The crowd watches Kehlani’s energetic show. Photo by Melina Tupa

Fans flock to Hiero Day to celebrate Oakland

on September 4, 2014

The heat, thick and heavy. The sun, beating down hard. The air, sticky with the smell of fried food, pungent pot and end-of-summer sweat. It’s Labor Day, and thousands of people from the Bay Area and beyond have gathered in droves for hip-hop group Hieroglyphics’ 3rd annual Hiero Day­­­– a free music festival where dozens of bands perform in an effort to pull the community together through a celebration of artistic diversity. The streets are so packed with bodies moving and grooving about that some guests have climbed into windowsills of buildings, up trees, and are standing on the train tracks to get a glimpse of the performers on the street-stages erected outside Linden Street Brewery.

Hieroglyphics, an underground hip-hop collective founded in Oakland in 1997, have propelled local artists into the spotlight through this festival. They’ve also helped their community through social projects like hiring teenagers to paint a mural on the facade of their recording studio in the Fruitvale neighborhood. Hiero Day was developed in 2012 to celebrate the city and highlight some of the best elements Oakland has to offer; to support underground music, grassroots organizations and local businesses.

Nearly 30 bands played between the three stages, with the most anticipated act, Hieroglyphics and the affiliated group Souls of Mischief, headlining the day. Since releasing their sixth studio album, There Is Only Now, on August 26, this was Hieroglyphics first live performance of their new catalogue of tunes. Other high-demand performances of the festival included hip-hop collectives Planet Asia and TriState, Dope City Saints, Zion I & The Grouch & Eligh, Los Rakas’ reggaeton inspired hip-hop and soul singer Adrian Younge. On the side stage, the effervescent Kehlani mixed hip-hop with R&B and soul, and the Mystic Journeymen duo—PSC and BFAP—had their fans hollering out lyrics as they sang along and raised fists to the sky.

Last year, Mayor Jean Quan officially declared September 3 “Hiero Day,” a holiday in Oakland. This year, Quan attended the event, live-Tweeted and Instagrammed from it, and then joined the Hieroglyphics on stage to present them with a proclamation  honoring their dedication to the community and its artists. The festival has grown steadily over the past three years. The first one attracted 8,000 people, and the second year 15,000. This year brought in a whopping 22,000 multicultural and multigenerational festival-goers for a day of hip-hop, art, local and international food, skateboarding, and to dance on the streets.

“It brings the community together from the whole Bay Area,” said attendee Jason Leano, 38, from San Francisco. “All different races come out. It’s one big party for everybody.”

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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