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Inspiring Festival overcomes obstacles

If good intentions were the secret to success, last night's Sugar Water Festival would have been a resounding triumph. The lineup was inspired -- boho goddess Erykah Badu, neo-soul powerhouse Jill Scott, rapper-actor-crooner Queen Latifah, and the British collective Floetry. So was the message of comfort, authenticity, and community among women. If Sugar Water's kickoff was thin on the global village its founders hope to add in future years, the spirit in which the festival was conceived filled the Bank of America Pavilion.

Unfortunately, the venue was also filled with excruciatingly poor sound and production snafus. Floetry's delicious grooves were sacrificed to outlandish decibel levels. Trouble hoisting a massive bank of mirrors for Badu's closing set meant a 40-minute wait between acts and only a brief glimpse of the headliner for writers on deadline. Scott couldn't touch her microphone without waves of feedback interrupting her gorgeous singing. And Latifah's garrulous 13-piece ensemble was relegated to the murky depths for much of her set -- which included a handful of vocal standards from last year's ''The Dana Owens Project" as well as a clutch of rap gems.

For all the delight in savoring Latifah's recently-revealed feel for a classic blues, those sedate pleasures paled in comparison with the galvanizing flow of the feminist hip-hop anthems ''Ladies First" and ''U.N.I.T.Y." This was not a night for preaching, but for teaching by example and interactive learning, which involved a good deal of singing along.

Scott wore her heart on her sleeve and her core values on the band's sweatshirts. Each was stamped with a single word -- dignity, freedom, wisdom, passion -- and translating those pillars of human existence into pure sound is Scott's gift. From the courtly, near-operatic grace of ''He Loves Me" to the sexually-charged morality/reality tale in ''Cross My Mind" to the sonic glow of ''Whatever," Scott was the source of sweetness this festival aims to supply.

Badu opened with ''Green Eyes," a novelty tune about envy, and segued into beat-heavy ''Cleva." An iridescent groove mirrored the song's exhilarating opening lines -- ''This is how I look without makeup/And with no bra my ninnies sag down low/My hair ain't ever hung down to my shoulders/And it might not grow, ya never know/But I'm cleva when I bust a rhyme." It was a tantalizing taste of Badu's strange and wonderful sugar water.

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