Ever since Lollapalooza laid down roots and called Chicago its home, the touring festival has become something of a novelty. One of the few exceptions to the rule is Rock the Bells, an urban music festival that opened in 2004, dipped its toe in the water with a club tour two years later and finally played amphitheaters from Massachusetts to Hawaii during the summer of 2007.
While the touring schedule has become more modest in recent years – there are four full-festival dates this year – it’s more than made up for it by bringing in a roster of influential hip-hop acts as diverse as fans of the genre themselves. Last year, Rock the Bells added the “Classics” theme, with artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg and KRS-One performing acknowledged landmark albums in their entirety. The concept was so popular that it’s back again in 2011.
Breaking away from his touring compadre of the last two years, Nas will serve as one of the festival’s most anticipated headliners when he works his way through Illmatic. While it’s hard to imagine it’s been 13 years since the album came out, Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star is another timeless classic getting its live due. Cypress Hill (Black Sunday), Raekwon (Only Built 4 Cuban Lynx), GZA (Liquid Swords) and Mobb Deep (The Infamous) are also big draws.
Women are also making a strong showing in this year’s festival. Ms. Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu each proved they have festival power earlier this year with triumphant Coachella sets. At Rock the Bells, Hill will perform her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, while Badu will perform her own first album, Baduizm.
Rock the Bells features four stages, with the eponymously-titled option handling the headlining acts. The Paid Dues Stage features Immortal Technique, Slaughterhouse, Childish Gambino (actor Donald Glover’s alter-ego) and – supposedly DOOM. The 36 Chambers Stage, hosted by the RZA and Boy Jones, is the most Wu-friendly performance area at the festival. The Grindtime Now Stage is being billed as the place to be for battle-style performances.
Some artists, like Badu, Common, Mac Miller and Curren$y will only perform at select dates on the four-stop outing.
Rock the Bells begins its tour of four straight Saturdays when it touches down at the San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernadino, CA on August 20. From there, it moves on to the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA (August 28), Governor’s Island in New York City (September 3) and Boston’s Comcast Center (September 10).
The festival tour will be augmented by two separate runs of club dates in other markets, the first undertaken by Mos Def and Talib Kweli and the second by Raekwon and Ghostface along with Mobb Deep.
For ticket information, visit www.rockthebells.net.