NextFestLA & Unheard Gems Feature Rising Talent At The LA County Fair Coverage from May 15, 2022 of performances by AprilFoolChild, Stereo Jane, Christina Castle & More!
LOS ANGELES, CA- This year, the Los Angeles County Fair returned to the Pomona Fairplex to celebrate its 100-year anniversary. For the past two years, the cultural institution had been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but you’d be hard-pressed to believe that they would have let the festival- which was first held on October 17, 1922, in a former beet field in Pomona, California- miss out on its 100-year birthday celebration.
With the celebration came all of the familiar, family comforts it’s over 89,000,000 patrons have enjoyed over the years. Carnival rides and games, petting zoos, lots of delicious fried foods, and family entertainment in the form of live-action shows and presentations. Music once again took center stage with artists like The Beach Boys, ZZ Top, and Lady A gracing the main stage.
But in addition to the “main stage” artists featured at the Fair, there were additional stages featuring up-and-coming talent from around the world. NextFestLA, an organization that gives rising talent the opportunity “to get their first taste of life on a festival stage” while offering their experience and guidance, was able to set up a multi-stage music festival within the festival throughout the entire run of the Fair.
I was able to attend the LA County Fair on May 15th and I spent the day at their “Lagoon Stage” to enjoy the line-up that was co-produced with Unheard Gems, a fellow publication. Label Squadz, an all-in-one management platform, was also responsible for co-producing several stages with Unheard Gems throughout the month of the fair. It was a terrifically full day of entertainment, that offered first-class sound and stage production, and some fantastic musical acts that were all new (to me).
The first act to take the stage at 2:30 was the singer-songwriter Sam Stacy. Sam has been honing his chops for a few years now. Back in 2020, he got the opportunity to be featured during the Blind Auditions of The Voice, where he was picked to be on Blake Shelton’s team. His audition video has amassed over a million views.
All of the complimentary things that the judges said about his bling performance ring true. There is a real intimacy in Sam’s music that really comes through during his live performance. He probably gets tired of the comparisons, but I got some real John Mayer circa Inside Wants Out vibes from him and his music. The explanations he gave about the meanings of some of his songs really gave his songs some emotional depth that seemed to really resonate with the audience. The early afternoon crowd was show charmed by Sam and his genuine humility, that they humored him when he asked for them to sing along with a simple chorus that he taught the crowd.
To close his set, he upped the mood and tempo when he featured his bandmate Christopher Watson, letting him perform his booty-shaking song “Booty”. That little act of giving his friend the opportunity to perform a song only added to the humility that I saw in him during the performance of his own music. Solid stuff from Sam. I’m keeping an eye on him, and I suggest you do as well.
Flying in from New York to grace NextFestLA’s stage was Caroline Sky. I really really really enjoyed her performance.
Prior to the festival, I spent a little time on Spotify listening to all of the artists’ repertoire. Caroline recorded music is very polished, produced music. While I didn’t expect her to fly into LA with a band in tow, I kind of expected her to be performing with backing tracks. To my pleasant surprise, she performed her set with just an electric guitar.
Stripping her music down to just her vocals and a six-string really allowed her vocals to shine… and I was captivated. She had complete control over both instruments, and I was literally hypnotized by her vocals. The nuanced dynamics. Her breathy attacks to certain lyrics. The way her voice subtly pinched when she hit notes in her upper register. I won’t lie… I actually liked her music in this stripped-down form more than her recorded versions.
This was the perfect kind of performance for an early afternoon set at a festival. I totally dug it.
Of all of the acts to grace The Lagoon Stage at the L.A. County Fair, Cate Tomlinson may have had the most dedicated fan base. It seemed like all of this indie-pop singer’s friends and family came out in full force to support her. How could I tell they were there for Cate? They were all wearing t-shirts that had the artwork of her latest single, “hurt you”, on the front. I kinda wanted to cop one but didn’t have the nerve to ask for one. lol.
A 21-year-old student at Northeastern University, Cate is well on her way as a recording artist. As a Music Industry major, you can hear her education coming through in her music. Her music is well-produced, and the songwriting is structurally solid. Her knack for crafting universally appealing pop music is definitely something she can hang a hat on. Her hooks and melodic lines are pretty catchy.
