With thunder, lightning and drenching rain, it looked as if opening night at the Dell Music Center’s 2015 Essence of Music series would be a complete washout. Fortunately, the storm eventually moved on and two-time Grammy winner Patti LaBelle made her water-logged fellow Philadelphians forget their misery. The evening began well enough, with Pamela “The Saxtress” Williams, also a Philly native, as the enticing opening act. A member of Patti LaBelle’s band for eight years, the sultry saxophonist took over the stage, sporting a sexy black halter top and arms that were cut like Michelle Obama’s. Accompanied by a stellar rhythm section and a female background vocalist, “The Saxtress” filled the stage with feminine swagger, delivering a set that included instrumental versions of “Before I Let Go” and “For the Love of You.” Unfortunately, the skies opened up and her performance was cut short. As people sought shelter from the thunder, lightening and driving rain, it began to look as if LaBelle’s sold-out performance would be canceled. However, I encountered Susan Slawson, commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, who assured me the show would go on. The weather did take its toll however, and Philadelphia trombonist Jeff Bradshaw, along with his special guest, Kenny Lattimore, was forced to forfeit his spot, but it has been added to the concert on Aug. 6, which will also feature Anthony Hamilton and Lyfe Jennings. Finally, at 9:40 p.m., Patti LaBelle, resplendent in a floor length white feather wrap, took the stage, and was greeted with a resounding chorus of “We love you, Patti!” from the audience. She began her set with “Feels Like Another One.” After her first number, she removed the wrap, revealing a dazzling platinum dress with rhinestones and fringe that looked very much like one of her costumes from “Dancing with the Stars.” She was accompanied by an ensemble of brilliant musicians as well as three extremely talented background vocalists, and much like LaBelle herself, the stage was casual yet classy. Her well-documented passion for pumps was very much in evidence, as there was a collection of “fierce” stilettos on top of the white grand piano. Yes, she did change into those shoes on several occasions during the course of the show. Pausing a moment to address her adoring audience, LaBelle said, “I haven’t been to the Dell in about 10 years, and if it was snowing tonight, I was going to perform!” With that, the 71-year-old diva, now celebrating 52 years in show business, delivered a series of classics that included “If Only You Knew,” “If You Ask Me To” and “Somebody Loves You.” At the opening strains of “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” she invited her longtime friend, “The Saxtress” onstage to join her. This was followed by “Right Kinda Lover” and “Love, Need and Want You.” Undoubtedly, the “wow moment” of the show was when LaBelle, whose style is rooted in gospel, donned a choir robe for a powerful and emotionally-charged rendition of the gospel gem, “Total Praise.” In an interesting twist, she also paid tribute to some of the male singers she admires, interpreting “Game Changer” by Johnny Gill, “Shame” by Tyrese, “Stay with Me” by Sam Smith and “The More I Get, the More I Want” by the late Teddy Pendergrass. I must say LaBelle is extremely gracious in showcasing her musicians and singers, featuring Brandon Winbush in a duet of “On My Own” and actually surrendering her microphone to Deborah Henry, who is a powerful gospel singer. As the evening came to a close, LaBelle visited the days with her group “Labelle,” with “Isn’t it a Shame” and the smash hit, “Lady Marmalade.” She ended her sizzling set with her signature song, “Over the Rainbow,” making the storm that disrupted the evening a distant memory and giving fans reason to look forward to an exciting summer at the Dell. Next up on “Essence of Entertainment” calendar: Rose Royce/Heatwave/Bloodstone/Chi-Lites on Thursday, July 16 at 7 p.m.