For the fifth time in as many years, Mary J. Blige graced the Essence Music Festival stage last night in New Orleans. Galvanizing her legion of ravenous fans during a set that followed main-stage performances from Tank, Mary Mary, Ledisi and comedian Kevin Hart, even the ushers were two-stepping unapologetically; in between performing a number of hits that spanned her entire twenty-year career, Blige also made time to unleash covers of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” and Charlie Wilson’s “Outstanding” for the Mercedes Benz Superdome crowd.
When the beat dropped for songs like “Real Love,” “Family Affair,” “Just Fine,” and “Not Gon’ Cry,” audience members took to their feet and assisted the sequin-clad star with lyrics and adlibs alike, creating an energetic exchange with their heroine that was, on more than one occasion, acknowledged by a grateful, “so pleased” Mary J. Blige.
But as she closed the festival’s second night (of three), there truly was something about Mary. Raw with emotion, the prodigious queen of R and B sang like she meant every word of the more-somber selections on her set list, fighting off tears throughout her entire performance. Summoning fortitude like the legendary pro that she is, Blige managed to quiet whatever seemingly ailed her and delivered messages of strength to the women in the audience. “You know why he doesn’t love us? Because he’s ‘Mr. Wrong,’” she declared before launching into the Drake-featured track off her 2011 release, My Life II.
Grateful to be embraced at Essence year after year, Queen Mary opened up to VH1 News’ Janell Snowden during the festival’s opening night to clarify that attending events like EMF was something alien to her as a youngster. “My very first concert was New Edition Reunion with Al B. Sure,” Blige told Janell of her Madison Square Garden experience, also noting that she’s been looking forward to seeing Aretha Franklin and (unlisted spoiler!) Chaka Khan on Sunday’s final night at the festival. “That’s a once in a lifetime thing that they’re here at the same time,” she gushed. Trust us, Mary: between those main-stage headliners and tonight’s Superlounge shows with Luke James, Carl Thomas, Eve, and Raheeem Devaughn, we can’t wait either!