Beyoncé rouses weary Essence crowd to close fest

Beyoncé’s star power helped make the final night of the 2013 Essence Festival the biggest night in the festival’s 19-year history. Singer-dancer Beyoncé and her troupe of 10 dancers, all-female band and trio of backup singers dubbed the Mamas closed the festival’s three days of music Sunday at the sold-out Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Regardless of occasional jets of flame and smoke and a few showers of golden sparkles, Beyoncé’s show was heavy on music and dance, definitely not reliant upon special effects. Starting just after 11 p.m. and running nearly two hours, the performance moved efficiently along, its momentum never seriously stalled by the star’s and her dancers’ frequent costume changes.

Following video of Beyoncé in queenly attire surrounded by ladies of her court, she made her entrance rising through the stage floor. Apropos for a festival presented by Essence, the magazine and brand where, as the company’s website proclaims, “black women come first,” Beyoncé opened with a fierce performance of her 2011 hit “Run the World (Girls).”

The empowerment theme returned throughout the show. In “Irreplaceable,” for instance, the singer tells a man exactly how replaceable he is and, by the way, he better not touch her stuff while he’s moving out. The song, not to mention the message, got a big response.

A woman who obviously runs her own show, Beyoncé wasn’t much for stage banter Sunday, but she did chide the audience sometimes for not being enthusiastic enough.

“Y’all all right?” the skeptical star asked a few songs into the show. Not satisfied, she repeated, “I said, ‘Are y’all all right?!’ ”

Once the audience was sufficiently expressive enough for Queen B, she mentioned her appreciation for the city that’s not so far from her Gulf Coast hometown, Houston. “We all are very happy to be here tonight,” she said. “This city has inspired my music so much.”

Throughout the weekend, Essence Festival performance in the Superdome was heavy with crowd participation. Beyoncé’s show was no exception. After welcoming the audience to the world tour she has titled “The Mrs. Carter Show” (she’s married to rapper Jay-Z, aka Shawn Carter), the singer sassed the crowd again, saying, “Y’all are on 3. I need y’all to bring me up to 10.”

But following days of performers dividing Superdome audiences into competing sections for which section could be the loudest, festival closing act Beyoncé came late to that party. Fortunately, she also brought an arsenal of hits with her, including the throbbing, world-music influenced “Baby Boy” and, of course, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” A crowd favorite, “Single Ladies” got a joyful performance Sunday featuring the singer with first two and then eight female dancers.

As much a Michael Jackson-inspired, mainstream pop artist as she is an R&B star, Beyoncé’s Superdome set list also included the bouncing, happy pop of “Love on Top,” featuring another big ensemble of dancers. Multiple trap doors on the stage allowed the dancers to make seamless entries to and exits from the stage.

In addition to the “Mrs. Carter Show’s” lady dancers, Beyoncé brought Les Twins, a pair of athletic twin brothers from France, Laurent and Larry Bourgeois. The star, her songs, that big band, the singers and those many dancers all added up a highly theatrical, old-school show business presentation, staged in a big way.

Beyond Beyoncé’s international diva status, the 31-year-old mother of one has a beautiful voice, one that her rhythm-heavy hits don’t always showcase. Her vocal gift was especially obvious when she sang, a cappella, the opening lines of the Dolly Parton-penned Whitney Houston hit “I Will Always Love You.”

“Y’all scream so Whitney can hear you,” she said before segueing into her own ballad “Halo.”

It may have taken the star a while to warm her Essence audience up, but the crowd, perhaps worn out by four days of music, empowerment sessions and late nights at the Superdome, came around.

“Thank you so much Essence,” Beyoncé said before her early Monday morning exit. “We had a beautiful night.”