Day N Vegas 2021 Recap: Kendrick Lamar Returns, Doja Cat Reigns and More Highlights
The second edition of Goldenvoice’s hotly-anticipated Day N Vegas Festival brought a range of performances from hip-hop and R&B acts to the Las Vegas Festival Grounds for three nights over the November 12th-14th weekend.
On the heels of the November 5th crowd surge and mass-casualty event at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, the hours leading into Day N Vegas took a cautionary tone. Earlier in the week, Scott pulled out of his night two headlining slot at DNV and was replaced by Post Malone; news outlets clamored to inform the public of the festival’s safety plan and organizers made additional checks and balances on crowd control.
While the emphasis on fan safety struck a hyper-vigilant chord, the event was incident free and high on big moments, wrapping up a short but sweet ’21 festival season with all eyes on what ’22 might bring.
Some artists dialed it in with nearly identical sets to Outside Lands and Lollapalooza. For others, it was a triumphant comeback after the pandemic hiatus with full-release theatrical feats, new music and deep dives into the archive. For many, it signified their Las Vegas debut.
Here are the moods, moments and vibes from three 50-degree nights in the desert. For more, check out our exclusive photo galleries from Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.
Day 1: Kendrick Lamar Dominated, Isaiah Rashad Checked on Fans
At around 32 acres, the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, on the corner of the Strip and Sahara Avenue, placed three stages right in the middle of one of the world’s most stunning backdrops. Appropriately named Frank, Dean and Sammy in honor of the city’s Rat Pack godfathers, the stages of DNV never skipped a beat. The second the gates opened Friday afternoon, the thousands who waited for hours to be first in flooded the space.
Performances averaged around 45 minutes, except for the headliners — Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone and Tyler, The Creator each got 90 minutes. There was a 10-minute reset break in between set times, and the compact venue was relatively easy to navigate for festivalgoers.
The first day brought standout sets in the Dean Tent, from the funky bass guitar riffs of Thundercat to a vibe-building DJ set from veteran Madlib. Over at the Frank main stage, Dreamville artist Ari Lennox delivered passion and soul to amp up the crowd. She was followed by a complete sonic shift: the true Compton sound of rapper YG, who set the table for the West Coast domination that would follow with the biggest event of the night: the return of Kendrick Lamar, performing his only live set of 2021.
But first, at the smaller Sammy Stage, the crowd kicked into high gear early on, with Isaiah Rashad being the first act to stop the show to check on the well-being of the crowd when a mosh pit formed.
Quite noticeable was the festival merch tent — which saw consistent hour-plus lines all weekend — where all DNV gear had Post Malone listed as the Day 2 headliner. Presumably it was reprinted when Scott dropped off, or had not been printed at all until Monday.
Then it was time for the main event of the day. The power, scale and theatrics of Lamar’s set drew comparisons to Childish Gambino’s 2019 festival offering, upping the game for the entire genre. Lamar was joined on stage by 16 men in red suits and bowties with different variations of white face paint. He was clad in a gauzy white fabric, long hair parted in the middle and topped with a crochet cap.
Four white dots, appearing to be fingerprints, formed a crescent under his left eye. The red-suit brigade made for a synchronistic presence as Lamar went through a progression of his career album by album — Section.80 to DAMN — digging deep into the archive and pulling out tracks that have never before been performed live.
Words blazed across the screens, as the deafening sound of striking keys scripted an intro letter to the audience; in the “365 days, times two, since I’ve seen you,” the world has changed, and Lamar, true to form, chronicled every joyous and painful moment of this journey, one reflective lyric and corresponding visual at a time.
Ballerinas appeared, and children flooded the stage — this was Lamar’s moment of full release. The night closed with an appearance by his cousin, protégé and Las Vegas rapper Baby Keem, with whom he performed “Family Ties” and “Range Brothers.” Then, all the players from the 90-minute extravagance came onstage as he beautifully hymned, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” striking a vignette fitting of a Baroque masterwork.
Lamar’s set, the magnum opus of West Coast hip-hop, represented a final coming of age for the outlier sound that started as dancehall funk and has now reached epic symphonic maturity. King Kendrick raised the bar well above the pack.
Day 2: Doja Cat Dazzled in the Desert, Post Malone Filled in For Travis Scott
Saturday at Day N Vegas summoned an all-out party vibe as the crowd swelled. The festival’s first official weekend day was punctuated with dynamic talents such as Don Toliver, Baby Keem, Doja Cat and Tinashe.
