Soul Beach Music Festival celebrates 20 years in Aruba after pandemic pause

DeJuan Hoggard Image
Monday, May 30, 2022

ARUBA (WTVD) -- Bon bini from the Caribbean island of Aruba! The official slogan of the popular tourist destination is "One Happy Island". And for good reason after the celebration of the 20th Annual Soul Beach Music Festival. What began on May 25 with thousands of people flocking to the island, ended on May 30 with a cool-down party after days of great music, amazing food, and comedy.

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This year's line-up featured a roster of celebrities from the new school and the old school in both comedy and music.

Among them -- actor/comedian Chase Anthony and the legendary Mike Epps. Both, using their charm and comedic timing to entertain the audience at the Renaissance Aruba for the festival's Friday night comedy show. "One of my biggest goals scratched off my bucket list," said Anthony in an Instagram post. "People close to me know how much I wanted this. Words can't begin to express how appreciative, grateful, and thankful I am to performer this year." Anthony currently stars as Deon on BET's hit show "Bigger".

With laughter already in the air, comedian and host, Chris Spencer, took some time to share a few more jokes in priming the audience for Friday evening's comedy headliner -- Mike Epps.

For nearly an hour, Epps, who is perhaps well-known for his roles in Next Friday, Friday After Next, All About the Benjamins, and The Upshaws, took liberty in reminding everyone that their troubles didn't travel to Aruba with them. Instead, a warm attitude and positive spirit awaited them for the remainder of the festival.

Hip-hop artist and radio personality, DJ Envy, provided the music for the comedy show's after-party.

Festival organizer, Mark Adkins, believed this year's festival was "the largest to date" and a representative from the Aruba Tourism Authority said because of the festival's popularity and attractiveness, more African Americans are visiting the island year-round. Originally, the festival's 20th year was scheduled for May 2020, with Mariah Carey as the featured headliner. However, after the Covid-19 pandemic shut down borders around the world, the festival also found itself in the dark.

"We've been through a lot," said Adkins, who is brother to comedian Sinbad. "We could not have done it without our amazing partnerships."

There was some hope the festival would return in 2021. No luck.

When the announcement was made, thousands of Americans and Arubans began to make plans to attend.

"This is my second time attending this festival," said Durham resident and Hillside High School graduate LaShandra Scott. She and her friends traveled some 1,700 miles to enjoy all the festival had to offer. "It's always a great time seeing so many shades of melanin people on the happiest island having a great time."

Saturday and Sunday were full of beach parties during the day and soulful music in the evening. This year's musical artists for the festival's banner year included Doug E. Fresh, Ami Mendez, Le Vogue, Ari Lennox, Kevin Ross, Mary J. Blige, and all six members of New Edition.

Yes, you read that right -- Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell, and Ronnie DeVoe.

"I know y'all didn't think I was going to make it," joked Brown on stage during the group's performance. "Y'all thought I was going to be late. 'Watch, Bobby ain't going to have on the right outfit! Shoes too small! Well, I made it," he said as the crowd cheered. The Boston, Massachusetts-born group has a catalog full of classics the audience knew every lyric, too. Songs like "Can You Stand the Rain," "Candy Girl," "Cool It Now", "If It Isn't Love," and "Mr. Telephone Man."

Dreamville's Ari Lennox, who has a residence in Cary, performed for nearly an hour from her hit album Shea Butter Baby.

On her song, "New Apartment," from that same album, Lennox sings about a Cary, NC apartment she had recently moved into.

Lennox gracefully bops the listener with these lines, "I might just read a book, don't need no cable/Blast Selena, "El Toro Relajo"/And everything stays where I leave it/Every damn rule I created/A Dollar Tree wine glass is in the air/André will get me there/No longer afraid of the dark/'Cause that light bill changed my heart."

"You're so transparent and that's what makes you so relatable," said KJLH radio host Adai Lamar in a post-show press conference with Lennox. "Your album is in high, heavy rotation," she said.

Singer-songwriter Kevin Ross hit the stage Saturday night with a collection of hits from his "Audacity" projects and chart-topping single, "Long Song Away." Ross' tone near perfect to get festival attendees in the right mood for Grammy Award-winning artist Mary J. Blige. Speaking with Lamar about the meaning behind "Good Morning, Gorgeous," Blige recalled, " just speaking to myself, 'Good morning beautiful, good morning gorgeous, good morning talented, good morning loveable...whatever I wanted it to be...just finding love for myself."

The goal is for the festival to return in 2023. A date has yet to be announced.