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Essence Festival wrap-up: Here's what you missed

Didn’t make it down to New Orleans for the 20th annual Essence Festival? (Essence, like EW, is a Time Inc. publication.) The bad news: You missed out on a Prince concert that may never make it online—at least, not in an officially sanctioned sort of way. The good news: You can catch a few highlights of the fest in the videos below.

We’ll begin backstage with first night headliner Nas:


Beyonce triumphantly closes out the Essence Music Festival

It was clear from the start that the sold-out crowd at the Superdome Sunday night was there to see one woman and one woman only on the last night of the Essence Festival: Beyoncé. They were happy to check out the starting lineup of Janelle Monae and TGT (Tyrese, Ginuwine and Tank’s group) but it was the Mrs. Carter show that had expectations running high. And per her usual A-game performance, Beyoncé did not disappoint.

Her 90-minute show had the kind of big stadium scope that some of the festival’s other main stage acts lacked, including pyrotechnics, multiple costume changes and big dance numbers. Part of that big production delayed the concert start as the video screen displays required prolonged adjustment, but when Beyoncé came on the stage with “Run the World,” the stadium was ready for their queen to hold court. She radiated female empowerment, with her all female band and a predominantly female crew of dancers (her French dancers Les Twins are the only males on tour). She launched into her a mostly strident and aerobic show, all performed in killer heels of course, running through “If I were a Boy,” “Get Me Bodied,” “Naughty Girl,” “I Care,” Why Don’t You Love Me,” “1+1” (sultrily performed on top of a piano), “Irreplaceable,” “Love on Top,” “Crazy in Love,” “Single Ladies,” and “Grown Woman.” Her encore began with the chorus of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and led into “Halo.”

Throughout the show, interstitial clips of Beyoncé in various states played on the big screens– from a Queen of Versailles-type of set-up to highlights from her real life, all playing to the duality of Beyoncé’s image as larger-than-life superstar and regular girl we know and love. The singer expressed joy at being back in New Orleans and in the stadium where she performed the Super Bowl halftime show, all while letting the crowd know that she wanted them to get even more hyped, noting by the end of the show that “it took me a while to get you here,” but they were finally pumped enough for her satisfaction.

Earlier in the evening, Monae, hair in her recognizable pompadour and wearing a familiar white shirt, white pants and black riding boots outfit, played a set filled with tributes to some of her influences, including two different Prince covers (“Take Me With You,” “Let’s Go Crazy”).  She belted out a couple of songs from old albums for the faithful (like “Cold War”) but steered clear of anything too recent, such as “Dance Apocalyptic,” which she released the video for last week. Monae did play her most familiar hit (“Tightrope”) to the hilt, with the James Brown cape bit and  getting carried off stage. She returned to sing her encore “Come Alive (The War of Roses),” during which she ventured into the audience and got down on the floor of the aisle, then rock-starred it off the stage tossing her mic stand in her own mic-drop moment.

Mia Borders, Rachelle Ferrell, Luke James, Tamia, Kourtney Heart, Alice Smith, Marsha Ambrosius, and Mint Condition all played the smaller lounges around the Superdome. But the last day at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center belonged to the all-star gospel tribute to Tramaine Hawkins and Donnie McClurkin, with powerhouse performances by the likes of Michelle Williams, Yolanda Adams, and Kim Burrell.

New Edition, Charlie Wilson, Trey Songz pump up the Superdome at Essence Music Fest

When five members of New Edition walked out onto the Superdome stage to close out the Saturday night show of the Essence Music Festival, some fans in the audience questioned the whereabouts of the group’s most famous member. Ronnie DeVoe, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ralph Tresvant, and Johnny Gill, dressed in their matching gray suits, launched into the group’s early hits and fans were right there with them. But the nostalgia party really got started when Bobby Brown strutted out, jacket in hand and slung over his shoulder. The six singers stuck to their well known canon of hits like “Candy Girl,” “Mr. Telephone Man,” “Poison,” and “My Prerogative” while doing the kind of choreographed dancing that helped make them famous 30 years ago.

Maxwell, Jill Scott, and LL Cool J rock the Superdome at Essence Music Festival

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.


'Essence' Fest ends with Anthony Hamilton, Aretha Franklin

For years, R&B singer Anthony Hamilton has packed the smaller stages at the Essence Music Festival. This year, though, Hamilton scored a closing Sunday night spot on the festival’s main stage, something he’s been seeking ever since he got a taste of the event.

“So many years have gone by with me wanting to be on that stage,” Hamilton told The Associated Press. “This is such a huge accomplishment for me that didn’t come easily.”

The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, wearing a flowing tangerine-colored dress, opened her show with “(Your Love has Lifted me) Higher and Higher” “Natural Woman” and “Think.” Midway through her performance, she left the stage so the festival could pay special tribute to her life and career as part of a ceremony where she received its Power Award. A video montage and brief history of her career was played for the audience before she returned wearing an olive- and gold-colored dress.

“We honor Ms. Aretha Franklin for having the greatest voice of all time,” said Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc.


Usher headlining 'Essence' Music Festival tonight -- PHOTOS

R&B superstar Usher is headlining tonight’s concerts at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans at the Lousiana Superdome. At left, you can see a shot from his sound check for tonight’s performance.

The Friday main stage show are also featuring performances by Charlie Wilson, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, and Boyz II Men. Kanye West will headline tomorrow’s main stage show; he’ll be preceded by Jill Scott, Chaka Khan, and El DeBarge. The festival will wrap up on Sunday with performances from Mary J. Blige, New Edition, Trey Songz, and Kem.

Check out another shot from Usher’s sound check below:  READ FULL STORY

Essence Music Festival announces its 2009 lineup

Beyonce_lThe Essence Music Festival celebrates its 15th anniversary this year with a fabulous all-star lineup featuring everyone from Beyonce, Ne-Yo, and Maxwell to Keri Hilson, Salt N Pepa, and Al Green. The three-day R&B, soul, and hip-hop extravaganza kicks off on July 3 in New Orleans. Tickets go on sale today, with prices ranging from $51-$200 and weekend packages running $153-$545. Check out the full day-by-day roster of performers after the jump and let me know what you think. If you ask me, it looks like this event is going to be hotter than July. Road trip, anyone?


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