So, pardon me for being a month late on this recap, but Essence Festival 2019 was one for the books! Essence Fest, which takes place in New Orleans, celebrated its 25th anniversary this year! This annual gathering, which has drawn even more attention from the movie "Girls Trip," attracts over 500,000 people every year. This family reunion-like festival is fit for all ages and generations to celebrate music, good food, culture, and blackness! When I think of "Black Girl Magic" and "Black Excellence," I think of Essence Festival because it's everywhere. The vibes during Essence Fest weekend are unmatched.
I literally landed and went straight from the airport to a brunch hosted by the Minority Business Development Agency at the Ace Hotel. The brunch had a panel discussion featuring Mona Scott Young and Koereyelle, who both shared their journeys to entrepreneurship and gave business advice. This networking brunch allowed me to meet many amazing women, make a vision board, and kick off the weekend on a professional note before the shenanigans began.
The brunch wasn't the only event at the Ace Hotel, which tends to be the "fun headquarters" for Essence Fest weekend. The hotel hosted other panels, yoga sessions, brand activations, and their amazing late night parties. The Ace Hotel is definitely the place to be after the concerts and other parties. It's a chill vibe with live music and a DJ, good people, and even better drinks. They also hosted the HBO x Everyday People party on Friday night that brought out a lot of people including music artists and other industry professionals that were in town for the weekend festivities.
There was honestly so much to do, that it was impossible to do everything. To put things into perspective - I was in a GroupMe where someone posted an "Essence Festival event matrix" complete with an extensive list of all the parties, events, places to eat, and what to pack for the weekend. It was doing the most, but it was good to have everything in one place since it was a lot going on in every direction.
The events at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center are always hectic because it's a "free for all" type of situation, but there's still fun to be had. As usual, the lines were long, but if you don't mind a wait then it might be worth it for the free products, concerts, panels, food, photo booths, and other giveaways. The AT&T Dream In Black and McDonald's Black & Positively Golden booths were my favorites because they were interactive, engaging, and exuded black excellence. Both booths hosted panels and concerts featuring LaLa Anthony, Mary J Blige, Devon Franklin, KeKe Palmer, Terrence J, Angela Simmons, Jazmine Sullivan, and more. They also had cute photobooths and giveaways with t-shirts, food, and more. This year, there were also a lot of daytime events and parties beyond the typical events at the Convention Center. Essence hosted a Fashion House, Wellness House, Global Black Economic Forum, along with other panels and forums, brand activations, immersive experiences, and late night concert series.
Essence Festival weekend traditionally caters to older R&B and soul music lovers, but it has expanded to include many modern-day R&B and hip-hop artists. The Spotify House of Are & Be and Motown Manor catered more to the millennial audience and hosted events throughout the weekend including live performances, discussions, and podcast recordings. Modern day R&B artists including Ari Lennox, Lucky Daye, Mario, BJ the Chicago Kid, Elle Varner, Ro James, Raphael Saadiq, and more performed at these events. I liked how these events also paid homage to the greats of R&B and soul music by showcasing memorabilia , photos, and history.
The Pepsi Summer Gram House Party was also a great time! DJ Envy, DJ Niena Drake, DJ Mr. Rogers, and others provided the sounds throughout the weekend at this party. They definitely had everyone on the dance floor. This "RnB House Party" created an interactive experience where guests can play and take photos or boomerangs on their many Instagrammable Pepsi summer-themed backgrounds. Pepsi also featured specialty cocktails using their new fruit flavored sodas - lime, mango, and berry. The party was super fun, laid back, and a good networking opportunity to meet people from all over.
The concerts at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome are the highlight of Essence Festival since it is a musical festival in the midst of everything else going on. This year's main stage lineup was amazing and included Missy Elliott, Mary J Blige, Maze feat. Frankie Beverly, Nas, H.E.R., Jermaine Dupri, Teddy Riley, Timbaland, Pharrell, and more. This year's Super Lounges, which are mini concert rooms, featured City Girls, 702, Ginuwine, Davido, Elle Varner, Mase, Jacquees, Normani, Queen Naija, PJ Morton, Big Freedia, Lucky Daye, BJ the Chicago Kid, and more. The overall lineup didn't disappoint.
Mary J basically has a residency at Essence Festival since it seems like she performs every year, but I'm not complaining. She killed her performance as usual. While Essence Fest was celebrating it's 25th Anniversary, Mary J. Blige was also celebrating the 25th Anniversary of her "My Life" album. This happens to be my favorite Mary album, and she snatched my edges when she hit the stage and sang through the album's songs including my favorites "My Life," "I Love You," "Be Happy," and "I Never Wanna Live Without You." She even brought out Lil' Kim for "I Can Love You." I got my entire life!
Michelle Obama made her Essence Fest debut and added the festival as a stop on her "Becoming" tour. Gayle King conducted the intimate interview in front of a sold-out crowd on Saturday night. Our Forever First Lady talked about everything from meeting Barack Obama, living in the White House, relationships, living a healthy lifestyle, and just every day life. I'm glad they added her to the lineup since I missed the "Becoming" tour when it came to Atlanta.
Teddy Riley's set was definitely one of my favorites of the weekend. He brought out Teyana Taylor, Ro James, Ginuwine, Timbaland, Pharrell, and the his Blackstreet group members. I was out of my seat the entire time. It's crazy when you realize how many hits there are between all of them. It made me miss the 90's.
In typical Essence Festival fashion, Maze Feat. Frankie Beverly closed out the weekend at the Sunday night concert. Everyone stepped out in their all-white outfits. I'm still trying to figure out why everyone always wears all white to Maze Feat. Frankie Beverly shows. It's like an unspoken rule. Anyways, Frankie Beverly had everyone two-stepping and line dancing in the aisles as he sang through hits including "We Are One," "Joy and Pain," and "Before I Let Go."
You know I couldn't leave New Orleans without some good eats! I was able to indulge in some of my favorites - Acme Oyster House, Bourbon House, Atchafalaya, Cafe Du Monde, and Popeyes on Canal Street. I also found time to drink New Orleans' famous hand grenade. I almost died this time around, and my body reminded me real quick that I wasn't 21 anymore. I ended the trip with a hurricane from Pat O'Brien's, and almost missed my flight back to Atlanta.
Essence Festival was definitely a great time this year. As you can see, it has taken me over a month to recover and write this recap :) I didn't take many pics, If Essence Festival isn't on your bucket list, then you should add it - you won't be disappointed. The experience is priceless.