by Deborah E. Dennard
Mary J. Blig
Every year on the July 4th weekend, the Essence Festival takes over the Big Easy. This is one of the best parties for grown folks in the south. There is so much to do, and much of it is free of charge. The events take place in both the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (day events) and the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome (night events).
During the day, there are many free opportunities for empowerment forums, lectures, and concerts. In fact, there are many opportunities to meet the stars because many of them like Roland Martin, Iylana Vanzant, Tamela and David Mann, attend the Essence Festival as well, and they are walking around among everyone, enjoying the festivities themselves. People had opportunities to sign up to play Family Feud with host Steve Harvey and watch the One of the greatest free shows is the gospel shows that take place on Sundays where attendees have all-day church with gospel greats like Dorinda Clark-Cole, Kim Burrell, Yolanda Adams, Le'Andria Johnson, Jessica Reedy, and many, many more.
This year brought Festival veterans like Mary J. Blige, Charlie Wilson, Erykah Badu, and Frankie Beverly and Maze. Although India Arie, Missy Elliot, and Kem were new to the scene, they held their own with these favorites.
Mary J. Blige, the Queen of Hip-Hop, who was dressed like royalty in a beautiful, red pantsuit with flowing fringes, had the crowd on its feet and jumped right into "Just Fine." She followed with "Love No Limit" and "The One." Mary wowed the crowd with her signature dance steps. She slowed it down, singing anthems like "Not Gon Cry," "No More Drama," and a crowd pleaser, "Take Me As I Am" When she sang,"I'm Going Down," Mary didn't even have to sing most of it because the entire dome was on their feet singing and crooning the Rose Royce lyrics Mary revived in the 90s. She finished the set by bringing rapper Method Man onto the stage, and they finished the set with "I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need. When she finally left the stage, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that she still had it, and Mary J. Blige still reigns as the Queen.
Charlie Wilson's set was probably the longest of the entire Festival, but obviously, the crowd never tires of him. He began his set as he had in the past two years, with "Party Train." This former leader of the Gap Band wore his signature sequined jackets and gave the crowd their money's worth. He sang and danced the crowd into a frenzy with Gap Band hits like "Early in the Morning," "Burn Rubber," "Outstanding." When asked if there would ever be a Gap Band reunion, Charlie responded, "No. When I put my brother in the ground, I put the Gap Band in the ground." Although most of the show was a repeat of the last two shows he has done, this year, he added a few new songs. Charlie sang Minnie Riperton’s "Loving You" and Bruno Mars' popular hit "Uptown Funk." When he left the stage, the crowd was tired from dancing and sing along with him. He is a hard act to follow. Lionel Richie discovered this the hard way last year when the crowds left in hoards after Wilson finished his set.
However, this year, the Festival had Festival legend Maze featuring Frankie Beverly to follow him. When asked backstage who he most admired, Charlie Wilson paid homage to Mr. Beverly. "Frankie Beverly's a giant; I cannot wait to see him."
Fans of Frankie Beverly are known to dress in all white, and this was no exception. As he crooned out hits like "Laid Back Kind of Girl," "We Are One," "Happy Feelings," "Golden Kind of Day," and "The Morning After" from the floor of the dome to the rafters, you could see one big party with people dressed in white doing the electric slide. The entire dome was doing the electric slide!!! Now, that's grown folks partying. This 68 year old singer sang everyone of his hits before ending with the crowd-pleasing favorite, "Before I Let You Go."
This year, Usher was the headliner for the 4th of July. This "Confessions" singer took the opportunity to make a political statement. He came on stage wearing a white T-shirt with the words "4th of July" crossed out in red and blue lines and "Juneteenth" written under it in black letters. His leather jacket had these words on the back, "Have We Achieved Our Independence?" Usher later explained it on his Instagram, saying, "If you're gonna celebrate, know what you're celebrating. We must know who we are in order be our best selves." Usher sang many of his hits, and although he was the headliner, his performance had been upstaged by Missy Elliot who played right before he did.
A thinner Missy Elliot had the crowd on their feet from the minute she entered the stage. She teased them, telling them that they may have gotten their hair done, but now it was time to dance. She and her dancers boogied to songs like "All in My Grill" and "Get Your Freak On." At one point, she went out in the crowd, escorted with her body guards. The crowd loved it. They along with Missy were very disappointed when the sound was suddenly cut before her set was over.
The Essence Festival had many other performances by singers like India Arie, Kem, Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, Common, Kool Moe Dee, Avery Sunshine, Lalah Hathaway, Floetry, Goapele, and many, many more. The Essence Festival is definitely a must do for everyone. There is a little something for everyone: food, fashion, and fun for all ages.
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