This past Holiday weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 19th annual Essence Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was truly quite the experience…surprisingly I learned a lot although that was not the purpose for attending. It was entertaining, but even in entertainment I look for revelation, information or lessons. This past weekend, I received all three. Here are my thoughts…next year as it draws close to festival time I will post a what to do and NOT do post…but for now…here are my “winners”:
Best Venue away from the Dome/Convention center:
The Essence Day Party at the W was magnificent with great appetizers, good space, large “grown up” crowd. The DJ had a great command of mixing old school and new school music and kept the crowd engaged. The best part had to be the Dougie Fresh Live on stage set. (From what I hear Dougie was the hardest working man at the festival—he was EVERYWHERE).
Biggest disappointment: The Riverwalk mall was closed. If you needed something from the mall and it wasn’t at Saks you had to make a trek to a mall on the outskirts. It wasn’t impossible, but certainly inconvenient. 2nd biggest disappointment was some of the attire that I spotted at the festival. If you follow me on Instagram, you saw glimpses of it, but trust me it was MUCH worse. Some ladies need to turn down and for the record unless you are between 2-8 years old, leggings are NOT pants. Leggings cover legs—that is their only role, something else, i.e a tunic needs to be in charge of covering your behind.
Jill Scott’s background group “The Pipes” were superb! Jill stood back, allowed them to take the forefront and they broke out with old school H-Town…I thought the place was gonna go up in flames! They hit every note, every run and the audience had a great time singing along with them.
2nd place in this category would go to “The mamas” the background singers for Beyonce. Actually her entire “all female” band was incredible!
Biggest Surprise of the festival:
The Charlie Wilson concert shocked me. I had no idea that he was such an entertainer. In his short set, he changed clothes about 3 times and his show was TIGHT. His background dancers, choreography, mini-skits, music cues were all like clockwork. Given some of his classics like Yearning for your love, dropped the bomb and Outstanding, the crowd STAYED engaged and sang along for most of his numbers. Near the end he shared his testimony and gave credit to God for delivering him from drugs, alcohol, homelessness (and this was AFTER the Gap band) and a fresh start on life. He is clean now and has been for 18 years…and YES the WHOLE dome took a 3 minute praise break and celebrated with him. Awesome moment.
I am certain most would expect me to just insert Beyonce here by default. But I’m not. Not because she isn’t a magnificent singer, she is. Not because she didn’t put on a great show, she did. Not because she was the biggest draw out of the festival concerts—she was. But Beyonce did exactly what I expected she would do…no surprises..no more..no less. The surprise for me was Maxwell. No flashy stage show, no glitter, no glam, no enormous sets, just him, a background singer and a microphone. His biggest prop was a stool that he brought out to sit on to sing Pretty Wings. His vocals were flawless and more often than not I shook my head at the intensity in which he sung most of his selections. In short, that boy sung his HEAD OFF. But it was his humility that was center stage the whole time. You got the feeling that he really appreciated where he was and the road it took him to get there. I APPRECIATED his concert and left feeling that I was a part of something extremely special for him and for me.
Honorable mentions: LL CoolJ—His energy was off the chain and big kudos for bringing a BBW to the stage and rocking it out! New Edition (the boys still got it ) and Janelle Monae’ anyone that has to come before Beyonce should be applauded just cause. But I love her style—VERY classy, everything covered and she was absolutely gorgeous.
Overall Best experience at the Festival:
Hands down it would be “The Steve Harvey Morning Show”….and not for the reasons that you may think. Yes, believe me Steve, Tommy, Ms. Adele, Butterfly, Shirley and Carla were straight clowning and we had a blast even at 5 AM in the morning…and keep in mind most of us were arriving between 4 and 4:30AM. During one the commercial breaks Steve surveyed the audience and asked for “singers” to come forward. He was going to let them sing a few bars and judge them. Quite a few women went up…I went to the bathroom. The very 1st lady that got up had an odd name, was dressed a little low key, hair wasn’t styled A-one and Steve clowned her graciously on all fronts. But when that child took the microphone and sung Summertime (Porgy & Bess) all mouths were open and my trek to the back of the convention center to find the bathroom stopped immediately. Her voice was just amazing.
But here is where the shift occurred from this experience just being “entertainment” to being a life changing event for everyone involved. After further probing Steve found out that she was a bicycle taxi lady and she was 39 years old. Steve went to work finding local women in the audience to do her hair for her, makeup, help her shop and find clothes. The commercial break was over and by the time I got back to my seat there was a long line of women almost back to the back of the room. Turns out, Steve asked anyone that wanted to help the young lady that they were free to do so. One by one people dropped money into a plastic bag for her. There is no telling how much money she received, but certainly enough to help change her situation. Her gratitude was so overwhelming and she cried and hugged every woman that gave to her. Those that gave, the woman that received, those who just witnessed it…I guarantee NO ONE in that room will ever be the same again. THAT’s what the Essence Festival was billed to be…party with a purpose and in that moment, it lived up to its reputation.