by Tim Gordon
Love and drama were in the air tonight as Grammy Award winner Mary J. Blige kicked off the Wolftrap Summer Concert Series with a rousing show that left a throng of standing fans satisfied and gave the embattled performer a chance to release so much pain by simply taking it to the stage.
Blige opened the show by taking audiences through her sizable catalog of funky hits often holding the microphone as her fans sang every word back to her. She playfully danced and strutted delivery signature songs with the support of her talented four-piece band and backup singers. Equal parts entertainer and counselor, Blige shared her pain while weaving her personal tragedy in the midst of her songs, effortlessly balancing her heavy emotions and simultaneously projecting an independent and confident performing persona.
With recent reports of strife in her personal life, Blige radiated, dancing and celebrating with an adoring throng of supporter who merrily sang along and magically fell under her loving spell. Looking absolutely stunning, Blige shepherded the audience through her legendary career, performing most of her hit songs even slowing it down to address her own martial issues and the hurt she endured with a packed house who hung on to her every word.
In The Five Heartbeats, there’s a line that Donald “Duck” Matthews (Robert Townsend) delivers so profoundly. ‘Donald Matthews will be a great writer one day when he suffers more.’ And I said to myself, What does that mean? Now I know what it means.” Blige epitomizes that philosophy with her music as she infuses each and every song in her canon with an emotional touch benefiting someone who has danced on the razor’s edge and lived to tell the tale.
Great artists channel their pain into great art and recently we’ve seen Chris Rock and Usher Raymond turn their heartaches into amazing triumphs. Blige isn’t the first, nor will she be the last to use her art to heal her heartache. If tonight’s show is any indication, Blige needed to release her pain to the audience as much as they were there to console her and give her back so much of what she’s given to them over her 26-year career.
Toward the end of the show, Blige’s performance of “No More Drama,” perfectly captured the essence of her entire performance as she literally seemed to exorcise all of her personal demons, emotionally leaving it all out on the floor. As far as her adoring fans were concerned, that was “real love!”