The annual Essence Music Festival landed in New Orleans this past holiday weekend, playing host to superstars Usher, Kanye West and Mary J. Blige.
The event also gathered young stars (Trey Songz, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia) and old-school legends (New Edition ,Chaka Khan, El DeBarge, Stephanie Mills , Uncle Charlie Wilson of Gap Band) all beneath the roof of the Louisiana Superdome.
Over the course of three days, performances were split between a main stage and four smaller, standing-room-only areas, dubbed “Superlounges,” forcing fans to choose from a mix of promising newcomers, including Miguel, and R&B vets, including Mint Condition.
After the jump, reviews of the diva-centric sets I saw at the festival on Saturday.
The R&B great filled the cavernous Superdome with a powerhouse voice as she delivered hits “Through the Fire” and “Sweet Thing.” Her vocals were flawless, but were backed by a lackluster band that didn’t quite capture the essence of her most famous songs. Khan teamed up with New Orleans native, Ledisi, to perform her ubiquitous hit, “I’m Every Woman.”
Performing in one of the more intimate Superlounges, Mills’s groove-worthy set was heavy on classics, including “(You're Puttin’) A Rush On Me.” But her performance also illustrated one of the festival’s pitfalls: Superlounge performances running simultaneous to those on the main stage. I was only able to hear a few songs from Mills before rushing to catch a performance from Jill Scott.
The energy sky-rocketed during a go-go infused set from the Philadelphia native, who hadn't performed since touring with Maxwell last year. Scott told the crowd that she was “a little rusty,” but fans may have begged to differ. She belted out a mix of new songs from her recent chart-topping album, “The Light of the Sun,” and trusty hits, including the go-go-influenced “It's Love.” Scott brings her “Summer Block Party” tour to the Verizon Center on Aug. 7.
After performances from a spectrum of soul divas, it was only fitting that hip-hop’s leading diva take the stage. From start to finish, West’s performance encompassed the beautiful, dark, twisted and fantastic ethos of his 2010 album.
He opened with “Dark Fantasy” and greeted fans with handshakes and hugs. A rousing rendition of “Power” followed, kicking off an eclectic three-act set that juxtaposed the synthesized ballads of his 2008 album “808s and Heartbreak” against early singles, including “All Falls Down” and “Through the Wire,” (Khan, whose voice is famously sampled on “Through the Wire,” unfortunately didn’t resurface for the latter.)
Peppering his set with anti-media rants (“I don’t do interviews anymore,” he explained), the rapper closed the show with an emotional tribute to his late mother Donda West, performing “Hey Mama.”