By Dwight Brown NNPA Entertainment Writer
It’s back in Miami. After a COVID hiatus, the lights shined bright at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Singers and musicians rocked the stage and fans danced like it was a block party at the 2022 Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival. Though the event takes place at the Stadium, the actual concert grounds are on the surrounding property and folks wandered around the concert venue, food concessions and crafts shops like they were at a family reunion.
The center stage is faced by a sea of seats that spread wide and long. Music lovers assembled afternoons and evenings on Saturday March 12th and Sunday March 13th. The fest’s 15-year-old spirit drew them back, a stellar line up awaited them and that sense of comradery Black people crave bound the thousands upon thousands of concertgoers together. It was like a mini city.
Opening Night, Saturday March 12th
Mother nature threw the event a curve ball with a rainstorm between 3pm and 4pm. The first act was supposed to appear at 4:30—it didn’t. That delay meant crowds gathered at the front gates and entry was exceedingly slow, as many complained. The grumbling stopped as soon as the music started.
Chicago saxophonist Mark Allen Felton warmed the crowd up. SWV (Sisters with Voices) got the party goers on their feet. When The Roots took the stage, the quality and musicianship went up several levels. Notably, Questlove was not on the drums. But fortunately, lead rapper vocalist Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter was in top form and his spontaneous rapping and vocals mesmerized the audience. Only the drummer stood still. The tubist, guitarist, bassist and trumpet player pranced around the stage with abandonment. The group is from Philly, but their passionate, lively act and extreme professionalism was so New Orleans. They upped their mojo when rapper T-Pain joined them, encouraging the audience to “Party up!” A wonderful blend of rap, soul and jazz fusion.
Hard to believe the Isley Brothers first hit was in 1959 with “Shout.” But there they were on stage, octogenarians delivering hits like the group did back in the ‘50s, ‘60, ‘70s and ‘80s. “Who’s that Lady” was crooned, “Fight the Power” bellowed out like a call to action and “Between the Sheets” totally seduced the audience. Reminiscing with them was a joy and they hit a real groove with the classic “Living for the Love of You.” The entire throng of R&B lovers were spellbound. It was enough to make them put down their drinks, fried fish and conch salads and pay rapt attention.
The lead up acts were great but, most where there for the headliner, Mary J. Blige. With her band and backup singers split on both sides of the stage, Mary walked to the front to thunderous applause. Platinum blonde hair running down her back and flowing behind her. Dressed in a white top, black leather shorts and sequined high-heel boots, she strode around the stage doing her hits. Initially, her act was as tight as a Las Vegas Show. Choreographed perfectly, musicians in synch and Mary being the hip-hop goddess that she is. The pinnacles of her performance were “Real Love” and “No More Drama.” But there was drama, in the form of a sound malfunction. Mary stopped the show to tell her crew they had to get it right, because “these people have been waiting for me all night.” She took care of her audience.
Closing Night, Sunday March 13th
Saturday’s rainstorm was a thing of the past. Entry at the gate this night was quick and easy, and Mary’s aura still hung over the crowd. Contemporary jazz saxophonist Mike Phillips got the audience into a smooth vibe. Pop/gospel, Grammy-winning artist Jonathan McReynolds used his silky tenor voice to sooth everyone with uplifting music. Stockley, former lead singer for Mint Condition, roused the attendees with a lively show and hits from his new album “Sankofa.”
Rapper and record executive Rick Ross didn’t need a band behind him to get the audience galvanized. With just a DJ and backing tracks he stormed around the stage with his blistering rhymes. In-between songs he continued to remind folks that this was home: “I need you to know I grew up a couple of blocks from here … I’m home grown.” He hit a peak with the badass rap “I Got a Chopper in the Car.” He warned: “I’m not a star, somebody lied. I got a chopper in the car, so don’t make it come alive (Yeah).”
All the excitement died down to a whisper when featured artist H.E.R. came on stage. Dressed in a shiny silver smock-shirt dress and wearing large sunglasses she pulled what was left of the late-night audience into her low-key, neo soul and very mellow realm. Excerpts from her 2021 album “Back of My Mind” dominated her act. Its most popular song, “Damage,” became a singalong. She sang: “Careful what you take for granted, yeah. ‘Cause with me, know you could do damage.” H.E.R.’s coolness comes from an inner vibe and her flexible voice has allowed her to duet with just about anyone, from Daniel Caesar to country western star Chris Stapleton, to Khalid. Sounds of her murmuring soulful voice capped the night.
At concert end, fest goers streamed out of the venue where they had listened to hits, danced for hours and communed with others over a couple of days that marked a return to normal. A normal where like-minded music lovers gather to celebrate R&B with hints of jazz.
Visit NNPA News Wire Entertainment Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.