Prince headlined the Essence Festival in New Orleans on Friday night, joining forces with Nile Rodgers, Janelle Monae, Trombone Shorty and Lianne La Havas to make it a 4th July to remember.
Janelle Monae kicked off proceedings in the Superdome with a high-energy performance, including her recent hits Q.U.E.E.N and Dance Apocalyptic from her latest album, The Electric Lady, as well as Tightrope and Cold War from her previous album, The ArchAndroid. A huge roar erupted around the stadium near the end of her set, during a cover of Prince’s Lets Go Crazy, when the man himself appeared and borrowed guitarist Kellindo’s axe to play the end of the song, with Janelle on her knees in front of him.
Nile Rodgers was up next, who, along with his band Chic, turned the stadium into a massive disco, churning out songs like Everybody Dance, Get Lucky, Le Freak and Good Times while the Superdome partied. Janelle Monae came back on stage for We Are Family, which was sung by Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge in a very well-kept secret appearance. During Let’s Dance (which was produced by Rodgers), Prince appeared on stage again to play guitar alongside Nile for the first time ever, as the crowd screamed in approval.
With Doug E Fresh DJing between sets, saying he was under strict instructions from Prince to “keep the party going all night”, it was soon time for the Purple One to finally start his own performance.
Promising “14 hits in a row” to start things off, he delivered in style. The onslaught included Let’s Go Crazy, Raspberry Beret, When Doves Cry, Controversy and then, just as the clock neared midnight on this special 4th of July party, of course he played 1999. Following a fun rendition of Kiss, he brought UK singer Lianne La Havas out to do a stunning duet of his mournful ballad, Sometimes It Snows In April, which was a rare quiet moment in an otherwise highly energetic set.
With the crowd’s appetite for older hits sated, Prince and the band kept everyone dancing with one of his latest tunes, Funk n Roll, a horn-heavy number with an infectious beat, before jumping all over both his catalogue and that of his associated acts, including The Time and Sheila E, in a relentless medley of funk.
Finally he thanked the crowd and disappeared, as the audience demanded more. “Purple Rain, Purple Rain,” was the predictable chant, so eventually he reappeared and delivered. As the 45,000-strong audience lit up with mobile phone lights, he asked the crowd to sing along for the near-10 minute anthem and, of course, they obliged.
As many were leaving the stadium, fans in-the-know poured into the now-open VIP section, a wave of purple surging towards the stage just in time for a sneaky second encore, as Prince and the band appeared for one more song – the hard-core fan favourite, Days of Wild.
While most left the Superdome to go home, a few hundred made their way to the House Of Blues for the afterparty, headlined by a woman who, while still singing back-up for Prince, is now carving out a successful solo career of her own. Vocal powerhouse, Liv Warfield, along with her band, Blackbird, and the NPG Hornz, delivered a show that kept the party going literally until the sun came up. With guest appearances from Estelle, Elle Varner, Luke James, Shelby Johnson, New Orleans native Trombone Shorty and even Prince himself at one point, it was a perfect complement to the star-studded evening earlier at the Superdome.
Liv wrapped up the night at around 5:30am, explaining that she had to save something for the following night’s performance. Her idea of holding back is clearly different to most, as she finished with blistering back-to-back renditions of two of the biggest songs on her recent album, The Unexpected, being Why Do You Lie and Blackbird.
Liv Warfield, Blackbird and the NPG Hornz are due to perform again on Saturday night in the Superlounge as the Essence Festival continues all weekend.