R&B Forever was a unique and refreshing idea. Instead of just another traveling tour stop, it promised to be an event for the city’s R&B fans. Some of the genre’s best, like Boyz II Men, Blacksteet, En Vogue, Dru Hill and former members of New Edition came together for the night. On paper, it was a great, fun idea, but unfortunately, the concept didn’t translate to reality, and the execution was clumsy.
The night started with long delays and an opening set from Karyn White, who wasn’t even on the advertised bill. Despite the delays and the surprise artist, the crowd was electric. Everyone stood up, danced and sang loudly. It was clear how excited the crowd was for the evening. The people at this show weren’t there for the “new, flashy” thing. They were there to relive their glory days and share the music they came up on. White ended with her most famous song, “Superwoman,” and left the crowd excited.
That excitement would soon fade and turn into frustration and restlessness. If you like waiting, you would have loved R&B Forever. A lot of parents on date nights got to do a lot of talking with each other while songs played over the speakers with no bands on stage.
When Dru Hill finally came on stage, the crowd seemed to forget about any waiting they had done and joined together in exuberant celebration again. Dru Hill and their flashy front man, Sisqó, worked the crowd into a frenzy. Everyone was out of their seats, dancing and singing. But almost immediately, the set took a downward turn and everyone’s energy died again. when the group’s set ended after only four songs. The “setlist” was made up of two deep cuts, a cover, and a solo performance of Sisqó’s “Thong Song.” You could feel the tension in the air as the group abruptly walked off the stage.
When you go to a concert, you obviously want your favorite bands on the bill to play your favorite songs and cater specifically to you. But in reality, and to be fair, sometimes an opening band doesn’t get as long a set time, and sometimes they get tired of playing the same songs every night and want to mix it up. The people around me started talking about what I was thinking, saying things like, “This is lame. I came to see Dru Hill, but I guess there are a lot more acts. It will get better.”
After a 45-minute wait, En Vouge finally took the stage. They never got comfortable, which makes sense, because you’re not supposed to get comfortable somewhere you are about to leave. Thankfully, they focused on some of their hits, working through “My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It),” “Don’t Let Go” and their new single “Reach 4 Me.”
Each set felt rushed, frustrated and clumsy. This concert was like ordering the sampler platter instead of a real meal, and then not really even getting to enjoy that.
I expected DJ Kid Capri to spin between each set to keep the energy going, but he only made his first appearance about halfway through the night. Even he was frustrated, asking the stage hands that kept walking in front of him to stop and telling them he felt disrespected. He was on stage about three minutes before getting pulled or deciding to leave. The format for the night seemed to be three songs or three minutes, and there was a lot more quiet time than songs.
By comparison, the next act, Blackstreet, had a massive set list at five songs, but even in a short time they were impressive. They played their biggest hits all in a row — “Don’t Leave Me,” “Joy,” “Before I Let you Go” and “No Diggity.” Teddy Riley and Dave Hollister both sounded great, and their brief but powerful show was the first real highlight of the evening. They ended with a great cover of the Tears for Fears song “Shout.”
Kid Capri came out to DJ again between the next two sets. It helped pass the time, and it was one of the better parts of the night. He alternated between opening notes and choruses of Jay-Z, DMX, Kurtis Blow, Run DMC and Atlanta natives Outkast, Ludacris and Pastor Troy.
Things were so behind schedule that Boyz II Men had to play next, before two of the opening acts, because they had a flight to catch. Their show was one of the few highlights of the event. Their set was packed with only hits as they opened with their first single, “Motownphilly” before rolling through songs like “On Bended Knee,” “It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” and “Water Runs Dry.” It was a weird choice to play “I'll Make Love to You” and “A Song for Mama” back to back, but both songs sounded great on their own. They fittingly ended with “End of the Road” as they handed out roses to the women in the crowd.
As they left the stage Kid Capri came back on to DJ. I thought it was fitting that he asked the crowd, “Do y’all like reggae music?” because they should have played “Exodus” over the loudspeakers after Boyz II Men’s final song as the place emptied. It was already the next day as the clock rolled past midnight and most people left before Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant played.
In their defense, After 9 Partners, who planned the event, acknowledged the missteps in a Facebook post on Sunday. In that statement they said, “The production team we had in place had some shortcomings that did not represent the high quality and standards the artists and our company had expected and paid for. Please understand we are equally frustrated. We need to implement major changes and we need to offer some sort of retribution to you the customers. Everyone who purchased a ticket will receive a 50% off discount on our next show whereas we promise to correct these issues.” In an email on Monday promoter Tony Wiz added, “As a small company of two competing against the likes of Live Nation we are excited about growing and building on the relationships we have manifested in our 10 years of event planning in Atlanta. We still have much more to learn and promise to make each show better for the audience.”
Despite the problems, they have shown a format that can be successful. If you book classic acts that promise an event instead of just another tour stop, Atlanta will buy tickets and come to party. We’ll have to wait to see if they can deliver.