Celebrating it’s 19th year of existence, the 2013 Essence Festival has a long history in bringing some of the biggest and most respected and anticipated names in music to New Orleans over the 4th of July weekend for three days of stunning live performances and the best in urban R&B and soul music. And creating a show year after year that has come to help define the genre of music can be no easy task, yet somehow Essence seems to continuously pull it off with, at least to the naked eye in term of entertainment, little to no hitches.
This year’s music festival portion kicked off on Friday, July 5 with live performances from Brandy, LL Cool J, Jill Scott and Maxwell. I unfortunately wasn’t in time to catch Brandy’s performance at 7 p.m. but did come just in time to catch all of LL Cool J onstage. Accompanied by DJ Z-Trip, LL fed vigorously off of lots of crowd participation and call and response tendencies. Delving straight into old favorites like “Jack the Ripper”, “Mama Said Knock You Out”, “Radio” and “Jinglin’ Baby” he did his best to channel the LL Cool J of the mid to late 80s and early 90s at the beginning of the show, then steadily moved into more of his lover man hits like “Doin’ It”, “Hey Lover” and “Loungin’ (Who Do You Love)”. Running the gamut of his entire career and with Z-Trip on the ones and twos throwing on hits from the Beastie Boys, Notorious B.I.G., Missy Elliot and Slick Rock for the Queens legend to ad lib to, as well as a special surprise appearance by EPMD, LL helped to bring a greater sense of classic Hip Hop to a show that’s usually dominated R&B.
Next up was Jill Scott, who came out with a vivacious and take-no-prisoners mentality right from the start. Clad in a multi-colored, African-inspired frock, large sunglasses and a crown of braids adorning her heard, Jill’s attitude from the beginning of her set was to be larger than life with her music. The set was jazzy, funk-laden and even thick with rock music influences as her skillful backing band used ripping horns, thrashing guitars and heavy drums to blow the audience away, which has always been one of the most important elements of Jill’s live performances.
All the while, Jill was steadily, passionately and majestically performing like she had everything to prove. The emotions of the show ranged from the frantic, to the mellow, to the serious, to the sexual and all the way back around as Jill Scott ran through her formidable catalog with songs like “Is It The Way”, “Hate On Me”, “The Real Thing”, “Golden”, “A Long Walk”, “Whatever” and “So Blessed”. A lot like on her much celebrated 2002 live album, Ms. Scott talked directly to and engaged the crowd at every turn, even allowing her back up singers to do their own rendition of “Knockin’ Da Boots” by H-Town as she mouthed the words like she was a member of the audience. And at one point, she playfully toyed with the Essence crowd as if her performance was complete, only to bring the lights back up and go into more of her hits, to the sheer delight to the thousands in attendance.
The night ended with Maxwell gracing the stage, beginning by playing his idol Marvin Gaye’s classic post-disco single “Got To Give It Up”. Seeking to bring a more subdued, grown-and-sexy vibe to the concert, Maxwell used his signature voice versatility to roil the crowd into a frenzy of carnality, segueing into a male falsetto that was almost bone chilling. This being his third installment at the Essence Music Festival, Maxwell knew good and well he had to bring something exclusive to the proceedings, and so he gave the crowd a taste of a new single called “Gods” from his forthcoming album. At one point, sharing that he’ll turn 40 this year, the singer sincerely thanked fans for their continued support of his music throughout the years.
Though he did perform tons of fan favorites from “Bad Habits” and “Get To Know Ya” to “Fortunate” and the Alicia Keys-assisted “Fire We Make”, the crown seemed to respond only marginally. That is, until Maxwell used the moment to play the original version of “This Woman’s Work” and then to sing his own version, bringing the crowd to life. From that point on, the Maxwell held the audience in the palm of his hand, as they sang along enthusiastically to “Lifetime” and “Don’t Ever Wonder”.
Day 1 of Essence Music Festival 2013 was a mix of the rough and rugged, the classic and the familiar, the sensual and the smooth, the fiery and the bold. Though it took the crowd a little while to warm up during some parts of the respective performances, there’s little doubt that attendees left the Mercedes Superdome unsatisfied on July 5.Google+