When it’s a solid 90 degrees, on the cusps of summer in Texas, there many options one could choose to spend the day doing. You could spend your day tubing the Guadalupe, secluding yourself in your room all day, or head to the Sam Houston Race Park for JMBLYA. I went on a whim and went with the last. Hearing how the previous two days of the festival went — it is a three-day, traveling festival across Dallas, Austin, and Houston — I knew to expect heat, high energy sets, and kids passing out left and right on hallucinogens; none of these didn’t not live up to the hype.
Leading up to the event, multiple last-minute cancellations affected the lineup. Cardi B was originally supposed to play right before Migos — her fiancé’s group — before cancelling due to her pregnancy. The other, Kevin Gates, allegedly had legal issues that prevented him from making the trip out, so he was replaced by Atl’s T.I., which, to me, seemed to cause much more anger from ticket holders than I anticipated. Moreover, rumors of a somewhat-chaotic opening night in Dallas started floating across the interwebs, including videos of fights breaking out and multiple late arrivals (headliners Migos and J Cole). And to be fair to Scoremore and the other festival organizers, it is worth noting that to even attempt a multi-day, traveling festival, making sure that everything is safe and ready to go, that the next city is ready, and making sure artists get to where they need to be, is a ridiculously difficult task. I also heard that Austin went over much smoother, so it seems that they were quick learners and smoothed out the edges by the time it was Houston’s turn.
I arrived at the Race Park about a half-hour before gates opened, and the line to get in was already humongous. I imagined, being that the two stages were side-by-side, a good portion of the crowd would herd to the stage of their choosing and camp for the respective headliner (there were no overlapping sets). So to begin with, people rushed for front row for both artists that arrived late two night before. The only female performer, DJ Mz Rico, started off the day at the “Shrimp stage” spinning some tracks for 20 minutes. Oh, I almost forgot to note that most sets at the festival were very short, except for the final two of the night, with none other extending an hour long. Scheduled after her was the rapper Killy, who ended up not showing up to the grounds at all; as a result, Louisville’s Jack Harlow and Rico both ended up going on a bit longer than scheduled to make up for the dead space.
By the time Ski Mask the Slump God took the stage, the rest of the night was stacked with prominent and relevant acts. Also, Ski Mask marked the first set where, from the photo pit looking out to the crowd, excitement for the night really started kicking in and the energy drastically stepped up. Waterbottles were flying and photographers were ducking, avoiding fucking up their gear. Later on included other younger acts, including Playboi Carti, who brought out Houston trapstar Max Kream.
Older acts such as T.I. and Houston’s Trae the Truth and Bun B also took the JMBLYA stages, where the younger crowds always seem to be willing to respect the throwbacks. Not including the notorious “Welcome to Houston” sets at FPSF and Day For Night, this was my first time seeing a legit set of Bun B, and I feel as if it went exactly like I imagined it would: shoutouts and anthems to the H.
By the time it finally started getting dark out, the most buzzworthy act, Migos, finally rolled up (in three different SUVs). Their set, extremely bass-heavy and all-around ear-splitting, most definitely contained the most people on stage — an entire entourage in the back, all with camera, filling the backside. With both Culture albums being massive successes, the group had a good section of the crowd rapping every verse back.
To conclude the evening, North Carolina’s J Cole did a set following the release of his latest work, KOD, a couple of weeks ago. He was the only performer at the festival to include a backing band (and props to the guitarist for sporting not only one, but two jazzmasters). Cole is a rapper that some applaud for being raw and emotional while others give him flack. Regardless, his massive crowd size leads me to think that the former wins this one. Even with my earplugs in, and above the noise of the set from being only a few feet away from all the musicians, the thunderous cheering — and mostly screaming — from the crowd at times overpowered the music, but that’s what it’s all about, though. At the most relevant point in his career, Cole proved to be a good choice for a headliner.
The festival seemed to go over without any other hitches… until I made my way into the parking lot, where, despite leaving early, I miraculously turned out to be one of the last to leave the grounds, two hours later. To make matters worse, my internet connection was out, so Spotify to kill time wasn’t a viable option. However, thank God for Sirius radio and thank God for Howard Stern. Anyway, despite the inevitable logistics of hosting a traveling festival, where you are essentially making mountains move each night, the festival was a definite success with a massive attendance and an endless feed of social media mentions. My first time at the festival left a good taste in my mouth. I look forward to next year.