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Cross the Tracks Festival Review: Triumph or Disaster?

Cross the Tracks is the best R&B festival in London, but with cancelled headliners and a messy schedule, was this year’s event worth it?

Audience at a music festival
Shutterstock/Melinda Nagy

Cross the Tracks is London’s hub for all things R&B, but things weren’t so smooth at the latest festival in Brockwell Park on 26th May, 2024.

With a stacked lineup of household names and up-and-coming stars, things could not have looked more promising for the organizers. However, disaster struck when headliner Erykah Badu, scheduled to close the show, pulled out of the event.

Halfway through Madlib’s set, festival-goers reached for their phones as they realized the festival’s biggest star canceled due to illness. As a result, the schedule at Cross the Tracks went haywire. Without much communication from the organizers, artists arrived on stage at different times than the schedule suggested. This added even more confusion to the night, with attendees scrambling across the eight stages to find their favorite musicians. Weeks on, customers are still demanding refunds, feeling cheated as the singer they wanted to see most never turned up.

But despite the many scheduling mishaps, there was still so much to love at Cross the Tracks. While other attendees sulked in their disappointment, I explored all eight stages to try and make the most of the festival.

The Caboose

Ella More performing on the Caboose stage at Cross the Tracks
Ella More performing at the Caboose Stage. Credit: Evan Baxter-Carr

Some stages were tucked away behind rows of food stalls, but the Caboose was impossible to miss. Located beside the site entrance, Birmingham singer Ella More greeted festival-goers with a hypnotic set to flex her versatility. She offered soulful ballads and funk-laced showstoppers, building an irresistible, feel-good atmosphere. A yellow stage cover draped over the crowd, casting the Caboose in a warm glow fitting for the summery tunes. Countless other talents attended the Caboose, defining the stage as the festival’s hub for unmissable R&B. Standout Faye Meana stunned spectators with a groovy cover of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” among other highlights. Shining a light on rising talents, every artist who stepped foot on the Caboose left an impact.

Locomotion

Maya Delilah performing on the Locomotion stage at Cross the Tracks
Maya Delilah performing at the Locomotion Stage. Credit: Evan Baxter-Carr

Unlike the Caboose which offered a small and intimate experience, Locomotion was cinematic in scale. The stage was hidden in a spacious tent where hundreds of festival-goers packed in to watch singer-songwriter Maya Delilah. She was the undeniable standout at Locomotion, whose slow, guitar-driven ballads enchanted me and the ever-growing crowd.

Jazz outfit corto.alto. took to the stage hours later with an assortment of wild and unhinged horn solos, but the crowd didn’t match the band’s bombastic energy. Caught in a torrent of spectators who seemed more eager to chat than enjoy the music, the atmosphere was too casual to bring the music to life.

Funk Junction

Yazmin Lacey performing on the Funk Junction stage at Cross the Tracks
Yazmin Lacey performing at the Funk Junction stage. Credit: Evan Baxter-Carr

The music at the Funk Junction was about as colorful and strange as the stage itself. I stopped by near the start of the festival when DJ Yazmin Lacey was behind the boards, playing a distorted remix of an Amy Winehouse track while surrounded by towers of cardboard houses. So early in the day, however, the crowd was minimal. Without many spectators to cheer Yazmin on, the lack of atmosphere was enough to draw me away from the stage and towards more lively venues.

Later on, I walked past the Funk Junction while reggae greats Channel One were on stage. A huge crowd of dancers circled them, spreading their infectious energy to every passerby.

D-Railed

Orion Sun performing on the D-Railed stage at Cross the Tracks
Orion Sun performing at the D-Railed stage. Credit: Evan Baxter-Carr

D-Railed took the most effort to reach, located at the top of a steep hill behind a maze of stalls and rides. Hidden at the edge of the park, the stage was in an awkward spot separate from all the others. I almost forgot to visit the venue until a tide of attendees desperate to see Orion Sun swept me up and brought me with them.

R&B prodigy Orion Sun put on a brilliant show, running back and forth as she belted her voice and basked in the soulful production. She dominated the D-Railed stage, with her strong, emotive vocals reaching every corner of the tent. Unfortunately, since the event schedule was scrambled, the singer-songwriter started her set early. I arrived as fast as I could, but a swarm of festival-goers beat me to the venue. As a result, I was left at the back of the crowd, lucky if I caught a glimpse of the singer.

