Essence Fest is back in New Orleans after a two-year hiatus

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Black culture, in all its glory, will be on display during the July 4 holiday weekend in New Orleans as thousands converge on the city for the in-person return of the Essence Festival of Culture.

The multi-day event begins with a Thursday performance by comedian Kevin Hart at the Smoothie King Center, followed by ticketed concerts at the Louisiana Superdome Friday through Sunday. First-time headliner rapper Nicki Minaj performs Friday with fellow newbie country singer Mickey Guyton. Music icon Janet Jackson, who took the stage in 2010 and 2018, is the featured artist on Saturday and fan-favorite 80s R&B group New Edition will close out the event on Sunday. Other artists scheduled include Jazmine Sullivan, City Girls, Summer Walker, The Roots, The Isley Brothers, Method Man, Tems, Patti LaBelle and Stephanie Mills.

Additionally, free experiences are offered inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, including a tech summit, an opportunity for men called “In His Zone”, a marketplace showcasing local vendors, a dining experience and oenological, a carnival of beauty and the always popular celebration of the Gospel.

The organizers encourage all attendees – whether in-person or virtual – to download the festival app and register via EssenceFestival.com. Additionally, in-person attendees are required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination, though that requirement was dropped in March by the city since the pandemic subsided.

Festival organizers said “vaccination is for everyone’s protection” and proof of this is needed for admission.

The festival, like others the city is known for, has been on hiatus since 2020 due to the virus outbreak, but was held virtually in 2020 and 2021. Prior to that, it was held at New -Orleans every year, except in 2006 when he moved to Houston while the Superdome was under repair after Hurricane Katrina.

This year’s theme is “It’s Black Joy to Me” and the 2022 festival will be the brand’s first to feature a live component and the ability to tune in virtually.

“As the nation’s largest festival by daily attendance, the Essence Culture Festival is a must-attend event that celebrates community and builds equity,” Essence CEO Caroline Wanga said in a statement. “We are thrilled to welcome the family back to New Orleans and excited to connect with more members of our diasporic family through new digital experiences.”

Erika J. Bennett, director of marketing at Essence Ventures, said she looks forward to what she describes as a “reunion” that has drawn more than 500,000 visitors to her events over the past few years.

“We know that the festival is an opportunity for people, all over the world, to come together, to unite a culture, whether it’s through fashion, music, food or all the other wonderful ways we express. Especially after very difficult years of not being together, our theme of black joy really resonates,” Bennett said.

Bennett said their digital experience opens up access globally and has attracted more than 100 million views online.

Essence, in its 27th year, began in 1995 as a one-time tribute to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine and was known as “a party with a purpose” with an original mission to give back to the community through free seminars designed to enrich the lives of women. It has since become the world’s largest celebration of black women, culture and community, organizers said.

Bennett said Essence Ventures, the parent company of Essence, supports economic equity for people of color and works to ensure this across all of its brands as part of its purpose.

“It’s important for us to support and uplift a city that has embraced us for so many years,” she said. “Through our marketplace and Essence Eats, we have been able to generate $2 billion in economic impact, over nearly 30 years, for the city of New Orleans. And it’s a bigger part, a deeper part of our overall mission.

The city did not immediately respond to an email requesting details of the city’s current contract with the festival. The current contract runs through 2024. Discussions are currently underway regarding a contract extension, said John F. Lawson, deputy administration press secretary for Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

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