Essence Fest gears up for No. 24

July 04, 2018 - 9:25 am

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — More is the key word for the 2018 Essence Festival as it gears up for fans planning to descend upon New Orleans over the 4th of July holiday weekend for its 24th cultural explosion.

Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc., said since the first festival was held in 1994 organizers have sought to expand the free daytime programming aimed at empowering women and men, finding solutions to problems within urban communities, and dealing with issues of health, wealth, entrepreneurship, beauty and style and technology.

"This year, we are formalizing the branding of our daytime expo experience," Ebanks said. "It's going to be larger than ever with programming tracks in eight areas."

This year, the festival has asked guests to register for the daytime programming to help with crowd control and expedite entry into the experience. Here's a link for registration: https://essencefest2018.fishsoftware.com/register/ .

So far, Ebanks said, more than 70,000 people have registered for one of the eight conference tracks. "We're over the moon about that," she said.

Ebanks said it's the first time in 24 years that the city's hotel space has sold out. "The rooms are gone. The city is sold out and there's very little short-term rental inventory," she said. "This is on track to be the largest festival experience in our history."

The 2017 festival drew more than 470,000 attendees to its nightly concert series inside the Superdome and the free workshops and entertainment at New Orleans' convention center.

Ebanks said this year they've expanded the footprint inside the convention center from 750,000-square-feet to 900,000-square feet. "Our beauty and style experience has doubled, becoming an animal until itself. We've taken over an entire hall. Our beauty and style editor, Julie Wilson, has brought in a number of influencers and partners giving us more opportunities for makeovers, fest fashion moments and game shows. There's also an expanded beauty bungalow where people can buy a pass and get treated to an exclusive, luxurious experience."

In addition, Ebanks said the festival is expanding off the convention center campus.

A variety of events will be held at the Ace Hotel and the debut of "E-Suites" — focused conversations with women executives and entrepreneurs — at the International House. "Folks will be able to come and network, get informed and just learn tips and tools to develop their businesses and careers," Ebanks said.

The "E-Suites" concept, she said, will be held throughout the year in different cities attached to specific events such as Super Bowl or Oscar weekend.

For more information on the festival's Daytime Experience visit: https://www.essence.com/festival . Doors open at 10 a.m.

Ebanks said the Essence Festival continues to be a "party with a purpose."

"It's been quite a journey over these 24 years," she said. "We were looking over our shoulders a bit when other events similar to ours came into being. But we decided then not to focus on what anyone else was doing but to focus on Essence and what Essence is doing. And that's working for us. We're excited about focusing on programing that appeals to every demographic — millennials, moms, families.

"We have tremendous momentum and believe there's also excitement around Essence being black-owned again. We're redoubling programs about entrepreneurs. We know that black women are the fastest group of growing entrepreneurs but they're having the least success in sustaining business and attracting capital. This is a great networking opportunity."

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DAY OF SERVICE

Essence Festival continues its tradition of giving back to the City of New Orleans with a "Day of Service" scheduled Thursday in the Central City neighborhood.

Event organizers say the day will include beautification projects at a youth center, restoration of a historic mural on one of the neighborhood's main streets and empowerment and entrepreneurship workshops for women and girls.

Ebanks said this event is "such an incredible part of the festival and one we look forward to each year."

She encourages volunteers to join in the activities, which will also include a traditional New Orleans second-line parade with participation by Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

For a full schedule of events visit https://festival.essence.com/festival/conference-expos/community-culture... .

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THE MUSIC

High-energy performances inside the Superdome are often associated with the festival and 2018 is no different.

Janet Jackson returns to close out the festival on Sunday, which also will see a New Jack Swing reunion featuring Teddy Riley, Blackstreet, Guy and SWV followed by a performance by Fantasia. Friday's opening event headliners include Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott on the main stage.

On Saturday, Queen Latifah takes to the festival's main stage for the first time, celebrating her 40th year in the industry with a "Ladies First" tribute including special appearances by MC Lyte, Missy Elliott, Remy Ma, Nikki D and more. Mary J. Blige is that night's closer.

"Fans are glad to have Janet back," Ebanks said. "We've grown up with her. We've seen her journey and we want to re-live our 'rhythm nation' moment."

She also said fans are excited about Queen Latifah's appearance, which comes on the heels of the movie "Girls Trip," which featured four friends, who reconnected with the festival as the backdrop.

"Our hearts broke with her when she lost her mom and for her to choose Essence as a place to celebrate her longevity and love of culture, that's powerful. There will be a lot going on. Something for everyone. I can't wait!," Ebanks said.

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