Hundreds made their way to the HUB Plaza Thursday night for UCR’s sixth annual “Winter Soulstice” concert. Put on by ASPB, Winter Soulstice has brought out artists such as Jhene Aiko and industry veteran Ginuwine. Attendees arrived in droves to watch performances by up-and-coming R&B artist Kehlani, Malaysian songstress Yuna and R&B crooner Omarion. The event setting was interestingly both intimate and what could be considered the typical, hectic concert atmosphere. Before the start of the show, some surrounded the medium-sized stage, already dancing to music coming from the large speakers near the stage, while others relaxed with friends on the grass near the plaza steps. Around 7:30 p.m. two ASPB members made their way to the platform to introduce 19-year-old Kehlani to the stage.
Fresh off her tour with G-Eazy, Kehlani emerged with energy and confidence. It’s generally hard to determine how a crowd will react to a relatively unknown artist, but concertgoers fed Kehlani’s exuberance right back to her. A good amount of people were familiar with her music and she was met with a roar of approval when she brought out two female dancers and proceeded to perform one of her songs, “Get Away.” Bright and raspy, Kehlani’s voice filled the air as she continued with the girl power, hip-hop inspired track “Deserve Better.” “Who here appreciates the art of twerking?” Kehlani asked, before allowing her two backup dancers to engage in a twerk-off that produced screams of excitement from the crowd.
Kehlani slowed things down by talking to the audience and explaining that she was proudly bisexual. “It’s 2015 and we need to be more accepting of these things,” she said before singing “1st Position,” a song that she explained was for women. She continued by treating the audience to a unreleased song and running into the crowd while she sang. People pushed forward to get a better view of the red-headed singer before she concluded with the catchy “FWU” and thanked the crowd. As Kehlani exited the stage, more people piled into the plaza while we were left to wait for Yuna.
A few minutes later, Yuna floated onto the stage donned in a beautiful, flowing garment while the crowd cheered and cell phones emerged. The alt-pop artist was all smiles as she greeted the audience and sang the upbeat and soulful “Falling.” Yuna’s voice resembled that of Corinne Bailey Rae’s, jazzy and light with pangs of strength woven throughout. Her vocals translated incredibly live and her impressive vocal capabilities were proven as she continued with her song “Mountains.” “UC Riverside!” she exclaimed, generating loud screams from the continuously growing crowd. Yuna swayed from side to side and got onlookers singing along as she sang “I Want You Back” and the dreamy yet emotional “Lullabies.”
Everyone appeared to be captivated by her presence, with hardly anyone tearing their eyes away from the stage. Yuna’s talent captured the attention of almost everyone in the audience and rightfully so. She picked up her ukulele and got everyone dancing while she performed her hit “Come Back” and tugged on our heartstrings as she sang the poignant “Lights and Camera.” She thanked the crowd before performing the self-empowering “Rescue” and ending with the upbeat “Live Your Life.” Everyone was in good spirits after Yuna’s performance, laughing and chatting with friends. Somehow, the crowd grew even larger and people resolved to simply stand on the stairs when they couldn’t find another place to view the show.
Around 9:10 p.m., Omarion danced his way onto the stage wearing a red and black checkered shirt and eliciting an ecstatic reaction from the crowd. As people raised their cell phones in the air to capture the moment, the singer sang his 2005 hit “Touch.” Although he’s most popularly known as a singer, it was clear that Omarion takes dancing just as seriously, if not more seriously, than singing. There were several times when he allowed his DJ to play random songs while he danced along. “Where are all my ladies?” he repeatedly yelled to a generous response from the crowd. In fact, Omarion’s entire performance seemed to be catered to the women in the audience. He taught the audience what he called sex education, which garnered giggles and hoots from people in the crowd, before performing the sensual “O.”
Omarion danced and danced and danced, and while the dancing was good, it was clear that people in the audience wanted to hear him sing. Since the beginning of his set, I’d heard fans express their excitement to hear him sing his hit song “Ice Box,” and when the song began, the cheers were deafening. However, Omarion responded by singing what seemed like less than a minute of the song. “Hey, hey, let’s try to remix this,” he said, to which a girl beside me replied, “No, we want to hear you sing!” To make matters worse, Omarion told his DJ to play some music while he left to change his shirt only to return and, you guessed it, dance some more.
You could almost feel the energy dying as everyone watched in confusion while he asked the crowd if they wanted to make a song. The only saving grace was his decision to end with his newest radio hit, “Post to Be” in which he even brought out his son Megaa. The overwhelming cuteness of his child and the dance-worthy “Post to Be” allowed Omarion to exit on a better note than he might have if he’d left these elements out.
2015’s Winter Soulstice was fun and entertaining, with everyone clearing out of the HUB plaza radiating the good vibes brought by talented performers. There were certainly a few mishaps and perhaps some disappointment by the outcome of Omarion’s overall performance. However, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that it was a successfully soulful night.