Sol Blume brings a boutique R&B festival to Sacramento
A curated playlist of 12 artists hits Cesar Chavez Plaza
Arguably, Sacramento has an inferiority complex when it comes to music festivals. “Where’s our Outside Lands?” the fans cry. “Even Napa has Bottlerock.”
So far, the area has hosted large-scale metal festivals (Aftershock), local-artist-focused affairs (First Festival, this year May 5-6) and midsized series that string out their headliners over the course of the summer (Concerts in the Park). From 2009 to 2015, TBD Fest featured household names like Chance the Rapper and Tears For Fears until it fizzled out under a lawsuit from nonpayment of vendors.
Now in its first year, Sol Blume (Cesar Chavez Plaza on April 28) enters the fray to fill an unmet desire: the boutique, curated R&B-focused festival. And the founders, Fornati Kumeh and Justin Nordan, say there’s no shame in Sacramento not having the equivalent of a Coachella. Most of those large festivals are getting bought up by Anschutz Entertainment Group and Live Nation anyway, erasing any independent touch they had to begin with.
“There’s something missing, which is a music festival that doesn’t have to be TBD, doesn’t have to be Coachella or Outside Lands,” Nordan says. “It can be OK being a boutique, intimate vibe that allows people to feel like they’re gathering with friends and watching a show in their backyard and their favorite artists.”
So far, fans have responded. As of press time, Sol Blume had sold out of VIP ($168), Phase 1 ($70) and Phase 2 ($80) tickets, with only Phase 3 ($85) left. Though they didn’t disclose exact numbers, the founders hope to max out at Cesar Chavez Plaza’s capacity—6,000 people.
The ticket buyers are drawn to a lineup with prominent R&B artists who skew earthy, chill, electronic, alternative: Jhené Aiko, Sabrina Claudio, The Internet, NAO, GoldLink, Smino, Xavier Omär, Kalin White, Berhana, Arin Ray, Noodles, Rexx Life Raj.
That’s it, the entire lineup.
Unlike many festivals—which might mindlessly grope for the largest names in a corporate, ticket-selling way—this curated list of only 12 artists has the vibe of an actual human’s most played list on Spotify. In a way, it is.
“This is what I actually listen to,” Kumeh says. “I’m a fan of every artist; it’s an amazing feeling to brainstorm with them and see how they react.”
The festival’s name hints at the aura Kumeh and Nordan are hoping to construct: “Sol” stands for the sun as well as soul music, and “Blume” is the season as well as the volume. It’s all supposed to be earthy, the playlist and the park.
Mexican restaurant La Cosecha’s outdoor bar will transform into a VIP lounge, Nordan says, while the UK company Gypsy Shrine will bedazzle attendees with gemstone body art inside a Zen Den with plush chairs in earshot of the tunes. Expect to see plenty of natural decorations, too, like wood, trees and flowers.
With its easygoing attitude and female headliners, Sol Blume has attracted a majority of women: roughly 70 percent of the ticket buyers as of late March, according to Nordan. And most of the fans—more than 60 percent—are coming from the Bay Area, with a solid representation of out-of-towners overall. Sales had come from five different countries and 31 states.
It makes sense that the founders could attract such widespread attention: On top of Sol Blume, Nordan works full-time on strategy for Eventbrite’s music clients, while Kumeh founded and runs ENT Legends Concerts.
“The key for me is, bring people into downtown and show them what we’re all about,” Nordan says. “People have their own idea about what Sacramento is. For me, it’s like, that’s my goal: I want to bring people down here with a cool event that makes a statement.”
Gabriell Garcia, owner of the Blue Lamp, says she’s excited to have an R&B-led festival. Sacramento is a conservative town, she says, and she’s felt resistance to her hip-hop and R&B shows in the form of an increased police presence at her venue.
“I think it’s great to get music of all genres into the city—they want to be a world class city, and we have to go with the times and leave our conservative ways behind and grow,” she says. “I think it’s important to embrace and work with our musicians of color and give praise to everything that people of color have offered to the music we enjoy, whether it’s punk or rock or hip-hop, it comes back to roots. R&B are some good roots for Sacramento to be exposed to.”
Not only that, but Garcia says she and her fellow music fans have been traveling to the Bay Area for shows their whole lives—and with Sol Blume, that script has flipped. Garcia says she’s noticed a shift recently as touring musicians have begun to skip over San Francisco because of its difficult parking and car break-ins that disappear valuable music gear. The musicians who play at Blue Lamp sometimes go from Santa Cruz to Sac to Oregon, she says.
After some thin years, Sacramento’s music scene is maturing, Nordan agrees. He’s noticed solid original artists across genres, citing Death Grips, Chelsea Wolfe and Hobo Johnson.
“Sacramento is an interesting place because it ebbs and flows, and you never know where it’s going to be, it’s like gambling or doing drugs—you never know what’s going to happen,” he says. “There’s been a lot of great forward movement: Golden 1 opening, downtown and Midtown core is really starting to establish itself locally and nationally, Live Nation is now programming Ace of Spades, which has been wildly successful, Holy Diver opened up to take the place of the Boardwalk, Harlow’s programming has improved in the past few years, focusing on the really good indie acts. There’s a lot of forward progress and good momentum.”
Nordan and Kumeh hope to capitalize on the upward flow with Sol Blume, drawing Bay Area and out-of-town dollars into restaurants, hotels and entertainment downtown. But beyond that, they say they’re just pumped to share their personal mixtape with thousands of listeners. They’ve been working up to seven hours a day on top of their full-time jobs to pull it off.
“I feel like a music festival is the ultimate playlist,” Nordan says. “The best feeling for me is that feeling of ’Fuck yeah, we just did that,’ is always standing side stage at the headliner and looking out. It’s like a wedding: Some things won’t go like we thought they would—as long as we can look over the crowd and see all those people loving life, that’s why it’s worth it.”