by Calvin Cox
You couldn't have asked for better weather for Saturday night's festivities on the riverfront. Granted, it was a little on the hot and humid side, but still surprisingly mild for St. Louis in July. The crowd was as enormous as you might expect; many came out specifically for John Legend, while others were there for the Fair St. Louis activities and fireworks.
Due to the Mississippi's high water levels, the main stage was moved directly underneath the Arch. It was nicely framed by the giant monument, and the sound system could be heard clearly all the way to I-70. Large video screens on either side helped those farthest away get a glimpse of the onstage action.
Aloha hit the stage shortly after 6:30, accompanied by a full band dressed all in white. Sporting a more fashionable look than she was known for during her run on American Idol in 2005, she had the "pop diva" look working for her on Saturday, her short hairstyle and long legs bringing to mind St. Louis great Tina Turner. Aloha (aka Aloha Mischeaux) opened with covers of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" and OutKast's "Hey Ya!" before launching into her new single "Bad," which she then transitioned into Michael Jackson's 1987 song of the same name.
She split a half-hour set with Bradd Young, whose single "Grown Man" is reminiscent of the Prince classic "Purple Rain." (Like Prince, the singer-producer also played a little guitar onstage.) The two up-and-coming openers showed promise in front of the massive audience.
There was about a 50-minute intermission before Legend's headlining set, during which time I took my youngster to the K-Town Kids Zone. This area had free activities for crumb snatchers of all ages, including face painting, sports and arcade games; the main attraction was a pretty entertaining half-hour show by the Purina Incredible Dog Team. Walking around the fairgrounds, the smell of kettle corn and barbecue took me back to my younger days, when the event was still known as the V.P. Fair.
By the time John Legend took the stage, the Arch grounds were packed with a sea of onlookers. He was the epitome of the "smooth" soul singer, wearing a blue button-down and aviators as he sat behind a grand piano, accompanied by backup singers. Legend began his set with "Used to Love U" (from his debut album, 2004's Get Lifted), followed it with songs like "Everybody Knows" and "Green Light" (both from 2008's Evolver), and threw in the occasional cover, including the O'Jays' "Stairway to Heaven." Little more than an hour later, he closed with his 2005 breakout hit, "Ordinary People."
Immediately following the concert was the fireworks display off the river, which provided a stunning finale; for a night of free entertainment, it doesn't get much better. The only trade-off was battling the crowd on the way out -- in addition to Fair Saint Louis, the Cardinals played at home Saturday night, so the highways were packed and Metro Transit had its hands full. In my estimation, however, the concert was well worth it.