By Gerrick Kennedy, August Brown and Mikael Wood
9:10 PM EDT, July 1, 2013
The inaugural BET Experience attracted thousands downtown to the L.A. Live complex this weekend, featuring everything from a film fest to live music performances to the BET Awards. The three-day event — which included concerts by Beyoncé, Snoop Dogg and more — was certainly impressive, but given that the event is still in its infancy, there's always room for improvement. Here are some suggestions for next year from the Pop & Hiss team.
The heat was on: Perhaps the most common complaint heard throughout the festival was in regards to the temperature, which for three very hot days (and nights) seemed only rarely to dip below the triple-digit mark. Next year, then, we wonder whether BET might arrange for cooler climes? At the very least the network could borrow some electric fans from Beyoncé, who used what seemed like several hundred of them during her Staples Center blowout.
Better promotion for the daytime acts: How about those Austin Brown and Mateo sets, huh? Two young artists on the rise in the artier fringes of R&B and hip-hop, putting on can't-miss daytime shows. Wait, you missed them? Don't feel bad, so did most fans. That's because the fest gave surprisingly short promotional shrift to its daytime outdoor stages. Half the fun for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival fans is skulking around the midafternoon tents taking the temperature of the buzz. We know temperatures were blazing out there, but BET could have tried harder to highlight its young talent. It's not as if it doesn't have a TV network to spotlight new artists or anything.
Fan Fest fixes: Sweltering heat aside, the layout of the sprawling outdoor (and free) Fan Fest offered an impressive roster of activities. But a few spaces could have been more, well, spacious. The cool-down station was tiny, as were the tents that featured beauty lounges and the chance to meet performers and casts from hit BET shows. Securing the Los Angeles Convention Center and Expo Hall for future Experiences will offer more space to play with . . . and AC.
Real-time updates: At Coachella fans live by the event's pocket-sized guidebooks, so it was disappointing that BET didn't offer one. As for BET's smartphone app? As polished and feature-rich as the app was, real-time updates weren't available. Saturday's stellar lineup of emerging talent on the Music Matters stage had numerous schedule changes, as did bigger shows at Staples Center. The only thing that didn't change? Breaking news updates for the app.
Have an all-inclusive ticket package: The festival was billed as the BET Experience, but as experiences go, this one felt a little atomized. There were so many excellent shows within a few yards of one other — Beyoncé, R. Kelly, Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar — but all were separately ticketed. That negated fans' sense of wandering curiosity — a feeling needed for a truly memorable festival. BET should give fans the option to buy one ticket that guarantees a spot at any show they want to attend.
More late-night eats: After some hard partying into the wee hours, the first thought is grabbing a bite to soak up those cocktails. It was disappointing that none of the restaurants in L.A. Live thought to extend hours. A few blocks away, business boomed at the Original Pantry Cafe, Fatburger and Denny's. The Grand Slam breakfast just won't do when it comes to those late-night hankerings for Katsuya's sushi.
Swing is the thing: With a Sunday-afternoon gospel show presided over by Kirk Franklin, the festival demonstrated an interest in thinking about where hip-hop and R&B came from. So how about adding jazz to the mix? The genre is full of dabblers right now, including José James, Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper, whose "Black Radio" won this year's Grammy Award for R&B album. Any of them would broaden BET's scope.
More African acts onstage: The BET Awards have a special category for international acts from Africa. The BET Experience would be a perfect place to give them a huge stateside live crowd, and expand on the popular conception of black music in America. Imagine the Roots jamming with Malian vocalist Khaira Arby, or the category-winning Nigerian rapper Ice Prince trading hometown tales with Kendrick Lamar. There's such huge interest in contemporary African music, and it'd be fascinating if BET used its booking and promotional muscle to draw new connections with those artists' American peers.
Get the bands back together: If the Experience wants to compete with Coachella, it might consider trying to convene some of the reunions for which the latter is known. The possibilities seem endless for both superstar acts and insider faves. Our list includes Tony! Toni! Toné with Raphael Saadiq and the Deele, the mid-'80s band in which L.A. Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds once played.
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