After last year’s performance by Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals for the University Programs Council’s Springfest, it’s safe to say that students were anticipating a concert of the same caliber. Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and R&B artist Daniel Caesar headlined this year’s Springfest Friday night, bringing his wonderfully soulful music to Grounds. Though inclement weather forced the UPC to hold the concert inside Memorial Gymnasium instead of the Amphitheater, the atmosphere of the show remained unchanged, and students were serenaded by Caesar’s amazing musical talent.
Ashton Simmons — who performs under the stage name Daniel Caesar — is a prominent figure in today’s R&B scene, but he has only recently become well-known. Over the course of the last few years, Caesar has built a large online following and has collaborated with several up-and-coming artists such as Kali Uchis, H.E.R. and BadBadNotGood. The singer put out his first EP in 2014, and his debut album “Freudian” was released in August 2017. Upon release, “Freudian” landed at No. 1 on the iTunes charts.
Even though he is a relatively new artist, he has already received great critical acclaim for his work and was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2018 — Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance for single “Get You.” While he didn’t win that year, Caesar took home a Grammy in 2019 in the Best R&B Performance category for his feature on the song “Best Part” with H.E.R. With raw talent and a distinctive sound, Daniel Caesar uses his music to write a melodic story rooted in his authentic self.
The small space in Mem Gym allowed for an intimate feel throughout the entire concert, which was quite well-aligned with the inviting mood of Caesar’s music. As soon as Caesar and his band stepped foot on the stage, a roar of applause and cheers ensued. He promptly kicked off the show with some great tunes, most of which were from “Freudian.” Caesar’s sound is rhythmic and soulful with a combination of traditional R&B, but his lyrics also carry powerful messages about love, heartbreak and romance. Caesar’s band consists of a keyboardist, a drummer, a guitarist and a bassist, all of whom seemed quite enthusiastic about the show. It was clear that the group enjoyed playing in front of a younger audience who could more easily relate to the 23-year-old singer’s lyrics.
One of the biggest highlights of the performance was the acoustic hit “Best Part,” which allowed Caesar to break down and give the audience a taste of his style with simply a guitar and his voice. Caesar began to strum the guitar introduction, and the whole crowd started singing the first verse. In many ways, it seemed like Caesar was playing the role of choir director, speaking the first words of the next line to continue guiding his enthusiastic audience. The entire show was certainly an indication of the dedication of Caesar’s fanbase, who knew virtually all the words to every song, even dating back to his earlier works.
This unexpected chorus played a large role in establishing the atmosphere of the performance and definitely made the show more fun for long-time fans. While it was great to see so many members of the audience join in sync to Caesar’s lyrics, it downplayed his own role as a vocalist, and it would have been nicer to hear more of him actually singing. In some cases, Caesar’s voice was already drowned by the instruments of his band, and the combination of the band and the crowd seemed to mask his raw talent as a vocalist. For a newer fan who wanted to experience his music or others who may have come to hear him live for the first time, it may have been difficult to appreciate his musical ability.
Nonetheless, Caesar’s performance on Friday was an effective and enjoyable conclusion to the UPC’s Springfest. Though the atmosphere of the show was quite different than one of his typical performances — largely due in part to it being a free show held in a school gymnasium — the artist still held his own, and audience members got a great show. With his soothing voice and resonant lyricism as well as his warming stage presence, Caesar’s soulful Springfest performance proves that he is a sincerely promising talent.