NEW ORLEANS – In a rare appearance, Lauryn Hill commanded a stage Saturday at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival as thousands of spectators looked on — some pleased by her performance, others not so much.
Hill debuted at the festival, pumping up the crowd with hits such as “Everything is Everything,” “The Sweetest Thing,” and “Lost Ones,” before moving into a segment spotlighting Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” and “Is this Love.”
Angelique Dyer, of New Orleans, described herself as a fan and said Hill’s first festival performance was well worth the wait.
“She was perfect,” Dyer exclaimed after the show. “Before she got on stage I was praying she wouldn’t change the songs up too much and she didn’t.”
But another self-described fan, Melanie Bienemy, also of New Orleans, said she was unhappy that Hill’s set focused so much on rap and not enough on her vocal skills.
“I was a little disappointed,” Bienemy said. “She has such a beautiful voice and the fact that she didn’t exercise that talent as much was a letdown.”
Some of the discontent with the performance, Bienemy said, was a result of the overly-raspy sound of Hill’s voice and the fact that she appeared to rush through material. “We really couldn’t hear her that well either,” she said.
That was evident as the five-time Grammy Award winner — who now bills herself as Ms. Lauryn Hill — was a bundle of nervous energy, constantly interacting with her band to play faster, with more vigor. She also was unhappy with the stage crew, urging them to balance the audio.
Hill strongly delved into the repertoire by The Fugees, her former group, with such songs as “Ooh La La La,” “Killing Me Softly,” and “Ready or Not.” Those in the crowd sang along and Hill appeared to feed off their response.
Hill briefly and unexpectedly left the microphone toward the end of the set, prompting a bit of anxiety in the crowd. But, when she returned, a roar rose up as the first bars of “Doo Wop (That Thing)” rang into the atmosphere. When it was over, she smiled.
“Thanks New Orleans, we had a good time,” she said.
“It was great seeing you guys,” Hill said, before waving goodbye to her fans.
“Lauryn Hill’s been blowing up for years,” said Tim Anderson of New Orleans. “There must be thousands of people here watching her show, but the best part of it is watching the crowd watch her.”
“I was so fulfilled by the performance,” said Devinne James, of New Orleans. “This is what I come to jazz fest for. Her passion for what she does makes you passionate as well. She was so worth it. I feel the same way when I listen to her albums.”
Her friend, Jaune Boudreaux, of New Orleans, said she had never seen Hill perform live. “Her energy was contagious,” she said.