Rites of Spring Festival: Fire or FYRE?
The perfect way to celebrate Nashville warming up for springtime is through celebrating at Rites of Spring. Having this been my fourth year attending the festival, I was so excited to return. Rites is a fantastic local festival, put on annually by Vanderbilt University for all of Nashville to enjoy. With headliners such as 21 Savage, Moon Taxi, Soulja Boy, and Big K.R.I.T., it seemed like it was safe to say everyone was in for a great time. While a great time was enjoyed, this year’s festival seemed to earn everyone a seat on the struggle bus at some point.
The first day of the festival was scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m with the gates opening, and the first act of the evening to begin shortly after. Friday’s line-up featured alternative artists such as Moon Taxi, Jamila Woods, and Ari Lennox. To open up the night, local mogul Nordista Freeze was set to perform. Once news let out shortly before the festival gates opened that Nordista Freeze would not be performing, an uproar began before the festival had a chance to. I had the opportunity to speak to Freeze regarding what happened.
Nordista Freeze and the committee of Rites worked tediously to come to an agreement to make the performance possible, yet were unable to come to one due to a clause in the contract. The clause was a “radius clause” . A radius clause is commonly known in the entertainment industry as a form of non-compete clause, meaning that if the artist (Nordista Freeze) performs at their event (Rites of Spring), they will be unable to perform in the city the event is hosted in (Nashville) for any stated duration of time. This is a clause implemented in contracts from festivals of the likes of Bonnaroo and Coachella, to increase exclusivity to the desired performers of the event.
Now, as I previously stated, I’ve attended Rites before and the festival has a special place in my heart. I believe it is a great event, production, and contribution to Nashville - but, I believe the decision to not remove this clause from Freeze’s contract was a poor one. Being a local mogul, Nordista Freeze performs 130+ shows per year. With tour only being seasonal, this means the majority of his performances occur in his beloved hometown. Tour is funded through the money raised by their Nashville concerts. For a festival like Rites to pride themself on being a blend between local and global talent, it is essential to give local talents opportunities to perform which is why opening sets such as Freeze’s are such a great pair. But - for future festivals - how will they continue to book local talent with this clause imposed? This clause takes this fantastic opportunity away from many incredible + well-deserving artists, and disappointing to see the performance canceled over.
The final decision over whether Freeze would play or not at Rites of Spring came down to one last offer: he received an updated contract the night before the festival (having received the first copy only 48 hours prior to the festival) stating that the radius-clause could be removed, if they performed for no payment. This came as a shock to Freeze + his band as from the start they had been promised payment — in addition to the radius-clause that had been added which would’ve prevented them from performing for four months in Nashville. With no compensation for the shows that would’ve occurred within those 4 months, this left Freeze + his band no option but to turn down the performance.
Once the performance had been announced as officially canceled, attendees cried out in the comments section of Rites’ instagram announcement, and fans franticly sought out answers as to why Freeze would not be making an appearance. One distraught fan even deemed the festival canceled (photographed below).
On a more positive note, Nordista Freeze did not settle to the idea of letting down his fans. He immediately scattered to see if a show that night would be possible to still perform for those whom were ready to support his set at the festival. In extremely fortunate fashion, Freeze pulls it off and performs at The McGill Project — ironically located right on Vanderbilt’s campus not too far from the festival grounds. As Freeze did not let down his fans, they did not let him down, and showed out in numbers to show support for the beloved artist. Fans left incredibly satisfied, as one could hear whispers carrying on even to the second day of the festival praising Freeze’s performance and diligence to perform as planned.
Returning to the regularly scheduled programming. . .
The first artist that performed was Ari Lennox. Her magic radiated throughout the audience as she rocked her natural hair bun, popping highlighter and all that glow. Everyone was hyped and singing along to all her songs. Some of the crowd’s favorites were “Shea Butter Baby” and “Whipped Cream”. All the songs she sang were relatable in more than one way. She even performed an unreleased track from her upcoming album which is to be released in May. Her performance was incredible.
The next performer was Jamila Woods. She emerged on stage dressed in all black and white. She is a very poetic artist and her work primarily focuses on feminism, ancestry and identity with an emphasis on self love. Her lyrics & vocals were outstanding. You could really feel the connection between her and the crowd. The emotions, the expressions and the instrumentals were just phenomenal. You won’t want to miss her on her Legacy! Legacy! Tour — starting this May.
The final performance of the night was Moon Taxi — an alternative rock band. Everything became completely alive as soon as their performance began! The crowd started jumping and dancing as soon as the familiar first notes struck of their popular song “Morocco” was performed. And once the first few notes of the “Old Town Road (Remix)” by Lil Nas and Billy Ray Cyrus were strummed, the entire festival lit up and went completely crazy. The performance closed with support from several guest instrumentalists whom joined Moon Taxi on stage. It was a fantastic headlining show.
Day 2 of Rites opened with a fresh and uplifting performance from Lackhoney. As many had arrived on time to support the local artist from the start, his set was followed with an announcement to evacuate the festival due to weather conditions. This meant that everyone on the festival premises had to leave immediately.
While some attendees sought out shelter, the majority of the crowd lingered around the outskirts of the festival eagerly awaiting to be allowed back in. This occurred during the time slot Soulja Boy was initially supposed to perform during. Yet unfortunately, the day before the festival, he was arrested and taken into custody for kidnapping and assaulting his girlfriend and violating his probation; therefore unable to perform. Luckily, only about 30-40 minutes after evacuating and waiting, attendees were granted admission once again.
Once the venue was packed and ready to rock, Big K.R.I.T. took the stage. He entered with his booming hit single “BIG BANK” with the crowd quickly joining in on chanting along the motivational lyrics. K.R.I.T.’s energetic performance didn’t end there as the entire set was packed with exciting tracks, holding the audiences attention and interaction. And then it happened — the PA system played the words no one wanted to hear, “Please evacuate the premises immediately due to weather conditions”. All the attendees quickly began to evacuate as there was bright and powerful lightning booming. With this evacuation, most attendees took to shelter. Having the majority of the attendees being students, for a lot of people this meant returning to their dorm to wait out the storm as the saying “when it rains it pours” is a complete understatement for what we experienced.
Even though the majority of attendees for the festival fled home to wait it out, everyone rallied once the word got out that the skies had cleared just enough for 21 Savage to take the stage. Following his headlining news regarding the status of his citizenship in America, his set was highly anticipated as there was a lot of concern prior to the festival on whether or not he would be able to be present to perform. Somehow, Rites was lucky enough that things worked out and he brought the house down. Being well known for his ruthless and cutting lyrics, it didn’t take long for the crowd to lose control as 21 Savage remained collected - cooly commanding the crowd with his incising flow. The set was explosive from start to finish as the speakers boomed while he performed hits which traveled through his highly credible discography such as “No Heart”, “Sneakin”, “B.B.O.”, “Rover 2.0”, “Bartier Cardi”, “X”, and more.
In Conclusion . . .
All in all throughout all the challenges that arose during this year’s Rites of Spring, the majority of attendees, including myself, had a great time at the festival. There were a great variety of options for food (especially recommend the Pad Thai truck, please bring this one back next year!) and drinks, a thorough security team, and a great production crew + establishment. The conflicts might have caused some temporary struggles, but only seemed to ultimately create a certain essence of powerful will throughout the festival — from Freeze & his fans frantically seeking a venue to gather, to the awful weather which earned joking remarks throughout the crowd, “what is this, FYRE festival?” — as everyone was there to have a great time. Rites of Spring 2019 was the year of, “the show must go on!”
Coverage by Alexandra Cole