It's a little past 2 a.m. on Saturday and while most of downtown slept, L.A. Live was still bustling.
An exclusive after-party closing the first night of the inaugural BET Experience -- a massive, three-day undertaking from the network and AEG that kicked off Friday in Los Angeles –- wasn’t even close to winding down. An energetic DJ packed the dance floor of the Conga Room as he fired up a string of vintage R&B classics, including Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1981 stomper “Let’s Groove.”
Many of the revelers at the L.A. Live nightclub kept steady on the dance floor, an impressive feat given the day had already seen Beyoncé open the festival at Staples Center a few hours earlier, and Erykah Badu had slowly unpacked a (very) late-night groove next door at Club Nokia. Most of the few hundred partygoers at the Conga Room had gone to one, or both, big ticket concerts.
“We don’t stop until the sun come up,” said DJ Cassidy, who worked to keep the crowd moving.
Day 1 of the BET Experience was crammed with a breadth of free activities, including a sprawling fan expo and performances across multiple stages. Attendees on the first day also had to contend with pounding heat as downtown temperatures rose into the 90s by the early afternoon, making the expo in the parking lots surrounding L.A. Live a sluggish challenge, despite the offerings.
Other events planned for the weekend include wellness seminars, celebrity panels, a film festival and, yes, an awards show telecast on Sunday.
But few things mattered more on Friday than Beyoncé.
“Give it up for our network, our station,” Beyoncé beamed as she thanked BET for allowing her to open the festival.
The pop diva anchored the opening day of the festival with the first night of her U.S. tour (dubbed the Mrs. Carter Show), and much of the late-night buzz at LA. Live stemmed from excitement over the singer’s performance -- a dizzying summation of her solo career that kept the crowd cheering and on its feet, seemingly unconcerned by the fact she didn't debut much new music.
“I want you to escape,” Beyoncé told the crowd early in her set, “I want y'all to get lost.”
Another opportunity to get lost in the music came as a sizable chunk of Beyoncé's audience migrated to Club Nokia where Erykah Badu had been keeping fans waiting. The soul singer finally emerged near the stroke of midnight and built a sturdy, often lush groove of mostly deep album cuts and extended jams.
While Beyoncé and Badu were the obvious can’t-miss tickets, BET also curated a wealth of free music throughout the day, though the heat and sheer numbers made some events a challenge. The crowd waiting outside the tiny Centric Pavilion tent hoping to catch a performance by R&B singer Lyfe Jennings was much larger than the space could hold, and fire marshals, just like LAPD, made their presence known throughout the complex.
The Music Matters outdoor stage offered four hours of music by up-and-coming artists such as Mali Music, the Rap Pack and Kimberly Nichole. A taping of BET’s countdown show “106 & Park” was the afternoon's hottest draw, with nearly 300 teens braving the heat to catch performances from Mindless Behavior, Jason Derulo and Janelle Monae, who came equipped with a dozen or so lookalikes for her performance.
Stumbling out of Conga Room before 3 a.m. as the music rolled on, it was easy to spot bleary festivalgoers sprinkled about the courtyard who refused to stop the party. Pace yourself folks, it's only Day 1.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun