Day One (Friday, July 6)
Approaching this year’s Essence Festival, I knew that it was going to be a very busy weekend. The festival, which officially kicked off on Thursday, dedicated that day as a day of service while also opening with several welcoming parties. Those parties included the annual Welcome to New Orleans Gala, hosted by Congressman Cedric Richmond, and a welcome party, hosted by Mayor Latoya Cantrell, that shut down the Canal Place Mall.
While that was the official start, my start to the weekend happened as I walked into the Convention Center Friday morning to pick up my press credentials. At 10 a.m there were women, women, and more women lined up outside, waiting to get into the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. I thought back to previous years and couldn’t remember a time when the women outnumbered the men with such a multitude as this year. While the festival has always been majority women, there was a highly successful movie (Girls Trip) that put the ESSENCE festival and New Orleans on the agenda for every girl's trip to come for probably the next 25 years. As I strolled through the convention center, I could see that the modern feminist movement has also taken the fest by storm. There were women empowerment vendors and seminars everywhere. Let's just say “GIRL POWER” was on display everywhere.
Night time came quicker than I expected, and after organizing several guests and family members in town, I was pretty exhausted. But it was time to power through and head over to the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
Let me start by saying Miguel puts on a great show and can certainly do it all by himself. His voice and appeal are more than enough, and there isn’t much for me to say here because he did no wrong in my book and left behind many satisfied fans.
On to the next act: I found myself fighting my way up to the Superlounge to see H.E.R.. I was quickly disappointed when the room was at capacity, and I could not get into the door. Then I heard Snoop Dogg hitting the stage, and that disappointment was instantly erased. I had to get down there to see him. When I finally approached the floor, I made it just in time to hear 2 more of his classic songs before he switched up on us all and went straight into gospel music—I mean real deal gospel, like bringing out The Clark Sisters gospel. While I knew that he had a gospel album, and the crowd seemed pleased with the change of pace, I found it very interesting. And by interesting, I mean weird.
Next up to the stage was The Roots, and "awesome" is an understatement. Just watching Questlove on the drums and Black Thought spitting out classic lyrics would've been enough, but soon after hitting the stage, they brought out Erykah Badu, along with the eclectic and electric Jill Scott. Together they were sensational, and I was completely outdone. I’ve seen a lot of concerts, and I must say that seeing those two ladies on stage together in person is one of the highlights. The concert ended with a few songs from soul singer Anthony Hamilton and gospel singer Kirk Franklin, backed by The Roots. But my night ended on Frenchmen Street.
Essence Festival Day one was a success for me, and I’m eager to see what adventures day two will bring. Until tomorrow . . .
Day Two (Saturday, July 7)
Here we go again. Another day of Essence Festival bliss, and I was ready to hit the downtown streets to start my adventures around the city. But first things first: BRUNCH! An annual tradition amongst some of my out of town friends is a brunch at Elizabeth’s in the Bywater. After turning the place out with our music and loud voices, I went on to do something very important for my well-being. Yep, I took a nap, and that nap prepared me for the night to come.
The concerts opened with Doug E. Fresh, who hyped the crowd in preparation for the first main stage act, R&B girl group ESCAPE. While Escape came in and roared, Ella Mai packed the room in the Superlounge. One of the most anticipated singers of the night, British songstress Ella Mai made a name for herself around the world after releasing her 2018 hit “Boo’d up.” Now, she has everyone say “Bada Boo’up.” She definitely brought the masses. Also rocking out the Superlounge was Mr. Idris Elba himself (yes, you heard me right, the award-winning actor is a former DJ who still enjoys DJing from time to time), who also filled the room while playing many of our favorite hits and keeping us moving on the dance floor.
Saturday night was a good night for the Superlounges, but one performance I could not and would not miss was the “Ladies First” performance with Queen Latifah. While she did sing quite more than I expected, I was still very satisfied after hearing all of her hits as well as the other amazing ladies Latifah brought out to the stage, such as Missy Elliot, Brandy, MC Lyte, Remy Ma, and many more.
Queen Latifah rocked the house, but Mary J. Blige stole the show. From movie theatre success to a tumultuous divorce, Ms. Blige had a lot to sing about, and it showed through the soul and power of her voice and the energy she presented on stage.
I must say that day two in the Superdome was pretty amazing, but the biggest highlight of my night happened at St. Charles Tavern. As I sat there tipping my waiter, the amazingly talented Issa Rae walked in with a group of her friends. I’ve never seen someone look so elegant in a 24-hour food tavern at 2 a.m., but she certainly pulled it off. It just goes to show how normal we all are: She occasionally needs an after-midnight snack, just like the rest of us.
With that said, here’s to day three. See you tomorrow!
Day Three (Sunday, July 8)
As the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” The four day weekend of service, culture, art, music, and economic profit is officially over. And it went out with a bang.
For me, the last day of my 2018 Essence Festival experience was pretty epic. My morning started off rocky, as I rushed to the Convention Center. The traffic seemed to get worse by the minute, and being that I am adamant about finding free parking, I was determined to get a good free spot.
Essence Festival Sundays are always pretty busy. The Convention Center hosts worship and religious services and seminars filled with preaching pastors and loads of exceptional gospel music. Many people look forward to attending each year. But I had another agenda. Sunday I had a signing for my books (Nola Louise Goes to the Zoo and Nola Louise Believes) at the official Essence Festival Bookstore. Yep. I know. It was pretty epic. After selling out of my books in the store, I hung around the store, speaking and connecting with other African American authors. The bookstore is dedicated to African American authors from around the world, and the store was packed with avid readers looking for books that met their specific tastes.
After enjoying my time at the Convention Center, I went to have a quick lunch at Manning’s Restaurant, attempting to prep my stomach for a long night of music at the Superdome.
I had my itinerary set before I entered the dome: Big Freedia, Fantasia, Janet. But when I arrived I was intercepted by the Teddy Riley experience. The R&B producer and mogul brought many artists to the stage, including SWV, Guy, Blackstreet, and many more. It was a sweet step back in time to the 1990s.
During that performance, all the forces were pulling me towards Big Freedia, a person I grew up listening to and always love to see perform. I made my way to a packed Superlounge to see Big Freedia do what she does best: make people twerk.
After dancing the night away to Freedia, I made my way down with perfect timing to the main stage, where Fantasia gave an amazing and soulful performance. She screamed, yelled, made us cry, inspired us, and even gave us a funky NOLA Second Line.
Just when I thought the night couldn’t get any better, Ms. Jackson, the one and only Janet Jackson, came to the stage with an electricity that could only be emitted by an icon. While I am one of her biggest fans, I must admit that her performance started off slow for me and several others who seemed to leave during a DJ’d break in her set. But if you left during that break, you missed one heck of a show. Janet came back on stage with a vengeance, singing all of the songs we love and dancing like it was 1993 all over again. She also tributed her recently passed father, Joe Jackson, with the upbeat tune of “Together Again” from her 1997 album The Velvet Rope. Janet was sensational and a perfect finale to an amazing three-day weekend.
In the end, this year's festival was packed with beautiful people who, when asked, seemed to have not only an appreciation for the festival, but an appreciation for the city of New Orleans. Money was spent, art was sold, culture was had, and music was heard.
Until next year Essence Fest . . .