If you are a Black woman in America, more than likely the annual Essence Festival held in New Orleans, LA is an event that is either on your bucket list to attend or an event that you have already had the privilege of experiencing.
This year during the July 4th weekend Essence Festival celebrated 25 years and we were there to revel in all the festivities and to absorb all of the information, tips and advice that were provided by celebrities, influencers, organizations and very important people across different industries.
The Essence Festival kicked off on July 4th with a free Essence in the Park day which included live performances from artist like Common, MC Lyte, Big Freedia and more. There were also merchandise vendors and food caterers serving to the large crowd. Although the sun was beaming down on the attendees, it was a nice event to start the Essence Fest weekend. We only wished that we could have bear the sun long enough to see Common’s performance. But since it was delayed by 45 mins, we decided to leave the park to explore more of the French Quarter including Bourbon Street.
Our night ended with a pool party at our hotel thrown by our preferred [Essence] travel agency T&T Executive Travel Services. The pool was just what we needed to cool down from a very humid and hot day in the city of New Orleans.
The next morning we woke early to attend the Essence events at the Earnest N. Morial Convention Center. In the convention center there are multiple stages, each sponsored by large companies such as McDonald’s, Ford, Walmart, Coca~Cola, Disney and AT&T. These stages feature celebrity guest appearances throughout the entire day. Sometimes the celebrities come through to do interviews with a host, to be part of a panel, or they may actually perform a short concert. In many instances you have to be in the right place at the right time because you never know who may just pop-up on one of these stages. We were definitely in the right place when LeToya Luckett walked pass and waved hello to us. Another significant moment is when the singer Mario walked up to our friends and serenaded them with a song.
It can become easy to spend a full day in the convention center because there is so much to do, so many entertainers and important figures to see, and so much information to gather. Walking from end to end of the convention center are the following entertaining and activity areas:
Essence Beauty Carnival – is probably the most sought after section among women who visit the convention center at any point of the weekend. Women were literally running to the Beauty Carnival section once the doors were opened to get inside of the convention center. The Beauty Carnival is where Black beauty is celebrated by several beauty and hair companies such as Dove, SheaMoisture, Carol’s Daughter, Estee Lauder, and Palmer’s to name a few. These companies also give away swag bags containing sample and/or full size products from their collections. Inside is where we learned that Dove co-founded the CROWN Coalition whose mission is to end hair discrimination against Black woman and girls. At the Beauty Carnival, women can also get beauty consultations, full makeovers, hand and feet massages and hair appointments. There is also a stage where beauty influencers, models, designers and other celebrities are interviewed to share their best beauty advice and/or speak about their products. The line to enter the Beauty Carnival this year was astronomically ridiculous, as well as the lines for the free grab bags which everyone was trying to secure. Nappy and Proud Sistas was very grateful to have had a PLUS pass which allowed us to get inside without the wait or the hassle.
Essence Marketplace – is where an array of vendors sell their merchandise such as clothing, beauty and hair products, cultural jewelry, art and much more. Most if not all of these items are created by Black people or are from Black-owned businesses. This makes the Marketplace a great opportunity to stock up on items that may not be sold in retail stores. It is also a great opportunity to meet product creators and business owners.
Essence Eats – includes a variety of food vendors and caterers. This section also includes a stage where some celebrities and well-known chefs come to whip up their favorite dishes then share them with their audience. Essence Eats also provides a great way to get a taste of that good New Orleans cooking.
Essence Center Stage – is where Essence goers can also enjoy performances from well-known and rising artists. There are also interviews held with celebrity actors and actresses who star in movies and/or television shows. In addition, Center Stage provides a platform for other important people and groups to speak about issues that are of interest to the Black community.
Entertainment All Access – as Essence describes, this is where exclusive first-come, first-serve access is granted to fans of television, film and music stars. This year Essence provided the opportunity to meet stars such as Musiq Soulchild, Loretta Devine, Ginuwine, Sherri Shepherd, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, the cast of TV shows Power, Luv Tale, and much more.
Essence Power Conference – is where attendees can go to hear impactful and empowering messages from some of the most influential voices in the Black community. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Senator Kamala Harris, David and Tamala Mann, Ava DuVernay, Boris Kodjoe, Jermaine Dupree, Kofi Siriboe, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Iyanla Vanzant, Tyler Perry and many more graced the stage in the Power Conference room this year. On the Sunday of Essence Fest, the Gospel Sunday Celebration is also held here. It’s best to get there early because every seat in the room becomes filled.
Essence Community Corner – offered a great place to speak with organization representatives and to learn about their missions. We were able to gather information on such topics as wealth and financial planning, healthy sex, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and other foundations and services.
With all of these different areas to visit, we did spend a lot of time during the days in the convention center exploring and taking in as much as possible. The Essence Festival app also offered a convenient way to see the schedule of [main] events taking place throughout the weekend both in and outside of the convention center. The app also allowed users to add events and activities to a personal schedule making it easier to prioritize where to spend your time.
