Young music fans packed the Queen Mary grounds on Saturday, April 28, for day one of a sold-out festival that celebrated hip-hop and rap music and marijuana culture.
They were part of a nearly 50-act lineup that was meant to showcase both well-known rap artist as well as up-and-coming performers.
“A festival for me isn’t going to be about chasing the hottest thing that’s (expletive) popping on Soundcloud. I want to curate a great musical experience for the fan,” said Jonny Shipes, the founder of the growing festival as he hung out in his trailer backstage.
Presented this year by Goldenvoice, the creators of Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, Smokers Club was born out of a one-night show at South by Southwest Festival a few years ago. From there Shipes took his hip-hop act on the road throughout the country featuring many then up-and-coming acts, like Khalifa.
Last year he settled at the Observatory in Santa Ana for a one-day festival.
This year he decided to move it to Long Beach and double it to two days.
“I thought we could do it bigger, better and more fun and turn it into a real festival,” Shipes said.
The event is the first major new concert brought to the Queen Mary following a partnership with Goldenvoice and Urban Commons, the ship’s leaseholder announced late last year to bring more large-scale music festivals to the ship.
One of Shipes’ goals is for people to discover newer talent at the festival and two young rappers who were a hit with the crowd were Brooklyn based Flipp Dinero, who impressed the crowd with his freestyle skills and melodic hooks, and 18-year-old Baltimore native Jayy Grams, who performed early in the day.
“I heard about this festival since I was a kid, always seen it around so now being on here it’s surreal, it’s crazy,” said the bespectacled baby-faced rapper shortly after his Saturday performance.
“They walked with it a lot more than I thought they would. A lot of people actually knew the lyrics and I wasn’t expecting that at all,” he said, referring to the crowd reaction to his set.
The festival audience was young, stylish, really immersed into hip-hop music and seemed appreciative of a show that focused solely on that genre.
“I like other festivals and it’s cool to hear other stuff but sometimes you just want what you want,” said 22-year-old Jeanna Thomas, who drove from Riverside with a few friends for the festival.
And with ticket prices that started at $85, for others, this provided a cheaper alternative to Coachella.
“I could have seen some rap there (at Coachella) or all of it here,” said 18-year-old Steve Morris, who bought weekend passes for Smokers Fest to see Flatbush Zombies, who also performed at Coachella last weekend and were set to take the stage on day two of Smokers Fest.
The backstage shenanigans
Since this festival was also about celebrating marijuana culture, the smell of weed floated through the air throughout the venue. But if you got backstage it engulfed you like a thick layer of fog with artists and guests taking part in games created around the plant.
One such game as Bong Pong. It’s just like beer pong except people had to get the ball into a bong and take a hit. There was also Marjuana MacGyver where people were presented with random items and they had to figure out how to use them to smoke weed.
“We’re trying to do it so that in the next few years we’ll be known as the Animal House of marijuana,” Shipes said, noting that everyone backstage partaking in the activities was of legal age or had a valid medical marijuana card.