The 19th annual Essence Music Festival kicked off this year’s first big night of concerts in the Superdome with rousing performances from headliner Maxwell, along with Jill Scott, LL Cool J, and Brandy on Friday. Brandy warmed up the crowd with songs from her Two Eleven album, while LL proved age ain’t nothin’ but a number as he bounded about the stage with just as much gusto and showmanship as he had in his early days, sweating through his T-shirt while performing all his big hits, from “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Rock the Bells” to “Mama Said Knock You Out” and “’Round the Way Girl.” EPMD also joined the rapper/actor on stage for a session that brought the crowd to its feet.
LL also made a few ladies’ nights when he invited up some women who did not fit the “Barbie doll” image – as he put it– and set them on a dance competition, after which one particularly enthusiastic fan seemed reluctant to leave the stage.
Jill Scott took the stage with her trademark warm yet commanding presence as she belted out hits like “Cross My Mind,” “Long Walk,” and “Hate on Me.” Her all-male backing group, The Pipes, turned the audience up as they sang H-Town’s “Knockin’ Da Boots” to her as she coyly played along. The songstress choked up during an emotional performance of “Quick,” and finished off her set with a rendition of “He Loves Me,” partially sung in Spanish, that showed off her operatic range.
Maxwell closed out the night with his third performance at Essence Fest, as he stalked the stage, playfully working the crowd into a frenzy with his neo-soul hits “This Woman’s Work,” “Pretty Wings,” and “Bad Habits.” The nimble crooner gyrated his way into many a heart by the end of the set but if the gasps that accompanied the start of each song were any indication, they were primed for swooning.
New Edition and Trey Songz perform Saturday, and Janelle Monae and Beyonce hit the stage on Sunday night. In addition to the evening concerts, the five-day Festival, which began on Wednesday, boasts daytime performances from acts like Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, and EPMD, along with empowerment seminars hosted by the likes of Al Sharpton, Steve Harvey, and Iyanla Vanzant.