He was buried in the middle of Friday night’s Cincinnati Music Festival bill, but Bobby Brown is not one to fade into the background.
Instead, Brown took hold of Paul Brown Stadium in what will go down as one of the most memorable moments in the history of the annual two-day music fest.
Maxwell was the headliner, and he was great. The air temperature dropped as the New York singer came to the stage and delivered a set of cool, mid-tempo love songs that took the festival past midnight.
He was preceded by Earth, Wind & Fire, who ran off one smash hit after another. A person would have to be a grade-A complainer to find fault with a set that goes from “Sing a Song” to “Getaway” to “Devotion” and so on.
But let’s complain anyway. Maxwell’s set was almost too pleasant. Or maybe it was just too late. It started at 11:30 p.m., and there was a stream of people heading to the gates soon after he started.
And as good as EW&F were, it’s what’s expected. They came out and did the hits and did them well. That’s them.
With Bobby Brown, it’s the great unknown, and that can be exciting.
Brown appeared as one-fourth of RBRM, the R&B supergroup featuring his fellow former New Edition members Ricky Bell, Ronnie DeVoe and Michael Bivins.
The quartet’s set included New Edition songs, as well as hits by the post-New Edition, non-Bobby Brown ensemble Bell Biv DeVoe, and solo Bobby Brown material.
Brown took center stage near the end of the set and acknowledged that they were running out of time. But he added that he didn’t care about going over the time allotment.
“They told me not to do this in Cincinnati, but I’m breaking it down,” he began. “They said, ‘Bobby, you only got a few minutes.’” And then he broke it down.
“Today is an extremely, extremely important day for me. Today, I lost my daughter,” he said. Friday was the four-year anniversary of the death of Bobbi Kristina Brown, Brown’s daughter with his late wife, Whitney Houston.
“I talk to this one every day,” he said, holding a pendant between his finger and thumb. “This is my daughter. I know I should be somewhere outside of here, but I chose to spend this day with you guys. I know she’s watching down on me. I know she wants me to come down and perform.”
He then began to sing the phrase: “Just go out there and sing.” Tears streamed down his face.
RBRM followed it up with two huge hit songs: “Every Little Step” and “Poison,” but they fell somewhat flat, as there was no good way to follow Brown’s moment.
Through it all there was a crowd of 31,500 cheering on Brown. As in past years, the plurality, or perhaps majority, of attendants drove five hours from the northwest to see the show. When local media personality Lincoln Ware took the mic after RBRM’s set and shouted out the names of midwest cities, Chicago by far received the loudest response.
Cincinnati Music Festival chief Joe Santangelo expects a larger crowd for Saturday’s show. He credited Friday’s turnout, which topped the attendance of last year’s Friday night, on the quality of the bill, which also included strong performances from Tamia and Raheem DeVaughn.
“It seemed like people were having a great time, and that’s the name of the game for me,” Santangelo said.
Saturday’s lineup includes Mary J. Blige, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Blackstreet, the Ohio Players and Major. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are priced from $60-150. Call 513-924-0900 for information.
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