My only criticism is that I feel like she needed to connect more with the audience from the start. Perhaps it was nerves (it did look like she was having some difficulty with the mic stand and also perhaps she was a little uncomfortable with the draped shirt she was wearing- which she eventually took off), but there’s such an energy and youthfulness in her music, I really wanted to feel that youthful energy right from the get-go.
The next artist on the stage was Jackii Kennedy. How did I not hear about this Los Angeles-based artist? I loved the energy that Jackii brought to the stage. It was infectious. I loved how uninhibited she was on stage. The way she wildly danced to her music made me want to put my cameras down to join in the movement.
With some artists, you can actually feel how much their music feeds their soul. The feels that I got while watching Jackii perform was something strong. Intensely palpable. With every note she sang, and every movement of her body, you could feel all the joy that she was feeling as she performed. It was an intentional joy. It was like her life depended on it or something. It’s hard for me to explain … but… to me … it felt like this mid-afternoon performance meant the world to Jackii.
My perception of this performance could be misguided, but that’s how I felt, and those kinds of organic feelings are few and far between. All I know is that I want t see Jackii perform again sooner rather than later so I can relive those feelings again.
Christina Castle (nee Christina Parie a/k/a KYA) is an Australian singer who was a finalist on the third season of The X Factor Australia. In 2019 she release a 3-track EP titled Chapter 1 and followed that up with “Crazy Lover” ft Gangsta Boo, an anthem for all women who have been mistreated and believe in revenge, which has over 280,000 streams on Spotify. Earlier this year, she release the most recent single “FFFree”. On her social media accounts, she’s revealed that she “finally [has] a record that represents [her], a group of songs that will make up [her] first album.”
Christina used her set to introduce an audience to her new music. Her 9-song set included several songs that she’s previously released (“FFFree”, “Shark!” and “Crazy Lover”), but everything else was unreleased material, and was, for the most part, being performed live for the time on this stage.
Christina is fearless on stage. She may be petite in stature, but she knows how to work a stage, and simply exudes that “rocker chick” aura. Given that a majority of these songs were performed for the time ever, I was impressed with the overall package we got. I’m looking forward to seeing her perform again.
Sisters Sydney (vocals) and Mia (drums) Schmier form the group Stereo Jane, and they took the stage as the sun started setting. They released a 5-song EP, Are We There Yet?, earlier this year, and it’s a very solid collection of songs that has pop-infused rockers that have got a Muna meets Haim kind of vibe. Very listenable and I’ve spun it several times.
Stereo Jane was great. They performed all of the songs from their new EP (“Shut up And Kiss Me”, “Adderall”, “Time Of My Life”, “Price To Pay” and “All My Friends”), a song that they’ve previously released (“Strangers”), and a handful of songs that I couldn’t on Spotify, but had been performed at live shows and streams over the years (“Rest In Peace”, “Lucky”, “Bury It Down”). I’ll assume that “Loner Babe” is a new song. They also did a cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”.
Stereo Jane is great live. In particular, their lead singer, Syndey, really left an impression. I love the way she really threw her emotions into the performance. Her ability to seamlessly slide to and from her head voice to her chest voice was impressive, letting her vocal range really impact the emotional range of all of the songs that they performed.
I’m not sure whether the other players that Sydney and Mia had on stage performing with them are their normal bandmates, but the guitarist and bassist were both solid compliments on stage, adding to the group dynamic with their respective performance styles.
Closing the day’s musical festivities was the artist known as “Brielle” f/k/a “AprilFoolChild”. Her hip-hop-infused neo-soul vibes were the perfect way to close the evening out. The performance was billed as an “AprilFoolChild and Friends” affair and for her backing band, she had Slow Like Whoa on the 1s and 2s, Brian Hargrove on the keys, Chris James on the bass, and Greg Paul on the drums. The “and friends” didn’t stop there though. Later on, during the set, she invited rappers Pistol Mcfly, Richard Wright and Waju to spit some fire for a couple of verses.
The musicianship on stage was on point. not only were her players fantastic, but Brielle’s soulful vocal delivery was about soothing as vocals could get. Brielle gave me even more to be impressed about when she paused her singing and pulled a Lizzo busting out a flute solo mid-song on several occasions.
The “and friends” didn’t stop with just the music though. At the end of her set, Brielle noticed a child thoroughly enjoying the performance. As she was performing the last song of her set, she invited the young child to the stage. The evening ended with all of Brielle’s friends on stage, including the child, dancing and singing the night to a close. A perfect finale.