Erykah Badu, Jaden & Willow Smith, More Make D.C.'s Broccoli City Festival a Must-See

Donald Traill/Invision/AP
Jaden Smith and Willow Smith perform at the 2015 Broccoli City Festival at the Gateway DC Pavilion on April 25, 2015, in Washington DC.

Rodney Rikai, host of Washington, D.C.'s Broccoli City Festival, stood on the main stage Saturday afternoon in a neon-green windbreaker and quasi-Pharrell hat, a stately Renaissance Revival belltower visible just behind him. "Our generation, as millennials, is different," he said. "We can do whatever the f--- we wanna do."

That spirit of independence and do-it-yourself fortitude puts the event in the same group as other smaller, more accessible urban festivals like Seattle's Capitol Hill Block Party and the now-international Afropunk. Bringing the music to the people, rather than making them travel to an isolated desert or unknown cow field, is part of the Broccoli City mission -- stay local, through and through.

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Founded as a community-building initiative for the city's oft-neglected southeastern section, the festival's focus is on healthy living and sustainable urban development first, with good times and good music coming in a very close second. Despite being D.C.-centric in its community work, BC Fest organizers have consistently put together lineups worthy of just about any festival stage nationwide, and this past weekend's edition -- the festival's third -- was no exception.

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Headlined by Erykah Badu (as her DJ alias Lo Down Loretta Brown), BC Fest's mainstage also featured an abundance of buzzy, blog-famous acts, from Colombian pop singer Kali Uchis to dancefloor deity Kaytranada. The second stage (the One Love Massive Showcase) hosted a litany of local acts that supported the fest's D.C. bent, including soul, reggae and even a cipher for DMV MCs.

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The stellar lineup was hardly the festival's only amusement, however -- there was local food from health-conscious vendors like D.C. Vegan and Whole Foods (as well as the now festival-requisite army of food trucks), shopping from impossibly cool clothing and accessory pop-ups, and even fitness classes like Zumba and spinning. 

At the end of the day, the festival was about the art -- particularly when a chilling rain started around 5 p.m., lasting through Badu's crowd-pleasing DJ set. But people stayed, huddled under umbrellas and ponchos and the (very necessary) covered portion of the grounds to see such unexpected delights as a pair of women tap-dancing to Migos and Tierra Thomas covering the Future hit "Commas." Expecting the unexpected is part of just about any festival at this point (what would Coachella be without cameos?), but at BC Fest, things like Jada Pinkett Smith hitting the stage with her progeny for a neo-soul take on "Whip My Hair" feel even more special for how (relatively) off-the-radar it was.

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Willow and Jaden Smith's performance was definitely one of the afternoon's highlights; considering how rarely they perform, the confidence with which they took the stage was doubly impressive. Throwing themselves around with the kind of artful sloppiness that could only have come from years in Beverly Hills' best movement classes, the Smiths rapped and sang their way through their Soundcloud to an audience of die-hard fans (people even made Willow and Jaden cut-outs). As Jaden said of Willow, "She's only 14. That's crazy."

Willow wasn't the only woman to rule the BC Fest stage -- in fact, the only male acts were D.C. rapper Lightshow, Kaytranada and Joey Bada$$. Otherwise, it was all about the ladies -- a refreshing change from the majority of U.S. festivals. Timbaland protégé Tink let her flow take center stage on songs like "Ratchet Commandments," while Uchis' strong performance showed that her extremely promising debut isn't the last we'll hear of her.

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Joey Bada$$ and Kaytranada had the crowd amped despite the weather (yes, the DJ played "The Rain"), but it soon became clear that what was fueling people through the cold was the promise of a set from Ms. Badu herself. The second Rikai teased her performance with the opening bars of "Bag Lady," the crowd sang the whole song in unison -- about an hour later, it was Erykah who was singing the neo-soul anthem.

Her DJ set was like a peek inside her iTunes, with commentary. Singing over Kendrick Lamar's "You Ain't Gotta Lie," she looked over at bassist Thundercat (who played on the original) and said, "I shoulda been on that!" Of Drake's "Started From the Bottom," she said, "I'm still at the bottom." Beyoncé's "Party" even got the Badu treatment: She sang along, adding "That's my baby daddy!" during Andre 3000's verse.

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Badu's voice and charisma are so powerful that with just a few bars, the audience was spellbound. She sang a section of D'Angelo's "Another Life," telling the audience that the new record made her "fall in love all over again" (didn't we all?). It was an intimate performance, a teaser of what it might possibly be like to hang out with Erykah Badu. She rewarded fans with a full performance of "Bag Lady," and as an encore (almost everyone had left), a rendition of "Window Seat" that she did from the crowd, rain still falling.