Hawaii residents love a good buffet. What’s better than good food? Not having to choose between the prime rib and a great seafood or poultry dish.
The Dream Weekend Hawaii festival, which had its third edition Saturday night, provides a buffet of music. Why choose from among the smooth danceable soul of Usher, the old school hip-hop of Ice Cube, the electronic dance music of Marshmello and the trap music of Migos when you can have a helping of each?
But for all the benefits of selection, a buffet is only as good as its food. Likewise, Saturday’s festival at Aloha Stadium would have been a bust had the performers been subpar.
Fortunately, that was not as issue.
Ice Cube, Usher and Marshmello each did about an hour and Migos just over half that in a show unlike anything else Hawaii music fans can see without leaving the islands.
After five warmup acts did their thing, Cube led off with a set spanning his 30-year career. With support from WC, one of his partners in rap trio Westside Connection, Cube performed hits from every phase of his career.
His N.W.A. days were sold a little short — just a medley of “Straight Outta Compton” and “Gangsta Gangsta” — but he did follow up with “No Vaseline,” a nice surprise considering he has long since made up with the bandmates he got his start with, who are the targets of the song.
That inclusion was one of many unexpected gems in the setlist. He also dusted off “Gangsta Nation” from Westside Connection and let WC shine even more with “West Up!,” the biggest hit for WC and the Maad Circle.
Cube’s most recent album, the year-old “Everythang’s Corrupt,” showed he can still produce compelling music with lyrics that hit hard, and he performed two standout tracks from that as well — “The New Funkadelic” and “Ain’t Got No Haters.”
Cube also is as charismatic as ever, commanding the stage with a purposeful strut, and even breaking into dance from time to time.
Trap trio Migos was next, stuffing 10 songs into 35 minutes, leading off with “Deadz” and wrapping up with a barrage of their biggest — “Walk It Talk It,” “Bad and Boujee,” “MotorSport” and “Narcos.”
Their atmospheric hip-hop juxtaposed with Cube’s old school style served as a reminder of how hip-hop has evolved over the past 40 years, from one genre to an array of them.
The set made the evening’s first use of effects, as jets of smoke were emitted from several devices at the front of the stage intermittently.
Usher, the bill’s biggest start with eight Grammys and nine No. 1 singles, followed, and an hour is almost not enough to cover a career as prolific as his. Sure, he got to almost all his biggest hits — “U Got It Bad” and his Alicia Keys collab “My Boo” were the only chart-toppers he left out — but many were shortened (that this is the norm now didn’t make it any less frustrating at times).
But he did offer up full versions of many of his biggest songs, including “U Make Me Wanna,” “Nice & Slow” and “Confessions Pt. 2,” and brought with him a full complement of 10 dancers.
One highlight was the mini-play built around “U Remind Me” from 2001, his second No. 1 hit. He danced individually with three female dancers and at the end they all took the stage, leaving him caught.
With his choreography, vocal talent and charisma, Usher owned the stage more than any of the night’s acts.
Electronic music DJ Marshmello put the perfect bow on the evening. He’s a great fit for a festival — an hour is just the right amount of him. He kept the energy high, mixing his own hits — such as “Happier,” “Silence” and “Alone” — with dancefloored versions of rock classics as disparate as “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Mr. Brightside” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
He also made maximum use of the screens on the stage — even adding some of his own — with an array of splashy images synchronized to his music, and augmented by smoke, fire and sparks.
Some attendees were clearly there for Usher, walking out after his set, which ended just before 11, and not giving Marshmello a chance. That’s unfortunate, both because the set was entertaining and because it is at odds with the festival’s idea of experiencing new kinds of music. But of those who stayed, many were clearly rabid fans, some even donning their own replica Marshmello helmets.
The silver lining was that it spread the departing traffic over a longer period, easing the flow out of the stadium.
Among the very solid warmup acts, Sammy Johnson was the most impressive. His soulful brand of reggae is a natural for the islands — he already has a following — and he was the only act to play with a full band. His 20-minute set was worth seeing.
Local artist MiMi, backed by six dancers, also brought it with a five-song set, highlighted by her DJ Khaled collab “Mahalo.”
Rapper Saweetie — clad in a short grass skirt, as were her two backup dancers — performed her hits “My Type” and “Icy Girl” in a 10-minute set that might have been abbreviated by an illness that was evident in her speaking voice, though she managed to rap flawlessly. She also had a nice “Hawaii”moment when she complained about wearing heels and proclaimed, “We in Hawaii, so I can take this (uncomfortable footwear) off,” DJ Miss Milan stepping out from behind her turntables to help.
Dance-pop singers Jordyn Jones and Breanna Rubio showed flashes of potential in filling out the bill.
DJ D Sharp did a great job of keeping the show bouncing between artists, spinning hip-hop hits and hype.
As much fun as the show was, it will be exciting to see where it goes in the next few years. Organizers say it will remain around the same time each year, with some flexibility based on artists’ open dates.
One goal is for Dream Weekend to be a tourist attraction, a destination event. That might take a little more notice of which acts are coming. This year’s first lineup announcement came barely a month before the show, and Usher — the biggest act on the bill — just 16 days in advance. Another month or two would surely allow more fans to travel for the show, especially at a time of year when so many have vacations or family gatherings planned and when flights to Hawaii and hotels are most in demand.
It will also be interesting to see the festival’s continued growth. It’s made impressive leaps the past two years, and promoters say they hope to expand it into the surrounding parking lot. Will the expansion include more variety in the acts, maybe some rock or even comedy, as some festivals feature? Or will it stick with the blown-out club party vibe?
As is, Dream Weekend provides a concert experience unique to Hawaii. It will be exciting to see where it goes next.