This past weekend, I had the immense pleasure of being able to attend (alongside my DINO NUGGETS co-hosts) the third iteration of indie tribe’s SMOKE! Festival. And let me tell you: I can’t recommend it enough. It was a movie.

“Started makin’ movies, now we don’t know how to act.”

The first night of festivities featured a range of talented acts, many of which I hadn’t seen live before. A standout was Jon Keith’s performance. EREMOS is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year, and hearing songs from it live was an incredible experience. The combination of synth-heavy tracks with incredibly vulnerable lyrics and striking but minimalistic visuals made Jon Keith’s set one of the most memorable of Friday night. Plus, the whole rest of indie tribe rushed the stage during “CHOSE,” sending the crowd into a frenzy.

“If you only take two things away tonight… You don’t have to be lonely alone. And God loves you more than you could ever know.” -Jon Keith

The first night of festivities finished out with an electrifying performance by Seattle-based alternative rock band Kings Kaleidoscope. It’s clear that they’ve honed their craft over years of shows. One indicator of this was how brilliantly the band utilized colors and lighting as part of their set (fitting for a band with “kaleidoscope” in their name). Finishing Friday night off by playing through all three parts of “The Rush,” Kings Kaleidoscope left this writer overwhelmed with emotion.

After the show was the VIP afterparty, starting off with the customary SMOKE! Cypher. DJ Mykael V facilitated the scene over two beats while emcee after emcee blew the audience’s mind. Did I mention this took place in a skate park? Truly an amazing scene to witness. Each artist melted the mic, but even amongst these giants Aable’s verse was something special.

 

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As if the cypher wasn’t enough, we were also treated to Pass the Aux, where artists played unreleased music. 350 played a song he did in collaboration with Torey D’Shaun that he said will never be released due to uncleared samples. Mogli the Iceburg knocked our socks off with an unfinished track from his hyperrock project. DJ Mykael V played a track featuring John Givez that he said was from a 2018 album called Pinocchio Story that will never see the light of day. Torey D’Shaun had to get Jon Keith to help him turn off his iPhone notifications that kept interrupting his song, and nobigdyl. spilled some details on his next album.

Day one easily would have been worth the price of admission, but Saturday brought even more great music! The day kicked off with a Block Party outside the venue featuring vintage clothes, coffee by Cxffeeblack, a live DJ, and more. Alexander, Daniel, and I elected to use part of our time at the Block Party to record a live bonus episode of DINO NUGGETS.

While the Block Party continued outside, fans crowded into Rocketown’s indoor skate park, where the festival organizers had built a stage. I personally only caught Mogli the Iceburg’s set, and I’m glad I did. Experiencing Mogli’s unique brand of indie rock while packed into a skate park with hundreds of other enthusiasts was quite the experience. (Check out the 5th photo below)

 

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After getting some lunch, we forged ahead into the main lineup of music for the day. Battz kicked things off, but his was no forgettable opener. I knew that I expected Battz’ music to be some of my favorite, stylistically, but I didn’t anticipate just how much he would be able to animate the crowd, especially once Aaron Dews joined the stage. (Definitely hoping to see a lot more collaboration between those two in the future.)

 

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Derek Minor’s stage presence was impressively commanding–I loved that his band included live trumpet and electric guitar. The RMG rapper played a few songs off of his upcoming album, alongside several throwbacks.

I got to hear The New Respects for the third time, and they were incredible as always. The flow of their setlist stood out to me as especially well-put-together. They, too, played an unreleased song, and I’m always impressed by their drummer Darius’ ability to play and sing at the same time.

WHATUPRG also had an exceptionally well-organized set. Last time I saw RG perform was on the Unashamed Forever tour, where he put on an amazing show, but Saturday’s show was next level.

Probably the solo set I was most excited for was nobigdyl.’s, and it paid off. The bassline in “Lighter Fluid” felt like it would punch me through the floor, and dyl.’s decision to use an AI-generated clip of Obama’s voice as the transition from “President” to “PARABOLIC!” was brilliant.

 

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This was personally my first time at SMOKE!, but when indie tribe finally took the stage the energy was as high as I would’ve guessed. Anybody who doesn’t think God is doing big things through the tribe hasn’t been to SMOKE!. “This is shocking to people, but we always knew this culture was here,” nobigdyl. said in between songs, to which the crowd responded by chanting “JESUS. JESUS. JESUS. JESUS.”

“Say I won’t come all the way to Nashville to support one of the dopest music festivals.” -Lecrae

After performing several of the top songs from last year’s Church Clothes 4, Lecrae’s set honestly felt more like a blessing over the event with songs sprinkled in. The two-time Grammy winner exhorted artists to be faithful to what God calls them to and charged fans with supporting the movement indie tribe is at the helm of.

“You don’t get no extra rewards in heaven for selling the most albums. You don’t get no extra rewards in heaven for winning Grammys. You don’t get no extra rewards in heaven for selling out shows. All those things are fine, there’s nothing wrong with them, but the motivation is the difference. … So just be faithful to what God put in front of you, y’all. … It don’t mean don’t be a good steward; it don’t mean don’t work hard. But it just means, at the end of the day, life on earth is just preparation for the next life.”

Lecrae may have been the last artist listed on the schedule, but indie tribe had a surprise in store. The mysterious “Still Holy Premiere” listed on the Saturday schedule turned out to be the debut of a new song called “Still Holy,” and, much more notably, the addition of a new official member to the indie tribe: Torey D’Shaun!

Obviously there’s a lot more that happened at SMOKE! Festival 2023; these are just a few highlights that stand out to me as I reflect a few days later. One thing I haven’t mentioned is the incredible sense of community I felt as I interacted with artists, content creators, and fans alike. One aspect of the festival that I didn’t consider beforehand that I enjoyed immensely was getting to meet in person many musicians, writers, and graphic designers who I’ve known for years, but only online. By the time the weekend was over, I was wiped, but SMOKE! Festival 2023 was a highlight of the summer (and even the year) for me. You can bet that it will take a lot to keep me from being there again next year.

 

In this special end of 2022 episode, Alexander, Darius, and Daniel each bring two of their favorite CHH albums from 2022 alongside one non-CHH favorite. We’ve got Not Klyde! Nomis! Stranger Things! Bodega! Experimental EDM! We’ve got it all on the DINO NUGGETS music listening show! Check it out and let us know what you think.

Connect with Alexander, Daniel, and Darius on Instagram, and follow the DINO NUGGETS playlist on Apple Music or Spotify.

The newest episode of FiveTwenty’s newest show, DINO NUGGETS, is out now! Half podcast, half radio show, on DINO NUGGETS each host brings

  • One new CHH release
  • One old CHH release
  • One non CHH release

to listen to and discuss. This month: Misfits, Mineo, Marlowe, misinformation, and more! Check it out on the FiveTwenty Mixcloud now.