Welcome back to Concert Daily’s coverage of the 2017 Essence Music Festival. We got an earlier start today so that we could go check out what was happening over at the convention center. As ALWAYS in the Summer down in Nola, it was BLAZING hot with crazy humidity, so we were ready to get into the AC over at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Granted we love the concerts over at the Superdome, the family oriented activities during the day are what set ESSENCE Fest apart from any other festival.
Upon walking inside Hall B, we could just feel the family atmosphere in the air. Parents walking around with their kids to the different interactive booths, best friends walking in groups to check out items for sale in the vendor row, and young couples holding hands while watching many of the free entertainment options were a couple of things that we observed. There’s one thing that we can’t forget, and that’s the food vendors! If you are a foodie, then this is the one official spot that you need to come to get your eat on. With various food vendors setup from different culinary styles to choose from, there was something for everyone’s pallet.
You couldn’t help but to walk down every inch of this place and find something that wasn’t happening. The Coca-Cola booth was jumping the ENTIRE time with numerous dance contests and people on the middle of the floor doing the Wobble, all while giving away free Coke products to help cool them down. The folks over at State Farm conducted one of the funniest karaoke sessions I had ever seen. Many TV and movie stars were in the building as well, speaking on different panels that ranged from how to be a successful entrepreneur, to what’s it REALLY like being on successful TV show. Out of all the panels that were occurring, the one that stuck out to us the most was the one that featured the cast of “Queen Sugar”. Towards the end of the day, we headed over to the ESSENCE main stage for a performance by CUPID performing his party rocking jam, the “Cupid Shuffle“.
Now on to the main event! The second night of the concert series is the one that mostly everyone has been talking about, and for good enough reason. “Yes, it’s ladies night, and the feelings right” was very much the vibe because Saturday gave way to the “Strength of a Woman” collective show, curated by the one and only Mary J. Blige. For the first time since I’ve been going to EMF, this has been the only time that a woman’s only night has been in effect. The crowd tonight was noticeably younger, due to the likes of Mary, Jill Scott, Jazmine Sullivan, Monica, Remy Ma, Teyana Taylor, Jhene Aiko, PJ and Ari Lennox. Don’t get it twisted though, there was still enough music to go around for everybody, including the “grown folks” who dominated Friday’s crowd because Chaka Khan, Lalah Hathaway, Michel’le, and The Jones Girls were very much in the building.
Sometimes getting your “plan of action” together and figuring out if you’re going to be sitting down in the dome’s bowl watching the main acts or lingering around in the lounges is an easy feat, but literally with ALL the talent being stacked in EVERY ROOM of the superdome, we saw people looking like they were making life decisions on where to visit and spend their time.
First to take the mainstage was the newbie Ari Lennox. Hailing from J. Cole’s Dreamville record imprint, this young lady though in the infancy of her career displayed such stage presence to show that she will be a forced to be reckoned with by killing it with an acapella performance.
The pace of this show was the most fluid that I have ever seen at any Essence Fest, with acts hitting the stage as close to their scheduled time as possible. “Ms. Thang” Monica was next to hit the stage and give a little lesson in “how to be effortlessly sassy 101”. She is truly a woman who never ages, as her look very much resembled how most people remembered her back in 1995 when she first hit the scene, especially with the short haircut. We were taken on a much welcome journey of 90’s R&B with songs such as “Before You Walk Out Of My Life“, and “Don’t Take It Personal“.
Now you know there can’t be an all woman’s concert without a little male bashing right? And who’s better to serve you a hot platter FULL of angry, breakup songs than Jazmine Sullivan. Despite all of the man hate, Jaz came to do what she does best, burn the roof off of the building with her powerhouse vocals. Although relatively young in age, this young lady invokes so much emotion through her songs and voice that if for a minute you closed your eyes, you would imagine her being of the Motown era of artists, she’s THAT good. We’re still trying to find out how she’s as underrated as she is versus some of her counterparts of a different cultural persuasion, but we digress. Her songs continually built the momentum of “I Am Woman, hear me Roar!” that carried throughout the night.
Philly was DEFINITELY in the house down in Nola, as the second woman from the 215 took her spot on stage. Yes ladies and gentleman, we were now entering the Queen section of the “SOAW” concert as Jill Scott held court. What can we say that you don’t already know about Jilly from Philly? Not too much because honestly, she speaks for herself. Saturday night, she looked like the epitome of what a Woman of Essence should…sexy, bold, and confident. Rocking a look that was reminiscent of a 70’s Afrocentric glam girl (which was a nod to Diana Ross), Jill came and got straight to the nitty-gritty, and you know I mean. Her concerts are synonymous for giving you the neo-soul music that your soul yearns for, all while feeling like you’re talking to an old homegirl. She went through a portion of her catalog, which at this point, is pretty extensive…giving fans and new listeners the hits you all remember, but with new and improved musical embellishments that took me to a place of euphoria.
After Jill waved goodbye, the crowd eagerly started to get ready for MJB. It’s without a doubt that Mary J. Blige is the QUEEN of the Essence Fest, and no matter how many times she has played at this event, fans still come back more to see what the Queen of Hip-hop/soul has concocted for them each go around. Booooy, did THIS year bring a force of nature, in the fact that she has just released her latest album “Strength of a Woman“. There’s no need to get into all the specifics behind the album, we know you’ve read about it in the headlines, BUT this album has brought back one thing…hurt and angry Mary. For all of you out there who know a thing or two about a thing or two, you know that when MJB is at her most painful, vulnerable points in life, it’s when she comes out with THE BEST music ever!
She absolutely showed off! The “new and improved” version of Mary that we saw at Saturday night’s concert was a women that very much has been channeling her anger in all the right places. Her body was on point, her style was straight “Mary”, and her performance was exactly what people came for. All the songs that you may have come looking for, yep, they were included…from “Real Love” to “Baby I Love You”, the singer “Mary bopped” all around the stage in her black leather top and camo pants in what was the longest running set of the night. Towards the end of her song “No More Drama”, it was visible that all she has been going through has been taking it toll, when she had a breakdown on stage. As always, Mary leaves it ALL on the stage, and quite honestly, this could have been the last show of the night, but there was more!
Footage courtesy of Zach Simmons on Youtube
After an evening full of women empowerment through song, the legendary Chaka Khan was the one to shut it all down. Her vocals have been virtually unchanged over the years, which is a testament that if you take care of your instrument, it will serve you very well throughout life. The funkiness that is exuded in her music kept the people moving and grooving in their seats while she walked the stage. We all know that she is Every Woman, and this song technically was the catalyst that brought all of the women of the night, on stage together to perform the song together. What a powerful way to end this phenomenal night that was geared to and run by ALL women. In a day and age where media and things want to continuously pit black people in a negative light, it was a sight to see black women coming together as ONE to thwart any stereotypes.