The timing of Spring Splash is impeccable. It hits campus right in the middle of midterm season, at a time of ends and new beginnings — when the end of the academic year is on the horizon, and the beginning of our last half of spring quarter sits within reach. It’s only fitting, then, that this year’s Spring Splash brought a lineup of artists that appealed to our campus’ deepest need to sway our hips, wear flower crowns, chug free Rockstar energy drinks and beat our feet against the grass within heavy clouds of ganja. We needed Spring Splash, and on most accounts, it delivered. Here’s what we saw.
A cool beginning to springtime heat with Tokimonsta
Last year, the entrance to Spring Splash featured tall, wavy art displays that immediately greeted festival-goers. This year, in part due to the relocation of the main stage to the lawn facing Watkins Hall, the first (and one of the few) art installations guests saw was a series of metallic, capital letters that read “LOVE.” And in many ways, the starkness of this display — the grunge of the metal, the simplicity of its message, its location in the middle of the grass — resonated with the way LA-based DJ, Tokimonsta, approached her set.
As the first performer of the day, her crowd was initially sparse and unmoved, watching under the heat of the afternoon sun as she dealt with technical difficulties. But we wouldn’t have noticed those difficulties without Tokimonsta’s humble apology — instead, her opening song, “The Center,” thumped through the stage’s speakers and the DJ bobbed her head unfazed. She brought an intense and genuine focus to her performance, throwing her hands in the air as beats swelled and dropped and the crowd steadily grew, pulled from the shade along the trees and into Tokimonsta’s realm. At one point, right as the screens behind her burst into a psychedelic rainbow, she said, “Riverside, make some fucking noise” — and we responded. One guest — a brave soul wearing nothing but a Speedo — lifted his arms and whooped, drawstring backpack bouncing against his bare back, and the energy in the crowd was as palpable as it was subdued. Tokimonsta’s beats are mellow, building to a crescendo and releasing, something totally unlike the artists that followed her — and yet, the vibe felt totally her own, wherein a nearly naked Speedo-wearing somebody could feel as comfortable next to a group of swaying students.
Despite its initial lag, Tokimonsta’s set stood in total opposition to the grinding and twerking of later sets — but her presence, and her genuineness, felt just as memorable as the art display next to the stage. One only wishes her set could have been at night — the colors and beats felt more appropriate for a chill nighttime spectacle than a sweaty, fist-pumping 2:45 p.m. set in the blazing Riverside heat. In a way, however, the juxtaposition made the set all that more unique, and the positive vibes that radiated from her obvious enjoyment of her craft set Spring Splash off on the right track.
All T-Pain does is win
We felt chill after Tokimonsta left the stage — so chill, in fact, that we wandered over to the food trucks and purchased po’ boys and lobster rolls. We ate as we walked, meandering back to the stage — only to see people, hordes of people, filling Watkins lawn and spilling out into the Bell Tower plaza. It was a compendium of free-willed chaos. The air smelled like the weed stash in a freshman dorm’s sock drawer. We looked toward the stage as T-Pain, joined by Vantrease, thrusted toward the crowd in a way that could be called passionate. It was hot, and the sun was unforgiving as our shirts clung to our backs, but we realized: Everything was T-Pain, and nothing hurt. T-Pain, decked in vibrant board shorts and a gray T-shirt that betrayed his sweat, asked the crowd to excuse his outfit because “It’s a little form fitting.” He turned. He struck a pose. His gut protruded unashamedly. He asked if we wanted Juicy J, and after we agreed, he said, “Too bad, you gotta sit through my fat ass for another few minutes.” He laughed, and we laughed, because T-Pain’s set did not focus on anything overly serious; while the rapper showcased his vocals during a slow ballad, the emphasis of his performance was on genuine enjoyment — and it showed.
He cycled through a series of top-40 covers, including an autotuned, altered-lyrics version of Lorde’s “Royals,” and the crowd sang along just as loud as the speakers facing us. He shuffled, and turned down and walked it out, and we moved with him. Even though T-Pain spent more time with the songs he had been featured in, we didn’t care — we were sweaty and jumping, hands in the air, screaming in agreement as T-Pain announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, my motherfucking name is T-Pain!” halfway through his set. By the time he closed his set with — what else? — “I’m On A Boat,” spitting into his mic about mermaids and Poseidon, everything felt right in the world. That might have been a side effect of the contact high, but regardless, T-Pain and his crew’s fun was obvious, and the energy lingered among the crowd long after he left the stage.
