Review & Set List: Aretha Franklin Wows at the Syracuse Jazz Festival

Aretha Franklin proved on Saturday night that, at the age of 73, there still may be no one greater.

Franklin wowed the crowd at the Syracuse Jazz Festival with an hour-and-a-half of hits, mostly from her 60's catalog. Out of the twelve songs performed, she did all six of her breakout singles from 1967 (I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You), Do Right Woman Do Right Man, Respect, Baby I Love You, (You Make Me Feel Like (A Natural Woman), Chain of Fools).

Aretha's show is a bit different, and has been for a number of years, with the singer hitting the stage for six songs followed by a ten to fifteen minute break while her band features solos. Then she's back for a half dozen more. On Saturday, the band, which is made up of a touring core and local pickup musicians, played a superb version of Stevie Wonder's Another Star during the break.

Franklin also spent time during the second half taking the crowd to church, testifying like she was at Sunday services, talking about the lord and satan and, at one point, telling the audience about the doctors telling her that her CAT scan was "clear". While she has never detailed the reason for her hospitalization a few years back, the crowd in Syracuse on Saturday certainly had a few clues thrown their way.

As for her singing, Franklin was superb, hitting notes that most 73-year-olds wouldn't have any business even trying. Yet, in two piano-based numbers later in the show, she brought things to a quiet level and proved just how tender and nuanced her voice can be. That especially came through on a superb take on My Cup Runneth Over, the 60's pop classic from the Broadway show I Do, I Do.

Finally, beyond singing, Aretha knows how to motivate the crowd. She had them in her hands from the first number, dancing at their seats, clapping in rhythm and filling in parts as she encouraged them from the stage.

Prior to Franklin, Boston's Lake Street Dive took the stage with vocalist Rachel Price being one of the few singers that could open for Aretha and have any chance of not having her vocals look pale in comparison. Price, and the rest of her band, are real gems who deserve a great deal more recognition. Their originals fell into a jazz blues vain while their covers, such as a slow bluesy take on the Jackson 5's I Want You Back put real twists on well known classics.

As far as the Syracuse Jazz Festival as a whole, this is their 33rd years of bringing quality entertainment and big names to central New York and they do it FOR FREE. Even parking was only $5, an amazing low cost to see one of the great legends of our time and some real quality up-and-coming artists.

The set list:

Main Set
  • (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher (Jackie Wilson cover)
  • Baby I Love You (from Aretha Arrives, 1967)
  • (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (from Lady Soul, 1968)
  • Think (from Aretha Now, 1968)
  • Do Right Woman, Do Right Man (from I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You, 1967)
  • Chain of Fools (from Lady Soul, 1968)
  • Another Star (band instrumental)
  • Rolling in the Deep / Ain't No Mountain High Enough (from Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, 2014)
  • I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) (from I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You, 1967)
  • Bridge Over Troubled Water (from Aretha's Greatest Hits, 1971)
  • My Cup Runneth Over (from Rare & Unreleased Recordings From the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul, 2007; originally recorded during the Young, Gifted & Black sessions (1972))
  • Happy Birthday (to bandleader H.B. Barnum)
  • Freeway of Love (from Who's Zoomin' Who?, 1985)
  • Respect (from I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You, 1967)

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