Words By Marcus Dowling, Photos By Diamond Dixon
If you want to focus on the fact that it was dreary, rainy and 15 degrees above freezing at yesterday’s third annual Broccoli City Festival, that’s totally okay. It’s April, and nobody likes to stand in freezing rain when Memorial Day is only a month away. However, Erykah Badu played a DJ set, two pop superstars exploded onstage in a manner most epic and in all reality, the best things about the Broccoli City Festival had barely anything to do with music.
The best part of the Broccoli City Festival involved taking a walk through the pavilion at the St. Elizabeth’s campus. For the second year in a row, primarily millennial-aged craftsmen and women showcased second-hand and DIY crafts as well as introduced attendees to their sustainable business concepts. It’s a great moment of pride in one’s local community to walk around and see local people buying local crafts and keeping money inside the confines of the burgeoning and redeveloping economic force that is the Nation’s Capital. It’s key to see most of those faces being African-American, as if being of any race and frightened by the idea of gentrification, it’s still a fear, but less so in the face of seeing a fertile, minority-led and locally-derived underground economy.
Also heartening on the side of things local and musical in D.C. is the idea that D.C. is growing in its ability to present compelling and ear-worming presentations of music that don’t involve either Wale or Fat Trel. The Maybach Music Group-signed pair’s groundbreaking work is obviously proving successful when seeing acts like Northwest D.C.’s Ras Nebyu and Marlee in the Mixx on the main stage, plus an entire second stage curated by local event planner Molly Ruland’s One Love Massive group. Seeing the One Love Massive bus being tagged by graffiti artists in the memory of sadly deceased community activist Jay Cooper was touching, too. As much as the day was a celebration of a vibrant present, the memories of those who mightily struggled before was more-than-present.
But, yeah, Saturday was a day that will be marked in the annals of history as a breakout performance for Willow and Jaden Smith. At a combined total of 30 years of age, 16-year old Jaden and 14-year old Willow put on an explosive performance that dived into Jaden’s trap-based rhyming and Willow’s neo-soul goodness. If following the pair via social media, it almost felt as if the past few months of Twitter and Instagram posts by both was in effect their way of preparing people in attendance at Broccoli City for just how great they actually are.
By the time the pair hit the stage, the crowd had been stewing in the drizzle for just over two hours, performances like the one by manic pixie dream chola Kali Uchis being underwhelmed by the conditions not being conducive to her airy, breathy performance filled with vocals that absolutely were in need of the sun to kiss them to be best heard. Starving for more propulsive energy with a vitriolic flair, Will and Jada’s kids (and yes, Jada was there) hit the stage with a live band and immediately got to work. Jaden adorably bowed AT the fans in attendance, while Willow flailed and danced as her brother dropped Kanye-style boom-bap flows. Willow has pipes on her too, her neo-soul style performance of now five-year old single “Whip My Hair” inspiring her mother to get onstage, the duo being co-signed by their own ultra-famous mother as being worthy of our adoration.
The third annual Broccoli City Festival was underwhelming, but the planners, promoters and vendors had absolutely nothing to do with it. Maybe Mother Nature is secretly funky as hell and was incredibly angry about having to run some errands on Saturday afternoon and being unable to part the clouds to see the Smith children, Joey Bada$$, Kaytranada, Erykah Badu and Thundercat. Maybe that’s why it rained. Maybe that’s why it was cold. It was Andre 3000 who said “you can plan a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather” on Outkast’s 2000-released single “Ms. Jackson.” Hey! That’s an idea…Andre 3000 for Broccoli City next year? Too much to ask? Well, Willow Smith, Jaden Smith and Erykah Badu blessed the stage this year. Clearly, in terms of the Broccoli City Festival and the Nation’s Capital, anything is possible and everything is happening.