The U.S. festival landscape is wildly oversaturated, but Lovers & Friends, a new event announced this week by the major promotions company Goldenvoice, stands out. The lineup is particularly exciting for the underserved demographic of diehard R&B fans: Usher, Lauryn Hill, and TLC top the bill. Listeners who tuned in to hip-hop radio in the late 1990s and early 2000s have plenty to celebrate as well, with rappers like Ja Rule and Mase promising to show up and reprise their old singles.
But what happened after the announcement of the inaugural Lovers & Friends lineup showed that artists and fans remain on edge in the aftermath of recent high-profile festival missteps. The ink had barely dried on the Lovers & Friends flyer before several singers and rappers claimed publicly that they hadn’t been notified about the festival they were supposed to be performing at, hadn’t received a deposit payment, or otherwise signalled their displeasure with the lineup. Behind the scenes, promoters scrambled to make sure everything was in order — re-opening lines of communication, double-checking that contracts were signed and deposits were in bank accounts.
The commotion served as another reminder of how complicated it is to put together a multi-act extravaganza in the age of social media. And the contradictory statements about Lovers & Friends that pingponged back across Twitter took on extra weight in the aftermath of 2017’s Fyre Festival. That event, a widely promoted concert in the Bahamas, was supposed to feature a number of musical heavyweights. Instead, it turned out to be a fraudulent disaster and surely one of the most heavily covered live music catastrophes of the last 20 years.
Goldenvoice, which is also the company behind Coachella, did not address individual artists’ concerns this week. “The festival is confirmed, and we are working closely with each artist’s team to create a show that lives up to our standards,” a representative said in a statement. “We look forward to providing an amazing experience on May 9. Lineups are always subject to change.”
Bobby Dee, whose company Bobby Dee Presents is helping to promote Lovers & Friends along with Goldenvoice, encouraged worried fans to remain calm. “Everyone is so freaked out ’cause of Fyre Fest,” he says. “I get it. But we do 150 shows a year.”
Still, that pedigree didn’t stop several artists who were supposed to be participating in Lovers & Friends from refuting claims of their involvement on Tuesday. Lil Kim initially posted the festival flyer in a since-deleted Instagram story with the caption “this is so fake! I am not a part of this.” The New York rapper Mase, known for his laid-back Nineties hits, requested that his name be removed from the bill. Twista, a Chicago MC with a knack for rapping at logic-defying speed, claimed he hadn’t been paid.
None of the three artists responded to requests for comment, but they weren’t alone. Corey Evans, road manager for the Miami rapper Trina, also claims he only found out about the Lovers & Friends festival when he saw the flyer online. “It took for her to post that it was fake for them to call us,” he says. Christopher Ruffin, who works with the singer Montell Jordan, says “there’ve been little talks” about performing at Lovers & Friends, “but there’s nothing that’s finalized.” A third artist on the bill who requested anonymity also claims to be unaware of Lovers & Friends before the Tuesday lineup announcement.
“There was no paperwork done. All of a sudden we look up, we’re a part of it.”
Dee points out that the majority of singers and rappers on the festival bill raised no issues with the event. Those who did object tended to be much lower on the bill; in contrast, all three headliners quickly retweeted Goldenvoice’s post. Greg Browning works with the veteran R&B group 112, who are also performing at Lovers & Friends; Browning does more than a dozen shows a year with Dee’s company, and says “he’s very thorough with his business.”
The managers and promoters who spoke for this story note that they usually expect a deposit to be paid and paperwork to be finalized before a lineup is announced — “at least a binder to let people know I want this date and this is the payment situation that I agreed to,” explains Danette Buck, who works with the singer Jon B, and helped book several acts on the Lovers & Friends lineup.
Goldenvoice typically sends a deposit equivalent to 10 percent of an act’s fee, according to Dee and Buck. But “a lot of these older groups who really need the money, they’re not usually good with 10 percent,” Dee says. “I go above company policy because they’re not making millions going out on tour.”
So why did some artists feel blindsided? An industry source says it’s rare for festival promoters to book a show directly through an artist, raising the possibility that there was a communication breakdown within the artists’ teams. But Dee attributes most of the negative comments about Lovers & Friends to a set of bizarre circumstances outside of his control. Due to a death in the family, he claims that Lil Kim had overlooked the fact that she had already been approached about Lovers & Friends — “out of sight, out of mind.”
Greg Walker, who is part of Lil Kim’s management team, offers a slightly different explanation. “We had a conversation [with the promoters] prior to her father’s death,” he says. “There was no paperwork done. All of a sudden we look up, we’re a part of it.”
Dee’s co-promoter, the rapper Snoop Dogg, served as a go-between to patch things up with Lil Kim this week. “We gave her some provisions,” Dee says. “She had all the cards because she was the one really aggressive out there saying, ‘this was fake.'” Walker declined to address the terms of Lil Kim’s deal. “Let’s just say that Snoop and Kim directly worked it out,” he says. “Uncle Snoop always gets it done.”
Twista was less of a concern for Dee — the rapper recanted his initial objection to Lovers & Friends on social media on Tuesday, attributing his error to “smokin’ too much.” Mase was booked months ago, according to Dee, but he was upset due to “an ongoing beef with Cam’ron,” another New York rapper who was next to him on the festival flyer. (A representative for Cam’ron says “I don’t know anything about that.”)
On Wednesday afternoon, Dee wasn’t aware of Ruffin’s claims that Montell Jordan’s contract wasn’t finalized. “That’s news to me,” he says. “I’m gonna get on that now.”
But he was able to win over most of the holdouts by the end of Wednesday. Lil Kim announced that she would be participating in the festival not long after midnight. While Trina was initially surprised by the Lovers & Friends announcement, her road manager says that on Wednesday, the promoters behind the event “gave us a bonus just for the inconvenience” of being blindsided.
Now that Dee has most of his performers publicly back on board, he’s looking forward to Lovers & Friends, which is set for May 9 in Los Angeles. So is Walker, who works with Lil Kim. “Everybody’s happy,” Walker says. “We’ll be there with bright colors on and ready to party.”