The fourth and final night of the 2014 ESSENCE Festival was a soulful affair that provided the finishing touch on a weekend filled with great music as the festival’s 20th Anniversary celebration drew to a close. Singer Tamar Braxton kicked the night off with a fun and flirty performance that included such popular songs as “All The Way Home” and “Love and War.” At one point, she yanked away her floor-length skirt to reveal a bodysuit and a set of killer legs before launching into “Hot Sugar.” The uptempo single gave the reality tv star a chance to show off her powerful voice, along with some fancy footwork alongside her four backup dancers. She kept the audience singing and laughing as she often punctuated a statement with her now-signature cathprase, “Get your life!”
Braxton’s performance was then followed up by a surprise appearance from reclusive comedian Dave Chappelle. As he walked on stage, he was met with thunderous applause. He was in good spirits as he introduced the night’s next performer, his pal Erykah Badu, saying “I love her work. I love her spirit and I’m here tonight just to share that love with you.” Badu opened her set with “20 Feet Tall” before breezing through crowd favorites like “On & On,” “Next Lifetime,” “Tyrone” and “Apple Tree,” sometimes stopping to sip tea or tap out a few sounds on her beat machine. She kept the mood light as she joked with the audience, at times changing the lyrics. The audience eagerly ate it up, singing along at the top of their voices. After exiting the stage, she returned for an encore, launching into a reggae-tinged rendition of “Bag Lady” before jumping into the audience where she hugged eager attendees, even allowing some of them to lend a hand with vocals.
Next up, crowd favorite Charlie Wilson proved why he returns to ESSENCE Festival year after year thanks to his high-octane performance. The music veteran kept the audience on their feet for the duration of his set as he made his way through his lengthy catalog of both solo material and songs from his time with The Gap Band. There was something for both new and old fans alike as he powered through tracks like “Yearning for Your Love,” “Charlie, Last Name Wilson,” “If I Believe” and “Outstanding.” Showcasing his stamina, Wilson kept pace with his dancers, only leaving the stage for one of his many blazer changes, including one blazer that even lit up when the lights were dimmed.
The festival’s final performance came courtesy of the legendary Lionel Richie, who helped cool things off after Wilson’s energetic set. The consummate performer took fans on a journey through time as he covered the span of his career, including his time with The Commodores. Attendees like New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu were spotted singing along to classics like “Easy Like Sunday Morning,” “Lady,” “Stuck On You” and “You Are The Sun.” Richie even provided some insight to his songwriting process, admitting that “Three Times A Lady” was written for his mother and inspired by a toast that his father had given. Dressed in all black, including a military-inspired jacket, he marched through his set with precision, stopping to crack jokes every so often. He got the entire audience on its feet with anticipation when he announced that Diana Ross would be coming to the stage to sing their duet “Endless Love,” only to reveal that she wouldn’t be there because she “had to barbecue.”
As festival goers filed out of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at the end of the night, the smiles on their faces made it evident that a good time was had by all, making the 20th anniversary celebration a massive success.