WANTAGH, New York — The Tommy Hilfiger at Jones Beach Theater was only about half full Tuesday night for the traveling Sugar Water Festival, but that half a crowd roared like a full house for singers Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Queen Latifah and Floetry.
The latter, billed as the evening’s special guests, only got about 20 minutes of stage time but made the best of it by singing their hits and some covers by the likes of Mary J. Blige. The headliners then all came out together to welcome the crowd — which included actress Natalie Portman — and then Badu and Scott cleared the way for Latifah.
Backed by a band and a DJ, the Queen started off soul singing and even brought out her father, “Mr. O,” to help sing a song she said she heard around the house growing up: Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger.”
“Seems like a mighty long time,” Papa Owens sang to his daughter, who said, “Thank the Lord for Daddy.” When her pops left, Dana Owens transformed into a familiar mode, the rapstress Queen Latifah.
“The Queen is ready to get hyped,” she said. “Y’all remember Queen Latifah, right?” She then took people back to the early ’90s with “Latifah’s Had It Up 2 Here.”
“I’mma hit y’all with another one,” she said, segueing into “Ladies First” by saying, “I been all around the world, and I always demand the respect of ladies first.”
After going back into some selections from last year’s The Dana Owens Album, the Queen hit the floor and walked through the crowd while rapping. She said she wanted to find out who’d come to see her.
Jill Scott, up next, had no problem seeing who was showering her with adoration. The crowd was standing on its feet when she commenced her set with “Golden,” and she only gained momentum when she took things back to “The Way,” a hit from her first album, Who Is Jill Scott?: Words and Sounds, Vol. 1.
“Is it the way, you love me, baby?” she and her fans sang.
“You got me trembling, vibrating all over,” she continued. ” Get chills up my spine/ Can we do it one more time?”
Radiating a born-to-sing persona, Scott hit notes high and low, going operatic at points and of course beaming with soul throughout. “I wrote this when I was princess,” Scott said after performing “Do You Remember,” telling her faithful that her mother said she had to earn her “queendom.”
Scott then sang “Gettin’ in the Way” and acted out the confrontation she has in the song: “Suga honey girl, fly, fly away/ I been a lady up to now, don’t know how much more I can take/ Queens shouldn’t swing if you know what I mean/ But I’m bout to take my earrings off, get me some Vaseline.”
Jill ended with “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat),” performing with nothing more than a spotlight shining on her and the breeze from the nearby water blowing through her reddish Afro.
Erykah Badu came on almost as unceremoniously as “Jilly from Philly” had left, without even an introduction. In near darkness, she simply walked up to the mic, and after a few deep breaths, with both hands raised, the R&B rebel began singing “Green Eyes” from 2000′s Mama’s Gun.
As Badu moved into “Cleva,” it was clear the music was taking over her. “All right, all right, all right, all right,” she kept singing.
“Damn, I broke it down early in the show,” she said, almost laughing to herself.
Things turned more serious later, when she delivered “Other Side of the Game,” from her ’97 debut, Baduizm. Erykah didn’t just sing, she took the crowd on a journey into the life of a woman who is conflicted over her love for a drug dealer. And just in case anyone didn’t understand, she explained that the line about her man’s “complex occupation” meant he was “selling dope.”
The song’s sequel, “Danger,” followed. “They got the block on lock/ The trunk stay locked/ Glock on cock/ The block stay hot/ Block on lock/ The trunk stay locked/ Glock on cock/ The block stay hot.”
“Police play dirty,” she continued. “Our man’s in jail. … You gotta move to the trap.” She ended by yelling, “F— the police!”
A personal Badu narrative came into play after “Back in the Day (Puff).” The Texas native talked about how she smoked a lot of weed when she was younger (“I used to wake up early in the morning like Snoop Dogg”), but it caused her to lose her ambition.
Badu said she quit smoking and started drinking but still felt an emptiness in her life. Eventually a voice told her to stop drinking, and she moved on to another addiction: a boyfriend who bought her everything she wanted. Still there was a void, and the voice told her to get rid of her man. Confused, she shed all her vices and the voice finally told her to “pack light.” This led into her hit “Bag Lady,” which is about women finding themselves.
The show ended as it started, with Badu, Scott and Latifah onstage together. This time, though, they paid tribute to Luther Vandross by singing “Never Too Much” (see “R&B Singer Luther Vandross Dead At 54″ ). Latifah and Badu even began beat boxing, and all three played around with some freestyle raps.
The Sugar Water Festival moves on to Boston Wednesday night (July 13) and runs through August 10.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.