June 19, 2009 at 06:00 PM EDT

Dozens of artists will gather in New Orleans this July 3-5 for the 15th annual Essence Music Festival. Can’t wait that long? Check out our hand-picked playlist of songs by our favorite performers from this year’s lineup. All songs are available on iTunes and similar services — or just stream them for free below (some are 30-second samples only). Click through to the jump to read why we chose these songs. And let us know who you’re most excited to see if you’re heading to this year’s Essence Fest!

Ne-Yo, “So You Can Cry” Go ahead and try to resist this witty ballad’s soaring hook. You’ll be nodding along whether you like it or not.

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, “Happy Feelin’s” Make sure you’re in the right mood with this aptly titled quiet-storm hit.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, “This Land Is Your Land”
Prepare to gather with your fellow funk lovers by spinning this wickedly danceable cover of Woody Guthrie’s anthem.

John Legend, “Everybody Knows”
Ease things down for a bit with Legend’s classy kiss-off to an ex.

Al Green, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”
Keep that slow-jam groove going with Rev. Al’s masterful Bee Gees cover.

Raphael Saadiq, “Oh Girl”
Listening to Saadiq’s expertly retro croon, you’ll have no idea you’re hearing one of the newest songs on this playlist.

En Vogue, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”
Time to start bringing the tempos back up. This James Brown-sampling smash should do the trick.

Anita Baker, “Sweet Love”
The soulful Midwesterner’s breakout hit builds gradually to an exuberant burst of horns…

Beyonce, “Crazy in Love”
…which makes for the perfect segue to Beyonce’s brass-laced floor-filler.

Maxwell, “Pretty Wings”
Close out the set gently with a few minutes of lonesome falsetto from the recently-returned neo-soul star.

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