The first We Bridge Music Festival & Expo took place in Las Vegas from April 21 to 23, offering a convention experience and performances from K-pop acts including CIX, ONEUS, Dreamcatcher, KANGDANIEL, Jessi, MONSTA X, BE’O, VIVIZ, BamBam, and ENHYPEN. Aiming to connect all mediums of creativity and celebrating various Asian artists and cultures, the festival was advertised as a multi-sensory live event bridging the now, new, and next in Asian music, media, art, and fashion.
Following the disastrous KAMP Music Festival that took place in Pasadena, CA last year, fans were rightfully skeptical about yet another new festival popping up, especially when most would have to travel to Las Vegas for it. The impressive lineup and promises of top tier fan engagements attracted a sizable crowd. Unfortunately, while the event only had one artist cancellation, there was still much to be desired by the end of day three.
Taking place at the famed Mandalay Bay Convention Center, attendees were faced with miles of walking before entering the venue, which posed accessibility challenges. The expo hall featured idol cardboard cutouts, various art galleries, an arts and crafts station, a small dance floor, an arcade area, a food hall, and shops selling NFTs, clothing, and albums. There also was the highly anticipated GRAMMY Museum Stage, where artist Q&As and fan engagements were to take place. The whole hall was quite large, leaving spacious walkways between each feature, but seating space was limited to one area next to the arcade games, or in the Diamond VIP pit, only for those with the most expensive ticket tier. In addition, the entire hall was very dimly lit, reminiscent of an art gallery, except for the Creator Lounge, which was designed for influencers to take a break and grab a snack or drink.
The expo itself was relatively uncrowded, save for artist engagement times. There were three panels throughout the weekend, diving into topics of representation for women and AAPI communities in the entertainment industry. Several artists such as N5BRA and SAMBYPEN were also stationed nearby their galleries, working on live paintings throughout the event. The dance floor was hosted by fans teaching workshops for songs from performing artists, ranging from BamBam to Monsta X, and the food hall featured samples from Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, and Taiwanese cuisines. Perhaps due to venue restrictions, no food or drinks were available for sale anywhere in the expo, and attendees had to make the trek into the Mandalay Bay food court to refill their necessities. Also unavailable directly within the expo hall were restrooms, though fortunately there were several nearby that were clean and well stocked.
Of all the features, the most popular were inarguably the signature wall and photo studio. The signature wall was created for fans to write their messages to the world. K-pop artists also made quick appearances to sign the wall as well. These quick glimpses were enough to excite fans into waiting nearby to see who may show up next, and many fans quickly jumped at the opportunity to sign their names next to their favorite artist’s signature. The photo studio, which was located right around the corner from the signature wall, was another highly popular zone. Created by The Lounge Booth, the photo studio featured two background sets, professional lighting and cameras, and a host that patiently and kindly guided fans on how to pose for the best shots. Each set of fans had several minutes of photos taken, and they were also conveniently able to email photos to themselves immediately afterwards. The photo studio stayed busy all throughout the weekend, with fans, staff, and influencers all stopping by.
The highlights of the weekend, however, were unsurprisingly and undeniably the artist engagements at the GRAMMY Museum stage and the concerts themselves, though neither went without a hitch. Both stages were hit with several technical errors. Microphones were not working for several interviews and performances at the GRAMMY Museum stage, and the on-site translator made several errors in translation that were corrected by members of groups including Oneus and Enhypen themselves. Aside from microphone errors, CIX’s GRAMMY Museum stage performance began with no music at all, bringing about looks of frustration from the performing members and their fans, known as FIX. Over at the Michelob Ultra Arena, fans were also disappointed to see microphones experiencing issues yet again during talk sessions for groups such as ENHYPEN, preventing their fans, known as Engenes, from hearing them clearly. In addition to sound system challenges, there were also issues with the special stage effects. MONSTA X’s confetti launch happened moments too early during their performance of “Zone,” missing the beat drop, and smoke and fog effects throughout both concert nights were so thick artists were obscured from fans’ views.
Photo Credits: Peter Byun
Despite this, each performing artist still gave it their all and blew their fans away with their impressive performances on the GRAMMY Museum stage and Michelob ULTRA Arena stage. The GRAMMY Museum stage allowed fans to get more up close and personal through intimate performances and artists sharing their musical processes, inspirations, and fun stories. One memorable story was shared by BE’O who felt like he finally became famous when nurses administering his COVID-19 vaccination recognized him. Artists on the Michelob ULTRA Arena stage were given a small extended stage, and each performance was just as energetic and lively as the next. Although the industry was racked with shocking, saddening news of Moonbin’s passing just days before the event, fans enjoyed the concerts thoroughly and passionately, almost as if it were their safe haven. And with so many of the performing artists being acquainted with the late Moonbin, it was clear they each did their very best to perform for their fans, despite their own inner turmoil.
The We Bridge Music Festival & Expo was clearly far from perfect in its first run, but fans in attendance were able to enjoy lasting memories. With the right mindset to take feedback from this year’s attendees before their next event, the expo and music festival certainly show promise for improvement in the coming years.