Juicy J fails to bring it back to 2006
“Who wants to get on stage and smoke weed with Juicy J?” Though he never allowed anybody in the audience to complete this offer, Juicy J had an oddly commanding stage presence, especially considering his lackluster performance. Members of the crowd went virtually insane with every one of his prompts, and even though he only asked for it in jest, everybody earnestly wanted to get high with him. When he asked for girls to come on stage and twerk, men and women alike from the crowd lost their minds trying to get Juicy J’s attention. This popular support is what made the musical set so entirely baffling. Rather than perform songs for the audience, he seemed more concerned with giving us soundbites and playing 30-second to minute-long segments of his music. What really killed it were the consistent mentions of Wiz Khalifa. It was tragic that in a performance where the artist seemed as though he couldn’t care less, he could have the gall to mention another rapper to drive that disappointment home.
Juicy J proved himself to be a king who sits upon a throne of lies. Repeatedly he told the audience, “I love to give back to my fans,” offering up his gold chains, his shoes and promising a twerking contest, only to renege on the offers, trying to make us forget with more sound bites and throwbacks to that one time he won an Academy Award in ‘06. Joking aside, this performance was egregiously lacking in content. Little to nothing of what we were given was a live performance, delivering what was closer to an occasional on-stage sing-along with the songs’ original recording artist. Even the songs from his former group Three 6 Mafia failed, as instead of rapping through them, Juicy J just let them play through, bobbing, dancing and periodically grabbing a drink of water.
From an artist with such a successful career and who claims to love his fans so much, Juicy J phoned in his performance, commanding the audience with an ease and charm widely disproportionate to the amount of effort he appeared to be putting forth. The crowd, for its part, took his nonchalance with a level of enthusiasm that was far from deserving. Despite a last-minute selfie-taking session with audience members (except those with Android phones), by the time Juicy J got to one of his last songs, “Bouncy House,” the crowd — which thumped up and down for him not so long ago — only had a couple of mediocre hops left. Repeating the same lines about how much he loved weed and wanted to smoke it with us, and how well-endowed certain UCR students were, was funny and over-the-top until he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Juicy J, by the end of his time, certainly left us looking for a more fulfilling performance.
Ludacris shows UCR some Southern hospitality
Ludacris was clearly the show-stealer. It’s a good thing that ASPB saved the best for last. After shouting and dancing to the previous three performers in the tyrannical heat, one would assume that the crowd was finished, devoid of energy. But no — Ludacris’ appearance had this strange effect of re-energizing everybody. His stage presence stole the show, as he gave out several hilarious lines that are unfortunately unprintable. His command of the crowd was also unmatched — he got entire sections of the crowd to flip each other off.
One of the coolest things about his set was the live band that backed him up. The other performers had a couple of guys helping with the backup vocals here and there, or setting up the beats for different songs or getting all the music together on the track list. But as the show-stealer, Ludacris was the only guy with a live backup crew. He had a guy on the guitar, a bassist, a tenor saxophone player and a drummer. Each person in the supporting band did a great job contributing to the live aspect of Ludacris’ performance. At least one of the other hip-hop stars at Spring Splash used a little bit of autotune, but not Ludacris — he’s too good for that, and of course demolished the need for autotune with a live band. Ludacris even allowed his drummer to solo for a few minutes, and since when does a festival starring three hip-hop stars and an EDM musician feature a drum solo?
The one unfortunate thing about Ludacris’ performance was that he fell into the same trap as T-Pain and Juicy J by only choosing to play around 30 seconds to a minute or so of popular top-40 hits. What made this so disheartening was that the hits Ludacris chose were some of the best and most popular songs recorded in hip-hop history, such as Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” and Flo Rida’s “Low.” Ludacris took his catalog way back, which was one of the central aspects of his performance — and the crowd just loved it.
Aside from the 30-60-second songs, as well as repeatedly telling the crowd how high he was and wanted to get, Ludacris was the icing on the cake for Spring Splash. For a 36-year-old rapper with a plateaued career, he managed to kick ass.
Whether it was the unashamed revelry T-Pain showed on stage, the momentarily thrilling glee of whizzing through the cool afternoon air as the sun set on the scat ride, Ludacris’ constant mention of how many hits he had, or any one of the delicious indulgences that were made available to Highlanders, Spring Splash 2014 left us oddly satisfied. The grandiosity of years past was traded for a more intimate feeling — even the new location of the stage near the Bell Tower brought the crowd to a more condensed and together state. The festival made its mark as a way to signal the beginning of the end of the year, as plans for a wonderful summer plant their seeds in the spring, graduation looms and time is short. But for five hours on a Saturday in May, the moment felt like it could last forever.