In the evenings there were also several Essence related events happening, as well as a host of parties catering to Essence festival attendees. This year, Essence introduced the Essence After Dark series which consist of small concerts and comedy shows taking place nightly. Then of course the major concert events take place each weekend night at the Mercedes Benz Superdome. We opt out of going to the Friday night concert, but did attend the concerts on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Saturday’s sold out concert featured our beloved Forever First Lady, Michelle Obama who was interviewed by the fabulous Gayle King. Mrs. Obama spoke about relationship goals, politics, parenting, and other topics featured in her best-selling book Becoming. We must say that it was an exciting time and an amazing opportunity to see Michelle Obama live and she looked stunning – click the hyperlink for video excerpts. We also enjoyed performances by Nas who looks good as ever, Mary J. Blige who always brings the hits, and even a surprise guest appearance from Lil Kim. It was a memorable night!
During Sunday night’s concert we were turnt-up by Big Freedia and Mannie Fresh, Lil Jon, Jermaine Dupree, Timberland, Pharrell Williams, Teyana Taylor, Teddy Riley, Anthony Hamilton, Ro James, Major and finally Frankie Beverly and Maze who closed out the show. Of course an Essence Festival concert would not be as electrifying without the ‘And More’ line up. On Sunday we received surprise appearances from Nelly, Crime Mob, Bone Crusher, Ying Yang Twinz, Da Brat, Dem Franchise Boyz, Lil Viscious, Magoo, Ginuwine, Wyclef Jean, Coko of SWV and Doug E. Fresh who proved he is still the champion of beatboxing. We especially enjoyed the sets from Lil Jon and Pharrell Williams. The audience were on their feet grooving the entire time. Our floor seats allowed us to experience the performances up close and to be in the midst of all the excitement. The spirit of Essence was truly felt when the floor broke out into the electric slide as Frankie Beverly flowed into our favorite anthem Before I Let Go.
The Essence Festival weekend was a blast spending time with our girls, exploring the city of New Orleans again, enjoying the festivities, and indulging in good eats.
While planning our trip to the 2019 Essence Festival, we admit we were a bit skeptical about the concert line up and the newly ticketed events that were introduced this year. As Essence celebrated 25 years we were hoping for a more star studded line-up [before the announcement of Michelle Obama]. We also thought that there were more activities that had to be purchased this year that we seemed to have had free access to last year. But despite these things, once we were there, we truly enjoyed just being in the moments.
Outside of the many celebrity appearances, concerts and collecting complimentary beauty swag bags, attending the Essence Festival is so much more. It is a time for Black women from all over the world, of all ages and of all economic backgrounds to come together for the purpose of being empowered, strengthened, invigorated and replenished. And the networking opportunities are tremendous. Of course there is great fun to have, but there is also so much to learn and soak in from all of panels, speakers, vendors other participants and each other.
We believe that Essence Festival is an event that Black women especially should experience at least once in their life.. for the sisterhood and for the culture!
Our Tips For Attending Essence Festival Next Year:
- Start planning early! One of the misconceptions about Essence Festival is that it is too expensive. Perhaps it can be when considering accommodations and transportation, but for the most part, the main festival events are free unless you attend the nightly concerts. As for accommodations and transportation, early planning and booking can help to avoid having to pay the peak cost for those expenses.
- Use a travel agency to book hotel and flights. Hotel rates skyrocket during Essence Festival, so if not having enough money upfront is a concern, then most travel agencies allow you to pay for these expenses in installments. We use T&T Executive Travel Services. They are trustworthy and highly recommended.
- Purchase concert tickets early on although you may not know the line-up until later on. Remember that it’s the experience that matters! Essence usually releases the three-nights concert package tickets in the Fall which is when the rates are cheapest. Ticket prices do increase over time so it’s best to get them early to secure the best seats at the lowest cost. If you decide to wait until single-night tickets are released, which is usually about three-months before the festival, these should also be purchased as soon as possible. As more top performers are added to the line-up, the ticket prices also increase.
- Sign up to receive Essence Festival emails. The Essence Fest team is great about keeping Essence goers up to date with events guests can expect to attend and how to obtain tickets for them.
- Purchase VIP tickets for the Beauty Carnival when they become available. As stated before, this is the most popular section in the convention center so it’s worth it to purchase the extra perks including ease of access into the carnival.
- Do not overthink your wardrobe or makeup. Yes, be stylish for some events and pack an all white outfit just in case, but also remember that New Orleans is hot as hell so it’s just best to be comfortable among everything else. You should also just be yourself.
- Coordinate a girls trip to attend Essence Festival. It’s so much more exciting when you are experiencing Essence with your best girl pals.
- Extend your stay in New Orleans past Essence Festival weekend [if your schedule allows] to explore the city once the crowds are gone. Since Essence brings in over 500,000 people to New Orleans it can be difficult getting around the city and into certain restaurants and other places of interest. Enjoying New Orleans itself is easier once the festival is over.
- Since NOLA is very busy during the festival weekend, pack an extra level of patience to deal with the crowds throughout the city as well as at Essence events.
- Enjoy Essence Festival entirely! Go to parties, locate a few pop-up shops to go into and browse around, take advantage of the free events in the convention center, eat as much as possible, attend at least one night of concerts, take a scroll down Bourbon street and drink out of a fishbowl, point out celebrities or attend a celebrity hosted event, collect as many swag bags as possible, spark up a conversation with a someone around you as you’re waiting for something because you never know who is who at Essence Fest, but most importantly soak in all of the culture that only Essence Festival can bring to us.