Janet Jackson filled the Superdome with her 2022 Essence Festival hit-parade showcase | Louisiana Festivals

Never underestimate the drawing power of Janet Jackson on a Saturday night.

On her third trip to the Essence Festival of Culture, Jackson packed the Caesars Superdome. Featuring a headliner with Jackson’s enduring appeal on what is typically a festival’s most popular night reportedly resulted in one of the highest grosses in Essence Fest’s entire 27-year history.

Unlike the more modestly attended Friday show topped by Nicki Minaj, just about every one of the 48,500 available tickets was sold Saturday. It was further proof that Essence is fully restored following two summers of being virtual-only due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Essence Fest encompasses much more than the evening concerts at the Superdome. On Saturday, everyone from Vice-President Kamala Harris to homegrown actor and entrepreneur Wendell Pierce spoke during the free daytime activities at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

But the Dome concert series is still Essence Fest’s signature element. And Jackson was this year’s main event.







Thousands of 2022 Essence Festival of Culture attendees light up their cell phones in the Caesars Superdome at the request of entertainer Doug E. Fresh, who was killing time on the main stage before Janet Jackson’s performance, on Saturday, July 2, 2022.



Jazmine Sullivan

Saturday’s bill was more straight-forward than Friday’s Caribbean-country-hip-hop medley, with the top four slots occupied by female R&B vocalists of multiple generations.

Summer Walker and Jazmine Sullivan presented themselves as standard contemporary R&B vocalists, stylistic descendants of Patti LaBelle. Sullivan wore a bright pink bodysuit and orange cape, an ensemble that, local trombonist “Big” Sam Williams noted on Twitter, was reminiscent of the Pussyfooters Mardi Gras marching club.

They join Nicki Minaj, Wyclef Jean, Nas and two Caribbean bands on main stage

Sullivan dug into “Bust Your Windows,” a tale of taking automotive revenge on a cheater. She and her band cruised through the modest midtempo funk of “Need U Bad,” the first single from her 2008 debut album, “Fearless.” Her final “Pick Up Your Feelings,” from last year’s “Heaux Tales,” concluded her set on a high note.

Patti LaBelle

In 2019, Essence Fest presented a Patti LaBelle tribute in which several singers performed LaBelle’s songs and the legend herself sang a couple. This year, Essence announced another “tribute to Patti LaBelle” for Saturday. Why the festival would host another LaBelle tribute so soon wasn’t explained.

Saturday’s “tribute” turned out to be an actual Patti LaBelle performance, albeit a brief one. Looking fabulous in a sumptuous red ensemble, LaBelle was as graceful and good-natured as ever. She hit and held some big notes in “Love, Need and Want You” and “The Right Kinda Lover.”

“I am so out of breath,” she said. “I’m…how old am I? I am 78 years young.”

You wouldn’t know it from watching and listening to her.

She of course revisited “Lady Marmalade,” the hit single recorded in 1974 in New Orleans with producer Allen Toussaint, the Meters and other local musicians. Debbie Allen, the actress (“Fame,” “Grey’s Anatomy”), dancer, choreographer, producer and director, led a gaggle of guests onstage to dance during the song.

With that, LaBelle abruptly said goodbye barely 30 minutes after she arrived. It was as if the advertised tribute consisted solely of a cameo by LaBelle herself.

Janet Jackson

Between acts on the main stage, presenters ranged from representatives of the festival’s corporate sponsors (“I’d like to talk to you about generational wealth,” said one) to actual entertainers. Between LaBelle and Jackson, New Orleans’ own Mannie Fresh, producer of most of Cash Money Records’ hits, led a brief singalong that culminated with “Back That Azz Up.” Doug E. Fresh showed off his beatboxing skills and coaxed the many thousands of attendees to activate their cell phones’ flashlights; the Dome’s interior looked like a scale model of the Milky Way.

Just after midnight, it was star time. Jackson was sheathed in a glittering, form-fitting fabric that radiated light like an especially brilliant constellation. It made more of a statement than “Feedback,” the 15-year-old single she chose as an opening number.







Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson performs at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans on Saturday, July 2, 2022, in a screen grab image from Hulu’s livestream.


But Jackson soon made clear that, at 56, she’s still more than capable of recapturing the crisp choreography of her youth. She matched her four male dancers step for step.

She dialed up a trio of classic workouts in quick succession — “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “Control” and “Nasty” — before the breezy “That’s the Way Love Goes.” Needing to catch her breath, she sat on a stool for “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun).” As she teased out the erotic “I Get Lonely,” she got handsy with a couple of her dancers.

Exasperation is comic storyteller’s stock in trade

During her 2010 Essence performance, she memorialized her late brother Michael, who had died the previous year, with “Together Again.” When she returned to Essence in 2018, she dedicated the same song to her father, who had died days earlier. This year, she didn’t need to memorialize anyone. Thus, she could present “Together Again” strictly on its own merits.

Overall, there was a lightness to Jackson’s performance that was lacking in 2018 and at the local stop of her “Unbreakable” tour in 2015. That lightness was especially apparent in the second act of Saturday’s show, after she’d changed into more casual streetwear .

Her hardworking drummer eased back for “Miss You Much.” In “Don’t Stand Another Chance,” the airiness in Jackson’s voice nearly caused it to float away; the song’s bass line kept the arrangement anchored and in the grove.

Jackson’s music is not built for improvisation, so there were no surprise guests on Saturday. But she was pleasant and personable and seemed to be enjoying one of the few performances she has booked this year.

Her effervescence was especially apparent on “Escapade.” Urging on the audience, she quipped, “I came from London, y’all,” a reference to her current hometown. “Escapade” dove headlong into the brawny guitar riff of “Black Cat .” Following an extended guitar solo — the most work her guitarist got all night — she said a quick goodnight.

She returned for her signature “Rhythm Nation,” which came across like funk from the future even though it’s now, shockingly, 33 years old.

The song, like Jackson, still delivers.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.