Signal

Discoballin' performing on the Signal stage
Discoballin’ performing at the Signal stage. Credit: Evan Baxter-Carr

No stage was quite as unpredictable as Signal. Disc jockeys scratching records and blaring dance tunes filled up the schedule at this quaint venue. A modest dance floor was set up in the middle for festival-goers to squeeze together like an outdoor boiler room. For some sets, Signal was packed full; for others, it was almost empty. I arrived early in the day for DJ duo Discoballin’. The pair injected joy and energy into the festival like no other DJ set, but the empty dance floor spoiled an otherwise essential performance. It felt like a waste scheduling Discoballin’ for the start of the day when such a high-energy set would have been perfect for a larger crowd.

The Shack

The Shack stage
The Shack stage. Credit: Evan Baxter-Carr

Like D-Railed, I neglected the Shack for almost the entire event because of the strange location of the stage. When I finally reached the venue — hidden behind a labyrinth of food vendors — The SheJay was in the middle of a set. The DJ chanted over the music, drawing an audience so large I couldn’t see her behind all the bobbing heads. The claustrophobic setup meant the Shack was brilliant for whoever arrived first, but it was nothing remarkable for the rest of us.

Terminal

Madlib performing on the Terminal stage at Cross the Tracks
Madlib performing at the Terminal stage. Credit: Evan Baxter-Carr

The second biggest stage was home to some of my favorite acts of the night. A massive crowd gathered on the hill to watch hip-hop producer Madlib play a hypnotic instrumental set. Chopping up jazz samples and inviting rappers to deliver verses, the performance was a mesmerizing love letter to rap. There were moments when the music got a little too abstract even for my taste, but the crowd adored it, cheering on the legendary DJ as he bobbed his head in silence.

Hours on, TikTok sensations Thee Sacred Souls gathered a crowd massive enough to rival the headliners on the Mainline stage. Their slick blend of R&B and soul was a joy to hear, made even better by the eager crowd who danced furiously to every tune. Altogether, Terminal was one of the most star-studded and consistent stages at Cross the Tracks.

Mainline

BADBADNOTGOOD performing on the Mainline stage at Cross the Tracks
BADBADNOTGOOD performing at the Mainline stage. Credit: Evan Baxter-Carr

Although the other venues had their highlights, the Mainline stage defined Cross the Tracks 2024 as a phenomenal festival. Hip-hop legend Eve was high on my list of artists to see, but she hijacked the stage before the festival app said she was due to start, so I missed out on the performance entirely. As bitter as I was to miss it, the amazing show from BADBADNOTGOOD made up for that disappointment. The jazz-fusion outfit delivered the best show of the festival. The band offered enough funky drums and dazzling horn solos to have the whole park dancing. Drones flew over the crowd with cameras to show on the big screen, adding even more excitement to the high-energy performance. Halfway through their set, the rain and thunder arrived, but we were too busy dancing to care.

Not long after, Madlib made his way to the Mainline stage with longtime collaborator Freddie Gibbs. The Indiana rapper arrived at the last minute to compensate for the Erykah Badu disaster. Although Gibbs isn’t the silky-voiced soul singer most attendees wanted, the rapper brought his all to the performance, rapping until he was breathless as Madlib blared iconic instrumentals from their classic joint album, Piñata.

Audience at a music festival
Audience at a music festival. Credit: Shutterstock/Melinda Nagy

Was Cross the Tracks really worth it?

Festivals are costly. It’s no surprise that Cross the Tracks customers are calling for refunds when they invested so much in a day that didn’t turn out how the organizers promised. The main headliner dropped out; the event schedule was questionable and inaccurate at points; the stage locations could be awkward and a chore to walk to.

As excellent as the experience was, the issues are glaring. But to call the festival a failure would be an overstatement when the most prestigious festivals have suffered similar problems. At Camp Flog Gnaw, surprise headliner Drake left the stage early after the audience booed him. At Coachella, perhaps the most essential festival experience in the United States, Frank Ocean dropped out after one half-baked performance.

Considering all the incredible talents Cross the Tracks had to offer, you would have to be a harsh critic to label it an outright disaster. From up-and-coming prodigies like Ella More to hip-hop icons like Madlib, every performance made the ticket price worth it. Offering dozens of talented acts over eight diverse stages, the variety and consistency of the event more than made up for its issues. Cross the Tracks was neither a triumph nor a disaster. Like every festival, it had its ups and downs, but in the end, it was another excellent day for music.

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