Stanford’s annual Frost Music & Arts Festival announced on Tuesday its 2019 headliners: Jorja Smith and Kali Uchis. For the first time in its seven-year history, the signature event of the Stanford Concert Network (SCN), scheduled for Saturday, May 18 in Frost Amphitheater, will be headlined by female performers.
According to Bella Cooper ‘20, SCN’s co-director, “One major goal this year was to ensure that [SCN] provided more representation within [Frost’s] lineup,” especially in light of feedback from the student body that indicated a desire for more gender and racial diversity in the headliners.
While Frost’s performers in general have encompassed a wide variety of musical styles and personal backgrounds— just last year, the Festival paired Chicago-based R&B and rap artists like Monte Booker and Ravyn Lenae with UK dance-rock group Glass Animals— the festival’s headliners have in the past been male without exception, and nearly all have been white, with the exception of 2016 headliner Fetty Wap. This lack of diversity drew criticism in the past, with the Stanford Women’s Community Center and the Stanford Concert Network exchanging critical op-eds in The Stanford Daily in 2014 on the issue of festival’s alleged “problematic underrepresentation of historically oppressed populations.”
This year’s headliners reflect a greater focus on gender and racial diversity — Smith hails from the West Midlands of England, and is of mixed Jamaican and English descent, while Uchis spent her childhood moving between her parents’ native Colombia and the U.S. — but their appeal goes beyond just identity. Between Uchis’ “Isolation” and Smith’s “Lost & Found,” the two released two of the best R&B albums of 2018, and two of the most promising debut records in the genre in years. The two even collaborated on Uchis’ album, with the debut single of “Isolation,” “Tyrant,” serving as a passionate duet between the two singers about power, control and romance. And despite both singer-songwriters being broadly categorized as R&B singers, the two cover a significant amount of stylistic ground on their debuts, from the loungey, jazz-tinged material that Jorja Smith seems most comfortable performing in to the more funk and latin-influenced music Kali Uchis luxuriated in on “Isolation.”
Beyond its headliners, Frost 2019 also marks a change from the past few years’ festivals: it’s actually in Frost Amphitheater. While the festival took its namesake from the outdoor concert venue in a callback to its long history hosting some of the most influential names in music, from Joan Baez to the Grateful Dead, the 2017 and 2018 festivals were moved to Stanford Stadium due to renovations. With Frost’s renovations due to be complete by the festival’s May date, the festival and its namesake venue will finally be reunited.
The booking process for artists of the stature of Frost’s headliners typically takes place many months before their actual show dates, and this year was no different. According to Cooper, SCN secured Frost’s headliners in October, earlier than in prior years. Additionally, Stanford Concert Network received assistance in contacting possible headliners from concert booking firm Goldenvoice, most well-known for running the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Though Goldenvoice recently announced a new partnership with Stanford Live for a concert series in Frost Amphitheater, SCN’s relationship with the company goes further back— according to Cooper, Goldenvoice “has helped” and provided “mentorship” to SCN since the Frost Festival’s inception in 2012.
Contact Jacob Kuppermann at jkupperm ‘at’ stanford.edu.