On May 6, Stanford’s Black Family Gathering Committee hosted its annual Blackfest music festival at Frost Amphitheatre. The event brought local Black-owned businesses and performers together to celebrate Black art.
Blackfest is the largest free hip-hop event in the Bay Area, serving a combination of Stanford students and audience members from surrounding cities. Although part of the lineup fell through just a week beforehand, the concert still succeeded in featuring a set of energetic performances from Black artists and creating a space for the Black community at Stanford.
Catherine Harbour ’24, one of the festival organizers, said Blackfest is based on “the idea of using Stanford funding to make a space on campus for the Black community, which has historically been denied the ability to make that space for itself.”
The concert’s final roster consisted of headliner Pi’erre Bourne, Kenny Mason, Jean Deaux and DJ Bia Baby. Bourne was brought in as a last-minute replacement for the original headliner, Smino. Another one of the original artists, IDK, was also replaced by Kenny Mason.
“Blackfest historically has had a ton of really cool artists that people have enjoyed, but something that we wanted to emphasize this year was artists who use their art to promote and show love for the Black community,” said Kyla Windley ’23, the other student organizer for the event.
Both Windley and Harbour emphasized that despite the unexpected dropouts, the relationships the Black Family Gathering Committee cultivated with musical talent agents proved fruitful.
“Our relationships with the agents played an incredibly large role in the turnaround,” said Windley. “That’s the only reason the really fast turnaround was possible, so we’re very grateful for them. It was definitely very shocking: lots of unexpected meeting times, lots of brainstorming, lots of back and forths with managers. But we made it happen.”
However, some attendees were surprised and even disappointed by this change. Maxwell James Campbell ’26 commented that they are unfamiliar with Pi’erre Bourne’s work in comparison to Smino, who they like a lot.
Still, Campbell said, “I’m just open to new artists so it’s nice that they are representing more Indie people.” They added about Bourne, “He’s still cool and it’s free.”
Others were glad that within days, the Black Family Gathering Committee and Stanford Live managed to get other performers.
“I think the lineup was unfortunately diminished,” said Brian William Donohugh ’26. “Two acts that would’ve been very impressive were replaced. Still, I am impressed by the new acts because, with such short notice, the organizers were able to bring two more very good artists. It’ll still be a good time, but it just won’t be what it could’ve been.”
Indeed, although he wasn’t on the initial concert lineup, Kenny Mason boosted the energy in the crowd more than any other performer at the festival. Masses could be seen running from the back of the amphitheater toward the stage in the hopes of securing a good view. Mason was a wonderful performer, constantly inviting the crowd to move and engage with the music. He called out for mosh pits during his set, and they swiftly formed. Mason captivated the concertgoers and brought his music to life.
His performance — the third act of the night, sandwiched between Deaux and Bourne — marked a turning point in the festival. Blackfest was suddenly alive, and the energy picked up even more throughout the rest of the night. Although Pi’erre Bourne was the headliner, Mason seemed to be the one who garnered the most audience attention. It was impressive to witness him getting the crowd so engaged despite the fact many people didn’t know his music. He was by far the highlight of the event.
Still, in between sets, people grew anxious for the arrival of Pi’erre Bourne. Some found themselves getting shoved against the railing as eager concertgoers tried to get closer to the stage. The crowd was enthusiastic when Pi’erre Bourne finally came out, with shouts of the artist’s producer tag, “Yo, Pi’erre! You wanna come out here?,” being heard all over the field.
Bourne had an engaging stage presence, prompting people in the audience to move and sing along. The performance was good overall but fell somewhat short of our expectations. It lacked in certain areas, such as lyrical delivery. The crowd did get increasingly intense, though, and more mosh pits formed.
They did not quite match this energy for the first two artists. As audiences first began to arrive, they were greeted by student opener DJ Bia Baby and Chicago musical artist Jean Deaux. DJ Bia Baby first began warming up the crowd with popular R&B and hip-hop music, though there were a few moments when the crowd had little reaction to her mixing. Still, it was an apt introduction for the artists yet to come.
The first main performer, Jean Deux, attempted to grab the crowd’s attention with callouts. This proved to be challenging, as it seemed that many audience members had never heard of her or her work. Although the crowd remained somewhat subdued, she came with the right mood and kept going.
Overall, Blackfest provided an opportunity for Black artists to come together and deliver creative performances to the Bay Area. Likewise, quick thinking from the event organizers culminated in an enjoyable music festival.
“I really enjoyed our time in Frost, seeing my friends having fun on the beautiful lawn, singing, and dancing along to the lyrics,” said Leslie Anasu Espinoza Campomanes ’23. “I am so happy that regardless of the busy quarter system, our communities get to share a time of art, empowerment and fun together.”
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.