erykah-badu_web.jpgWhen the city of Miami Gardens launched its music festival in 2006, a small crowd of about 2,000 people was in attendance.  With each year’s festival, the number of concert goers grew.

In 2007, the festival had about 8,000 attendees, about 15,000 in 2008.

In 2009, over the course of two days, more than 35,000 music lovers converged on Dolphin Stadium to hear a line-up of entertainers that rivals older more established events such as July’s Essence Music festival, an annual three-day event in New Orleans.

Saturday’s Jazz in the Gardens show had 17,849 attendees and Sunday’s show had 18,132, organizers said.

The success of this year’s event was attributed, at least in part, to the power of black radio. Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden, two of the most popular  radio personalities, with nationally syndicated shows, heavily promoted the festival for weeks leading up to the March 28 and 29 dates.  Both DJs also served as hosts of the festival.

The selection of talent was undoubtedly a major factor in the festival’s ability to generate more than $1 million in ticket sales.  Several of the artists could have packed an auditorium on their own.

Saturday’s line-up included earthy/soulful singer Erykah Badu;  her ex-boyfriend, the rapper and actor Common; the legendary Roy Ayers; and R & B crooner Anthony Hamilton, of whom South Florida Times’ photographer Khary Bruyning said, “He made a fan out of me.”

Sunday’s entertainers included old-time favorites such as South African singer and guitarist Jonathan Butler; African songstress Angelique Kidjoe; popular saxophonist Kenny G; perpetual hit maker
Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds; and crowd favorite, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.

Butler, the first of the major artists to take the stage, is an amazing performer. Short in physical stature, Butler is a giant in talent, singing and playing guitar at a level of passion and expertise matched only by few in the music world.

My only complaint about the seriously underrated performer’s set was that it was too short.  He has an extensive body of work, dating back to the early 1980s.  He should have been allowed to draw from that.

Short set notwithstanding, Butler’s closing number was a nearly flawless rendition of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” that more than made up for it.

Butler graciously shared the stage with Tampa saxophonist Eric Darius, whose stage presence and sound made him appear right at home with the veteran performer.

African performer Kidjoe is all energy.   While the give and take between performer and audience was limited, (largely because Kidjoe is new to them), Kidjoe did not allow that to stop her.  She performed at full throttle from the moment she set foot onto the stage until she took her sweat-drenched exit.

Popular sax-man Kenny G literally began his show in the crowd, slowly making his way to the stage.  Playing fan favorites “Silhouette,” “Havana” and later in his set, his career making

“G-Bop,” the curly-haired saxophonist provided an explanation and demonstration about his ability to hold notes as long as he does (he holds the record at 45 minutes, 47 seconds.) Breathing through his nose as he plays is his secret.  

Babyface hit the stage in his cool gear – trim black suit with dark shades – and immediately got the crowd onto its feet with his hit, “This is for the Cool in You.”

The singer and songwriter with an apparent midas touch has penned hundreds of songs for others, and gave the audience a taste via a medley that included hits from Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, Boys II Men and Tevin Campbell.

Edmonds’ efforts at light banter with the crowd were appreciated, but seemed somewhat forced; understandable since the singer is notoriously shy. His mimicked hip gyrations during his brief rendition of R. Kelly’s “Bump and Grind” brought laughter, but moreso because of how uncharacteristic the gestures were for “Face” and his suave demeanor.

An energetic performer, Edmonds, 50, is at his best when he eliminates the antics and allows his beautifully clear voice to flow freely, as he did on “When Can I See You Again,” for which he played guitar.

Taking the stage at well past midnight, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly coasted through a two hour performance that included a whopping 17 songs. Taking a leisurely pace to perform is one the group’s trademarks, and the understandably exhausted crowd basked in the flow.

Front man Beverly said rushing to make new music doesn’t gel with them, and apparently rushing through a set, regardless of what time it starts or how long the audience has waited, was also non-negotiable. The group is currently working on new material, the first in more than 14 years, and – according to Beverly – is taking its time.

“If it’s not right for us, it can’t be right for you all,” he explained of the songwriting and recording process.

Ever the gentleman, Beverly apologized to his fans for their long wait, even gently chastising the acts that preceded him about moving things along more quickly.  At 62, Beverly’s energy is enviable.
During one of the more up-tempo tunes, he jumped up and down like a man half his age.

The group performed all of its classic hits, including “Southern Girl,” “Happy Feelings,”  “Joy and Pain” and the ultimate party song, “Before I Let Go.”

The group appropriately wrapped things up with an expression of gratitude to its loyal fans with, “I Wanna Thank You.”

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Erykah Badu