to my home. As you can see, this festival wasn’t all about the untz untz for me. I grew up listening to Nas and to the Reggae vibes of the Marley family. Combined with Bassnectar, who I always make an effort to see when he comes around, I knew this was going to be special. The name of the festival was perfect, as there were no shortage of vibes in Oakland this past weekend.

My two favorite things about the festival were the location and the people attending the festival. The weather in Oakland is almost always perfect (sunny and in the 70s) and with the skyline of San Francisco as the backdrop, with sand to run your toes through right on the water, it’s hard to find a better venue. Couple that with free shuttles to/from public transit and you make it quite easy for fans to enjoy themselves without having to worry about how they’re going to get home. You could tell a lot of people were there for the closing set of Bassnectar, and I fear that without Lorin on the lineup ticket sales may have been significantly worse than they were (the founders even thanked Bassnectar for playing, and without saying it for potentially saving the festival). It was a special night on Sunday with the Blood Moon lunar eclipse – that fun mysterious vibe in the air.

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While I’m the most into Electronic and dance music right now, I have to say the set of the weekend belonged to Nas. It was awesome hearing the veteran MC go through his collection of tracks, flowing flawlessly through his lyrical perfection and the whole crowd signing along. Z-Trip absolutely crushed it on the decks, showing off his “REAL” DJing – by scratching and playing a fun collection of tracks to dance to. Z-Trip even called on stage freestyle rap specialist Supernatural, who rapped about items handed to him from the crowd, including a baby. And of course Bassnectar, who needs no introduction. For weeks Bassnectar had been emailing his fan bass (see what I did there?), telling them how he will have no sound restrictions at Bay Area Vibez. And boy was he right – he came out BLASTING. I’m sure if fans were there for Bassnectar or for Nas or for Reggae they were getting down to the grimy bass-heavy sounds of Bassnectar because he was putting on a clinic as usual.

Beyond that, local vendors of apparel, food, and other goods were scattered throughout the venue – which wasn’t overpacked but not tiny either. Food and beer was reasonably priced, but there weren’t any spirits to purchase (only beer and wine) and it looked like parking was a nightmare. There were also complaints of no water refill stations, though I can’t see this being as big of an issue as other major festivals where it’s outright HOT. $3 for a bottle of water was steep, so perhaps next year the festival organizers can look into a supplement.

Overall I’m very glad I went to Bay Area Vibez and those who went are too. It’s always curious seeing how first-year festivals will fare but it’s safe to say next year will be bigger and better and likely have some of the minor glitches worked out.