The sky had cleared by evening, but a afternoon deluge and a sudden temperature drop kept crowds light at day one of the 2016 Urban Music Festival at Auditorium Shores. Thankfully, festival organizers opened the large VIP section at the front of the field to the general public (something they explicitly said, will not happen tomorrow for Maze) giving the event a tightly packed, hype party feel for headliners Dru Hill.
Currently on their 20th anniversary tour, the Urban Music Festival appearance was Dru Hill’s first time performing in Austin and they did not disappoint. Here are six things that happened at the set.
They sang their hearts out. In an era defined by R&B rap dudes who barely bother to lip-synch, instead opting to occasionally chime in on their own hooks, it was so refreshing to watch singers actually raise their voices in soaring four-part harmonies. A quick-paced set packed in most of their hits including "Tell Me What You Want," "Sleeping In My Bed" and "Never Make a Promise." Through it all they pushed their pipes, proving a couple decades later they’re still the kings of heartbreak anthems and bedroom burners. An outstanding rendition of "5 Steps" with a stunning a capella section near the end of the set sealed the deal.
They busted all the cool moves. The level of straight up showmanship on display was on point. With the exception of big man Larry "Jazz" Anthony who kept it chill, they maintained the same sharp and demanding choreography that defined the ’90s boy band era. Twenty years on they still made it look effortless and mad grown and sexy. Sisqo, who, incidentally, is still blond, was particularly impressive. He moonwalked, he popped and locked and he nailed a one handed cartwheel like a man half his age.
They remembered Freddie Gray. The soberest moment of a show defined by the squealing, swooning mass of females packed to the front of the crowd, was when they played "Change," a song they wrote last year after the death of Freddie Gray in their home city of Baltimore.
They dropped a cold $100 in a dance contest. Many artists coax fans onstage to dance, and in an age when everyone’s chasing 15 seconds of Instagram celebrity, it’s generally an easy sell. But Dru Hill went one better, inviting couples onstage for a dance off with a $100 prize provided by the band. None of the couples were exceptionally amazing — turns out slow dancing with your boo onstage is more awkward than say, twerking (who knew?) — but a very sweet couple who looked like they’d probably been married for longer than some of their competitors have been alive managed to snatch the prize from all the young guns.
They covered Jodeci, and Prince. "We want to take you back to an era when singing was really singing," they said before a quick medley near the end of the set which included covers of Jodeci’s "Forever My Lady" and Prince’s "Darling Nikki" — a far racier selection than the "Thong Song" for a family fest, by the way.
Yes, Sisqo played the ‘Thong Song’ (sort of). "Oh no, don’t you leave without giving me that ‘Thong,'" the woman next to me, who nobly endured the unfortunate decision to wear stilettos into a soggy field, warned several times throughout the set, particularly after Sisqo did a ‘Thong’-less solo set midway through. She was not alone. The field erupted in female voices shouting "Thong, thong, thong" multiple times. Finally, at the very end of the set, with curfew already blown, Sisqo hit the stage "livin’ the vida loca" like it was 1999. Weirdly, it was the one time in the night when he barely sang, focusing instead on his dancing and occasionally throwing in a verse or a hook as the clean version of the song played in the background. No one cared. The set closed about ten minutes late, but with the ode to the most booty-licious of undergarments adequately expressed, the chilly crowd left completely satisfied.