Jill Scott : Philadelphia Museum Of Art

Philly's finest soulstress kicks off her tour at the Welcome America Festival...

The ‘Welcome America’ festival started about a decade or so back as a twin-pronged patriotic blowout: one part to boost the then-ailing Philadelphia tourism industry and another, given our fair city’s keystone position in the history and lore of the American revolution, to celebrate lots of Ben Franklin this and George Washington that.

The festival itself boasts nothing less than a full week of fireworks and hot dogs, as well as a July 4th blowout with entertainment attractions such as Dionne Warwick or Mel Gibson reading the Declaration of Independence. The rule of thumb for the entertainment selection seems to favor folks who are so innocuously tempered to please everyone that they just might not please anyone at all.

As if to highlight this, tonight’s headliner is Garth Brooks. And the opener is Jill Scott, from North Philly, who gets to slide under the rule with a serious home-court advantage and an industry buzz that even the ordinarily clueless mainstream press here can’t ignore. Taking the stage with a huge smile, wearing a sort of choir-robe thing that’s short enough in front just to show a little leg, it’s easy to see that this, well, this is Jill Scott‘s moment: she endearingly chides the crowd, she does lots of funny little head turns while she’s emoting, she even gets the crowd to look up from their funnel cakes and Cokes to applaud mid-song a few times.

In this moment, she’s our new Dr. J, our new Hall & Oates, and especially when she’s bringing it down, our new Patti Labelle. Scott has the friendly, knowing cadences of – Lauryn Hill – it’s implicit in the short, almost show-tuney rendition of ‘Brotha’ tonight – and her band is the kind of multi-culti chops-intensive unit that the early ’90s promised would one day be the musical norm in the brave new world.

But for all of Scott‘s homegrown appeal – as well as her certain worldliness that is the hallmark, you can tell, of a young lady who is in this for the long haul – the show is dead boring. The crack band veers – nay, almost blindsides itself – into smooth jazz territory way too many times for it to be an accident, and even Scott – who’s got a set of nu-soul pipes to match anyone in the business – seems like she’s being crushed under the weight of having to impress her entire city. It’s a tough thing to do, in an even tougher


Joey Sweeney