H.E.R. has made substantial strides since gracing the cover of Pollstar in December 2017. The R&B star released her sophomore album, I Used To Know Her, Aug. 30 and just hosted the inaugural edition of her very own Lights On Festival, which brought 14,000 attendees to a sold-out Concord Pavilion in Concord, Calif., Sept. 14 to see Daniel Caesar, Jhené Aiko, Summer Walker, Ari Lennox, Kiana Ledé, DaniLeigh, Lonr, and, of course, H.E.R.
Lights On was co-produced with Live Nation Urban but 100% owned by H.E.R., who cut the checks and took on all the financial risk herself. She curated the lineup and had a hand in the various aspects of the festival, like the on-site arcade and photo booths.
And the H.E.R. train is only picking up speed. She wrapped a performance at the iHeartRadio Music Festival Sept. 21 with Global Citizen, Rock in Rio and Camp Flog Gnaw and a one-night only show at the Hollywood Bowl with Lauryn Hill all on the horizon.
The artist’s co-manager, Jeanine McLean-Williams, partner at MBK Entertainment Inc., took some time to chat with Pollstar about the success of H.E.R.’s inaugural Lights On Festival.
Pollstar: So H.E.R. went beyond the artist-branding and curation, she has ownership of the festival?
Jeanine McLean-Williams: It is 100% owned by H.E.R. She took the full financial risk. LN Urban is our promoting partner, we’re not crazy, she got a promoter, but she took the initial financial responsibility.
My participation was going out to get partners to come on board like Amazon, Fender, Adidas. They saw the vision and came on board, so they are in the H.E.R. business and support, with a number of others as well.
But 100% she cut the checks. We knew partners would come later, but she was willing to move forward.
How did she take advantage of this opportunity to engage her fans in a new way?
It was important to H.E.R. to make sure it was fan-facing. She was out there during the daytime stages. She went out there and hung out with the fans to watch the earlier shows. She wanted an arcade where folks could come together and have fun. She made sure we had “Rock Band” in there, which is obviously close to her heart with the guitar element. She went in there and saw the fans playing Pac-Man, Rock Band, etc.
And there were the other lounges where fans could chill out and get out of the heat. There was the Fender house – you know Fender is making a custom H.E.R. guitar – and the vibe there was set up like a bedroom because that’s where she does a lot of her writing.
And there were photobooths set up throughout the grounds and she has every one of those pictures, massive books of every fan that took photographs. She was really excited to see everybody having a good time and all the great responses that it was so well-executed.
What was demand like?
It sold out in 10 minutes. Every piece of merch sold out in an hour. Every seat was gone. All the custom items were put up on sale the next night, everything there sold out. People really wanted to be a part of this experience. We are absolutely coming back to do this next year, and next year we are going to do two days.
Why return to Concord Pavilion next year?
No. 1, it’s the Bay Area, she wants to be there. Also, it has that festival vibe, it has the outdoorsy vibe. It was hot as hell, next year there is gonna be a bit more shading, but it was just the perfect setting, it was beautiful. And that was one of the first venues that she performed at growing up.
Is there a need for more medium-sized R&B festivals focusing on young talent?
You know, the moniker H.E.R. came up with for this is “R&B is NOT dead.” That was the tagline or anthem of the Lights On Festival. Young people like musicality, they like instrumentation, they like lyrics, emotions and love. You just have to feed it to them and present it to them in a way they are receptive to. They love good music, you can’t assume because they are in a certain age group they don’t like to sing along or dance or do a little two-step.
Was the audience mostly locals from the Bay Area or did people travel from around the country?
Definitely [The Bay Area] is her home base and people showed her love, and they came out for her, but people traveled. The responses we saw from social media showed that this was a young R&B lover’s dream lineup. And next year we are going to make things better. There’s a lot of dope R&B artists out there, they just need a platform.
Do you think R&B radio does a sufficient job supporting the genre’s developing talent?
Look, this is just my personal opinion, but I think R&B radio needs to create a wider lane for these younger artists in their format. I think that would bring younger ears back to those stations.
As far as these particular artists, I don’t think they care about crossing over into pop. They’re here to bring dope music to their fans wherever they may be. And especially with this generation, they find good music. This is the generation of discovery and if they don’t find them on a particular station they’ll find them on SoundCloud or online. I don’t think radio is the driver for these artists becoming popular. H.E.R., as popular as she is, has only had a few songs cross into pop.
Who else deserves a shout out for making the Lights On festival happen?
David Zedeck and Toni Wallace at UTA, Shawn Gee at Live Nation Urban, Jeffrey Robinson, Chairman of MBK and Misha Mayes at MBK.
But honestly, it’s just the teams. Everybody comes together and makes every piece of the puzzle fit together. Everybody worked really hard and was passionate about seeing H.E.R.’s vision come to light, making sure it was flawless, classy, dope and everything she wanted it to be.
Anything else people should know about H.E.R.?
I just want to say she is doper than the public sees of her. Behind the scenes she is super chill, like an old soul, super smart, very kind.
I’ve been doing this for a minute, not everyone is kind or super smart, just being honest. But she is genuine, rare, a unicorn, and she loves what she does. She’s really excited every day and sees every day as a new adventure and you’re gonna hear from H.E.R. for a long time to come. She’s the real deal.