Toliver, who performed at Astroworld hours before the catastrophe, asked the crowd for a moment of silence for the victims just after sunset on the Frank Stage. This would come in succession of him stopping his performance to check on crowd safety: “If you on somebody too tight… if you can’t breathe, come out.”
Wearing an Astroworld T-shirt, Toliver delivered a trippy set that took fans in and out of reality with visuals of psychedelic mushrooms. The set marked his second turn in Las Vegas, only a few months after he also moved the crowd at the Life is Beautiful Festival in September.
Baby Keem, making his second appearance at DNV, hit the Sammy Stage with a packed crowd that quickly turned into a mosh pit. Security feverishly handed out water to the crowd — which resulted in particularly rowdy festivalgoers throwing the bottles versus hydrating. While he did have the home court advantage, with the size of Baby Keem’s draw doubling and tripling as the performance went on, it’s an easy bet to assume that he will graduate to the main stage soon enough.
A vision in pink, Doja Cat came to DNV in 2019 a princess and returned in 2021 a queen. She dominated her Frank Stage set with a parade of dancers, sultry moves, purring lyrics and a seductress quality that had fans screaming marriage proposals. Her vibe was genie in a bottle, when the genie gets released and is ready to party, that is.
Much like the way she conquered the night’s stage, she wrapped Las Vegas around her little finger, later making an appearance at Delilah supper club at Wynn, performing “Get Into It (Yuh)” and “Need to Know.” Later, she headed over to French Montana’s birthday party at Drai’s Nightclub. (Their collaboration on his fourth album, “They Got Amnesia,” is expected to drop on Friday, November 19th.)
Meanwhile, Victoria Monét drew a major audience and rave reviews for her first-ever festival appearance in the Dean Tent. Channeling a Beyoncé moment, the wind machines were out, and the sheer rhinestone-encrusted ensemble was perfect for her big Vegas debut. Tinashe continued the R&B love at Sammy, sharing a whole new idea on how to use a trampoline while onstage, giving her golden goddess look a little extra bounce. She closed by acknowledging “Free Britney” and expressing how happy she is that the pop superstar is indeed now free.
Elsewhere, Lil Baby kicked back on a sofa and then swung through the Frank Stage spotlight on a clothing rack, while Majid Jordan closed out the festival’s undercard with an electro R&B set that represented a sonic departure from the previous Sammy offerings.
Headlining Day 2, Post Malone gave a solid last-minute performance, considering he was added to the bill only a few days prior. With Malone, you either get the party set or the blow-your-wig-back set and on this night, it was the former — Red Solo cup, Camels cigarettes and all. Especially important for this audience, Malone was supposed to play Vegas on March 14th, 2020, and was one of the city’s first major events to crash and burn thanks to the pandemic.
In this turn, Posty’s fans felt a sense of vindication for the derailed “Runaway Tour.” Scott fans, not so much. Rumblings in the crowd had many of those who had initially bought tickets for a festival with Scott at top billing leaving before the ultimate performance of the night. Sound glitches plagued Malone, with audio issues consistently occurring throughout the weekend on all the stages.
Day 3: Lil Uzi Vert Stalled, But Tyler, the Creator Redeemed the Day
On the final night of Day N Vegas, all hype seemed to land at the Sammy Stage. Joey Bada$$ and Denzel Curry reminded the audience that they were there for hip-hop, pushing the crowd into a frenzy. For his part, Earl Sweatshirt drew a following of lyric junkies to sift through a Skittles bag of rhymes in pursuit of the wokest flavor. The crowd seemed all but disengaged with Sweatshirt, but perhaps they were just saving their energy for the Golf merch boutique and the night’s headliner, Tyler, the Creator.
Meanwhile, Lil Uzi Vert, decked out in a blue fur headband, came on 30 minutes late, and stopped and started the music after jumping into the crowd. Eye-blurring, psychedelic visuals blinded the crowd, and his attempts at inspiring everyone to “rage” fell flat. Statements like “I wanna lose my mind, I want to pass out” felt off as phones flashed with the news alert that a tenth victim had died due to injuries sustained at Astroworld, this time a nine-year-old boy.
Uzi was cut off 20 minutes after he started, in order to keep on schedule and make way for SZA. He attempted to keep performing, before throwing his mic into the crowd and walking off. It was then that an announcement came over the loudspeaker on the main stage appealing to fans to step back and give each other room. This went on about two dozen times, until it was replaced by a live individual on stage asking the same thing.