Courtesy of Cincinnati Music Festival
Photo 1/6
Courtesy of Cincinnati Music Festival
Photo 2/6
Courtesy of Cincinnati Music Festival
Photo 3/6
Courtesy of Cincinnati Music Festival
Photo 4/6
Courtesy of Cincinnati Music Festival
Photo 5/6
Courtesy of Cincinnati Music Festival
Photo 6/6

Cincinnati in the house! The Cincinnati Music Festival Presented by P&G took place July 28 and 29 in the city’s downtown area, and while the event is already the biggest urban music festival in the country, this year they outdid themselves. With large contingents from Chicago, Detroit and points beyond joining Cincinnati-based fans at Paul Brown Stadium, attendance surpassed 43,000 on opening night and skyrocketed to 46,500 for the big finale. And stars like Mary J. Blige, Usher, Kem and Fantasia took advantage as they worked their audiences into a frenzy with their headlining and high-energy performances.

A “party with a purpose” took place in the stadium’s foyer the evening before the festival started and whipped up some extra fun for attendees; the fundraising event included a fashion show and performances by Doug E. Fresh, Rob Base and Kid Capri. Then things got started in earnest on July 28 with a line-up that featured SWV, En Vogue, Bell Biv DeVoe, Kem and Blige (read our review here.) With Usher at the top of the bill for closing day, fans couldn’t wait to get back to the stadium for more grooving, dancing and singing along.

Ro James was the opening act on the festival’s second evening and the New York City-based artist closed his set with the sexy “Permission” where he outlines what he wants to do with his lover, but only after getting the green light. Fans know what the song is about but James might as well have been giving the crowd the green light to party down as he left the crowd with a serious buzz going for the next act, old school funk masters ConFunkShun. ConFunkShun have been pleasing fans for 45-years, and with their three-man brass section adding punch to their sound they blasted through favorites like “Love’s Train,” “Ffun,” “Let Me Put Love on your Mind,” “Shake and Dance with Me” and “Too Tight” where bass player Eric Young slapped out a super-tight and funky solo.

The show continued with Anthony Hamilton who had the large crowd rapt with songs like his hit “Best of Me;” no doubt many of the ladies in the house were close to a swoon when he sang seductive lyrics like, “Girl, let’s make this a moment…” Hamilton also performed his big hit “Charlene” which he introduced as a song he wrote when he was enduring serious problems with his love life. One-time “American Idol” winner Fantasia demonstrated how her talents have matured since her time on the television show, masterfully injecting heart and soul into a set that included “No Time For It,” “When I See U,” “Without Me,” “Superwoman,” a cover of John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary” and a somber reading of “Strange Fruit” which was originally made famous by Billie Holiday.

After a crowd rave-up and brief performance from Doug E. Fresh, who hosted the entire festival, Usher took the stage with dramatic flair as he jumped off a riser and landed between two of his dancers and they all began a choreographed routine to accompany the first song. The dancing and a few other effects gave Usher’s fans lots to look at, but with his hit-filled set including “U Don’t Have to Call,” “Love in This Club,” “Impression” and many others, the star had the audience in the palm of his hand until the show and festival came to a close.

The 2018 Cincinnati Music Festival will take place July 26-28. Details will be announced here.