There is so much going on in NOLA on any given weekend that it can seem nearly impossible to decide what to do.  This is the fifth edition of a weekly series in which we here at Big Easy Magazine give suggestions on fun ways to spend a day, evening or afternoon in our beloved city.  So let’s begin! What’s a good way to spend a weekend in New Orleans? Don’t miss out on Essence Festival.  This festival comes once a year (every July) and is absolutely worth your time.

While the weather in New Orleans is expected to be in the mid to upper 80s with a 50% chance of showers, the convention center is expected to be at a perfect climate and packed with festivities.  If you have never attended Essence Festival, here are a few things you should know.

  • Download the app and start planning your daily activities.  

Essence Festival is broken into two main parts – daytime festivities and evening festivities.  Daytime festivities begin at 10 am and consist of a host of social and empowerment sessions. The daytime educational sessions continue on the hour until 6 pm – and they are free of charge!  The evening musical festival requires tickets which can be purchased through the Essence Festival app.

  • Get a map

Expect a line at the Convention Center main doors.  Due to musical performances from icon Janet Jackson, the movie Girls Trip, and years of annual tradition – there will likely be an attendance of over 50,000 people this year.  Safety is of concern and bags will be checked. Upon clearing security (the line moves quickly), you will be able to attain a map of festivities.  Daytime events happen in the Convention Center on the stages listed below! Make sure you check your map to get a feel for the layout – the convention center is large and Essence Fest takes up the entire Convention Center!

  • Center Stage
  • Empowerment Experience Hall
  • E Suite
  • Lifestyle Experience Hall
  • Beauty and Style Hall
  • The Fan Zone
  • Great Hall
  • ESSENCE Eats Hall
  • Daytime and Evening Sessions at Essence Festival

There are over 30 different daytime sessions offered per day during the 2018 lineup at Essence Festival.  Here is an example of what your day may look like: throw on your workout clothes and attend Black Girls Workout Too at 10:05 am.  Run from there to Center Stage to hear a spoken word from national poetry slam champion Sekou Andrews at 11:00 am. Vivica A. Fox shares her strategies for success at 11:45 am in the Empowerment Hall.  Head over to hear author Mikki Taylor speak about taking ownership of your life at 12:45 pm. Eat around 1:45 pm (although there are still many sessions going on) and then go watch a screening of Rest In Power – The Trayvon Martin Story, at 2:45 pm.  Channel your energy from the Trayvon Martin Story and attend: I’m Woke – now what? at 4:15 pm at Empowerment Hall.

The Convention Center will continue to offer sessions until 5:15 pm but you will need to head back to your room and get ready for the evening portion of Essence Festival.  There are music concerts at the Superdome which include performances from Doug E Fresh, Lloyd, Miguel, The Roots featuring Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, MC Lyte, Snoop Dogg, and more!  Remember: this is only Friday’s schedule. Eat well (easy to do here in the Big Easy) – and get ready for your Saturday and Sunday schedule, which is loaded with many more educational sessions and many more musical performances (FYI – nothing is “repeated” on the second day).  Janet Jackson will be performing and there are many important conversations happening over the weekend at the convention center with Angela Rye, Iyanla Vanzant, Michael Eric Dyson…do not miss out!  

  • Bring your wallet, support, and enjoy!

If you could care less about being “empowered” or “educated” during the daytime sessions, you can be thoroughly entertained simply walking about the convention center.  There are hundreds of booths, offering products from very talented small business owners. You may find everything from homemade barbeque sauce to fine arts, crafts, and clothing labels.  

On the main floor, you will also come across several major brand booths (makeup brands, Walmart, and several others) with large giveaways.  You will see lines forming in attempts to win large bags of giveaways from these major sponsors of the event.

Also while walking the convention hall, there are live interviews happening with famous actors, actresses, and musicians.  Additionally, there may be a TV series (last year included The Have and the Have Nots) that conduct live panel interviews.  You are able to watch these conversations up close and personal.  

Lastly, ditch your diet and hurry to the food court for Essence Fest – it is seriously like no other.  If you’re eating on Saturday or eating during the lunch hour, allow plenty of time (at least an hour) to get your food.  Vendors are moving quickly, but the volume of people going to eat is astounding. The food court, with at least sixteen food vendors, packs quickly with thousands of people.  The food is a main attraction! While standing in a line, a person is likely to pass you with a beautiful looking plate of food that forces you to ask, “Where did you get that??”  Hopefully, you are already standing in the line from which that plate came.  It is difficult to choose one place to eat; everything looks and tastes fantastic.  

There is something for everyone at Essence Festival.  Once you attend, you are sure to come again.

Whatever aspects of Essence Fest you end up checking out, don’t forget to keep on drinking water! Be kind! Be New Orleans!

Because Essence Fest is too big for ONE article … 

And, don’t forget to check out this list of New Orleans’ other great festivals.

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