On Sunday November 17th, Sonia Lounge opened its doors to the second round of MTG Fest., or Meet The Ground, dubbed a new ‘mini festival’. It is the brainchild of Berklee student Maya McBride-Wheatie, better known as ‘Maya the Golden’, formed to bring attention to underground Berklee artists on the rise, who “put artistry on a pedestal”. The mini-festival featured Berklee students Myia Thornton, David Robinson, Solo Smith, and Maya the Golden as well as a few special appearances from performers from the first round - Asme (who danced back up for Myia) and Brandon Harris who stood in the front row singing his heart out with whomever was on stage at the moment. Each artist successfully distinguished themselves musically and physically as individuals, despite falling under the same category of R&B and Hip-Hop - some even threatening to break free of the genre-defining mold. The show itself was dynamic ranging from the forceful sound of heavy distortion and feedback to near silence as the crowd empathized to slow ballads and lyrical confessions.
Solo Smith opened his set with a cover of The Jimi Hendrix Experience hit “Spanish Castle Magic”. The band played like a high powered steam roller taking the room’s spiraling feedback and channeling it as an engine. It was a full on rock show as two bassist pummeled through the riff. A raging guitar solo was performed by Key Hutchinson before the band slipped into a few bars of “Who Knows” (another Jimi Hendrix tune) before dissolving into the laid back R&B vibes that engulf Smith’s personal music. Smith made good use of the stage space, dancing on the monitors, occasionally turning his back to the crowd to jam with the band, and communicating confidently with the audience, asking the “single ladies come to the front”. He delivered poetic lyricism with a beautiful bass/vocal solo on the topic of love. This paired with his demonstration of strong musicianship, gave the Berklee audience something that they could hold onto as fans and musicians.
As Myia Thornton took the stage a whole new atmosphere took over the room. The crowd roared as Myia made her entrance accompanied by two dancers. They immediately jumped into a series of originals like “Let It Go”, in which she effortlessly switched between rapping and singing. Each song seemed to having its own vamp which caused both the band and the audience to transcend. The music itself held a strong grip on today’s R&B, dipping into distorted guitars and rock influenced beats before wrapping back to soul and body rolls. Lyrically, Myia discussed complicated relationships, breakups, and sex - reflecting the themes of her album, Fixed. The crowd (and her back-up singers) chanted every word whilst simultaneously jumping and dancing alongside the stage. Her show successfully hit all of Berklee’s 5 star flamboyant show traditions. Yet the venue flipped entirely as David Robinson took the stage.
Heads turned as vocals echoed through the venue with only a guitarist and drummer on stage. The audience, taking direction from the flashing lights above, turned around to find Robinson sitting on a platform in the back of the venue, legs crossed, with one dancer on either side of him protruding a level of confidence only few can match. From that moment on he had full control over the room. The crowd jumped when he jumped and came down when he said. If he yelled “Silence!” not a soul would peep. Falling more so under the head of alternative hip-hop, David performed genre bending originals that, without him rapping over, could be defined as rock, alternative, and even pop. He used both his body and voice as a unit to enhance the performance’s energy, carrying out demanding choreography without breaking a sweat or losing a breath. The performance itself felt huge. Even in the slow ballad that featured just David and his guitarist, Nina Cavalheiro, (both of whom spent the entire song on the floor) the energy established at the beginning of the show never wavered. Whenever he was ready to shout, so was the crowd.
Still, despite having danced through an hour and a half of music, the crowd welcomed Maya the Golden with open arms. Returning the energy, she delivered a warm welcome full of southern charm as she thanked the crowd and acknowledged the performers who came out before her, her band filling the venue with a fine mix of pop and R&B as she spoke. As the music took off, Maya was joined by backup dancers both on and off stage as members of the audience followed through with every move as if they were there at the rehearsals. Maya’s band acted as a tight unit displaying a high skill of musicianship. They moved smoothly through sharp transitions and various tempos, a quality matched equally by her vocal control. More than anything, Maya let us know that she was a vocalist. Her voice belted and soared through the band and a number of technical issues, involving kindly asking the soundman to take the boom out of her mic. Maya successfully closed the show with a high energy, from performing a combination of upbeat originals (including a gospel song that caused the entire venue to briefly go into a state of praise and worship) and a few R&B classics full of nostalgia. She got the whole room dancing - an energy that never really seemed to flee.
Needless to say, the show beautifully displayed the artistic voice and vision of every artist giving the viewer a strong taste of what each and every performer was capable of. Every artist took their sound and delivered a show built off this vision. They created a new experience in a unique way dependant on whoever had the stage at the moment. Although they provided music that one could enjoy without the theatrics, they made sure you had a reason to see them live. After all MTG Fest was created for just that - for the artists who “deserve a chance” through the powerful medium of live performance, in the words of Maya the Golden. MTG fest did just that and more.
Follow MTG fest HERE