Mary J. Blige and Patti LaBelle at Jazz in the Gardens in Miami, March 18

Jazz in the Gardens 2012

With Mary J. Blige, Patti LaBelle, Sensere, Nicole Henry, Kevin Eubanks, and Kenny G

Sun Life Stadium

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Better Than:Kenny G doing a saxophone solo while writhing around in a bed of roses. Well, Mr. G was there. But a bed of roses was not included.

Really, I wasn't sure what to expect from Jazz in the Gardens when it came to the size of the event. But of course, Gardens organizers snagged Jill Scott, Patti LeBelle and Mary J. Blige. So there was no way this fest would disappoint.

And indeed, this soiree wasn't big. It was huge.

Imagine Ultra minus the ravers cracked out on Ecstasy. Instead, it was ladies and gentlemen dressed in their Sunday best. Which I can imagine many of the ladies regretted, considering the concert was held in a field beside Sun Life Stadium. Heels and grass is never, ever a good a thing.

Once you arrived, you might not have felt like you were at the stadium. But your pocketbook did when it came to cocktails. Not only South Beach is gouging us for our beloved vodka and soda ... Sunlife is too.

But this being our first attempt at Jazz in the Gardens, we apparently just didn't know better. The veterans of this event had their purses packed with mini-bottles ready to be consumed. Well, we know better now.

Oh, and we will also arrive earlier to wait in line for Reed's Catering. Don't know about Reed's? Oh, let us catch you up.

There was food and shopping galore at the Gardens. And any classic dish from the islands (with a dash of carnival food) that you might be craving, it was there.

Really, though, it was all about Reed's Catering. Maybe I am out of the loop, but I had never heard of Mr. Reed or his classic Bahamian catering. When you passed through the security gates, it was the first booth in the fest's massive row of vendors. But Reed's wasn't hard to miss; the stall had a line of at least 100 people all day and night.

And we aren't talking a normal line ... It was a cattle herd-like line of attendees starving for his $15 conch salad that comes inside of pineapple with conch fritters popping out of the top. Sadly, I wasn't able to grab one. I needed to catch what we had gone for in the first place: Patti LaBelle and Mary J. Blige.

Sorry to be supercheesy, but there was definitely an unbelievable level of intensity inside those gates last night. I mean, two of soul music's biggest icons took the stage, one after the other.

Honestly, I was a tad shocked that Ms. LaBelle was before Ms. Blige. In my mind, it was Patti closing the show or nothing. Yes, she is an absolute diva and her performance definitely confirmed it.

LaBelle kicked things off with "New Attitude," which transformed this low-key jazz event into a full-on sing-along frenzy. She followed the opener with any and every classic song that ever made you love her. I am talking about stuff like "Somebody Loves You" and "Lady Marmalade." Oh, and Ms. LaBelle wants you to know that she was the first to sing "If You Asked Me To" -- not Celine Dion.

While I might have wanted a little more LaBelle, it was time for Blige. But not before the DJ put on every wedding song you love to hate and again, causing the audience to boogie down. Maybe it was a little more like Ultra than we thought.

If you are a lady and you've never seen Mary J. Blige live, make sure you do. And if you are a man that takes your woman to a MJB show, we warn you she will leave the most empowered woman you have ever come in contact with.

In between her number-one hits, Ms. Blige told stories of how much she had ever overcome. If you aren't aware of her life story, go read Crossfade's interview with Mary J. about everything from life, love, death, drugs, and God. Then go buy all the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul's albums.

While singing jams like "Family Affair" and "I Am Going Down," it was as if every woman in that place needed to sing out her bad days. Oh, and sing they did. Thank God for good acoustics, because if not, you wouldn't have been able to hear her over the 10,000 backup singers, AKA her audience.

Then every man, woman, and child lost their minds while she performed "No More Drama." I mean, I would be lying if I said I wasn't pumping my first in the air with pride the entire time.

Critic's Notebook

Show Highlight: Just when you thought it was over, Ms. Blige came back on stage to end the evening with "Be Without You." And being without her is what I felt driving back onto I-95 to head home. Oh, Mary J. Blige and Patti LaBell left us wanting more. Like, a lot more.

Final Thought: Jazz in the Gardens, we will see you next year.

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Stacey Russell
Contact: Stacey Russell