19th annual Essence Festival shatters attendance records in New Orleans

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JILL SCOTT (Photo by Lawrence Bryant)

by Kenya Vaughn
(NNPA) New Orleans, La. – Anticipation for Beyoncé’s headlining performance at the 19th Annual Essence Music Festival had been building for months – and the final days before the main event were on overload. But who could blame the city or festival for boasting on hosting one of the biggest names in music?

Just about every shop or restaurant – from Bourbon Street to the Downtown Business district – was blasting some selection from her catalogue of hits. Her face was plastered throughout the city on billboards, the front pages of newspapers and local television

Beyoncé will get plenty of the credit for record-breaking 2013 Essence Festival attendance numbers – more than half-a-million (an estimated 540,000) according to organizers.

But Beyoncé didn’t bring in the masses to the Mercedes Benz Superdome all by herself. More than 50 acts – from Maxwell to Janelle Monae and New Edition – performed between the main stage and the Super Lounge side stages over the course of three days (July 5–7) and showcased the brilliant diversity of Black music.

Beyoncé’s return

Much has changed in the six years since Beyoncé last graced the Essence stage. Most obvious is her graduation from rising R&B diva to international music superstar.

Those who didn’t attend the Mrs. Carter Tour closing are dying to know if her performance was worth the hype. It depends on who is asked.

The Beyhive (Beyoncé’s hardcore fans) will naturally offer a resounding yes. But many others felt differently for most of the night.

Beyoncé emerged with all of the bells and whistles of a sold-out world tour – pyro, lighting, video, intense choreography, smoke – when she introduced herself to the crowd by way of “Run the World (Girls).”

The masses could have lived without the poetical video interludes (which bought her time during her nine or so wardrobe changes) – or their storylines that illustrated personal evolution, discovering one’s inner queen and the power of feminine seduction.

They came to hear good music and viewed personal videos as an interruption of the musical flow.

Because of her stage prowess, usually all it takes is one live performance from Beyoncé to carry an individual from indifference to fandom. But the set list was working against her with the Essence Festival audience Sunday night.

“Me, Myself and I,” “Déjà Vu,” “Dangerously In Love,” “Ego” and a slew of hits from urban adult contemporary radio were absent from the set list. A technically scaled down experience with a set list modified to cater to the audience’s musical taste would have made all of the difference.

As she could see herself after the entire Superdome erupted when she jumped into “Love On Top” and continued with “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies.” She even laced the women’s anthem with the theme song lyrics from The Jeffersons and a second line band tribute.

“It took me a while to warm y’all up, but thanks for getting up out your seats,” Beyoncé said. “I appreciate you for that.”
More musical high notes

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TREY SONGZ (Photo by Lawrence Bryant)

For the second year in a row, Trey Songz used the Essence Festival main stage to showcase his growth and maturity as a performer.

Songz emerged on stage with “Say Ahh,” wearing a Rat Pack-inspired classic tuxedo. He connected with fans through selections such as “Dive In,” “Can’t Help But wait,”
“I Invented Sex,” “Bottoms Up” and “Love Faces.” Fans wouldn’t find out until after the show that he was performing with an injured ankle.

Essence Music Festival veteran Charlie Wilson is evolving into a highly anticipated staple among the performance lineup, much as Maze featuring Frankie Beverly had been in earlier years.

Wilson gave fans an extra helping with “There Goes My Baby,” “Charlie Last Name Wilson,” “Beautiful,” “You Are” and “Keep Running” among some two dozen stretching back to the Gap Band and including newer hits from his revived solo career.

Meanwhile, the Super Lounge side stages offered the best among classic R&B and rising soul stars. Avery Sunshine and Chrisette Michele and Tamia were among the performances that belonged on the main stage.

But the best in show would undoubtedly belong to Faith Evans, who ripped the Coca Cola room to pieces. IN “Come Over,” “Soon as I Get Home,” “I Love You” and “Used To Love Me,” she displayed a tone and vocal charisma unique among her R&B female contemporaries.

Reprinted from the St. Louis American

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