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GoNOLA Guide to Essence Festival

The Superdome is home to The Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans (Photo: Paul Broussard)
- Photo by Paul Broussard

This year is the 25th anniversary of Essence Festival, and the folks who bring you this annual celebration of black culture are doing it big. From dream speakers like Michelle Obama to the all new Essence Tech Summit to our guide to black-owned businesses in New Orleans — we’ve got you covered with our guide to all things Essence Festival, so all you have to do is show up.

This year, kick it all off with Essence in the Park, a Fourth of July festival featuring live music from local artists, New Orleans cuisine, and hometown art at Armstrong Park from noon to 9 p.m. on July 4. Once you’ve gotten settled, get ready to enjoy the best of Essence Fest ahead.

The Convention Center is home to many Essence Festival events (Photo: Zack Smith)

At the Festival

The majority of Essence Festival activities are held either in the Convention Center or the Superdome, both located in downtown New Orleans. During the day, the Convention Center transforms into the central hub for the festival. Hear keynote conversations from world-renowned speakers at the Essence Stage, or check out the business-focused E-Suite, which will feature conversations with business executives and small business owners in an intimate setting.

Essence Festival is also home to great shopping within the Convention Center. The Beauty Carnival is recognized as the world’s largest beauty experience for black women, bringing expert tutorials, exclusive interviews, and curated shopping experiences to attendees. Fashion House, also located within the Convention Center, is the festival’s cutting-edge curation of runway shows, trunk shows, and pop up shops brought to you by household names and up-and-coming Black designers.

We can’t forget about the food – Essence Eats features dozens of different vendors as well as live expos from local and celebrity chefs.

essence stage
The Main stage at Essence Festival (Photo: Paul Broussard)

At night, head over to the Superdome for the Evening Concerts. Main stage performers this year include Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Ledisi, Nas, H.E.R., Pharrell Williams, and Timbaland, among others. For a smaller setting, check out the Essence Superlounge, featuring Normani, Erica Falls, AlunaGeorge, and others. New to Essence this year is the New Orleans Music Showcase, which will feature New Orleans musicians Dawn, Casme’, Vegas Cola Band, and Drea Marie performing at the Superlounge.

Where to Move

If you want to get a good sweat in, join Magnolia Yoga Studio for their Declaration of You: an Afro-beat Yoga Experience on Thursday, July 4 from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. at the beautiful Hotel Peter & Paul in the Marigny.

Backatown Coffee
Backatown Coffee Parlour is a neighborhood favorite on Basin Street (Photo: Justen Williams)

Where to Eat

Get your day started with a hearty breakfast and delicious coffee at Backatown, one of our favorite coffee shops in the city, before you head to the festival. Make a reservation for dinner at one of our favorite black-owned restaurants, such as Compère Lapin or Morrow’s. Black Restaurant Week coincides with the festival and is the perfect way to support local black-owned businesses while getting a great deal on a multi-course meal.

Where to Drink

When you’re ready to unwind after a full day at the festival, head to the NOPSI Hotel’s rooftop bar, which will be a hot spot and a great place to mingle all weekend long. If you’d rather a more quiet, intimate spot to catch up with friends (or make new Essence friends), grab a drink at the Pisco Bar at the Catahoula Hotel. If you’re here to really party (who isn’t?), check out Victory Bar.

Magazine Street is a shopper’s paradise. (Photo: Zack Smith)

Where to Shop

Beyond the festival grounds, there’s plenty of shopping to be found in New Orleans. Take a stroll on Magazine Street, located just minutes away from the Convention Center. Trendy boutiques, specialty shops, and antique stores are nestled along the stretch. Closer to the Convention Center lies the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk and The Shops at Canal Place, both downtown malls that feature high-end brands.

After the Festival

Keep the party going with Essence After Dark, which features eight concerts over four nights of live music at different venues across the city. Enjoy Reggae, bounce music, music from women in hip hop, and much more. Enjoy comedy shows and a live podcast recording (Dead Ass Podcast) during Essence After Dark as well. Most of the Essence After Dark shows begin at 10 p.m. and last well into the night.

Jackson Square looking toward St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

Sights to See

When visiting New Orleans, exploring the French Quarter tops most traveller’s lists. If you have a little extra time and want to fit in some sightseeing while you’re here for Essence, Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, Café du Monde, and the French Market are the ultimate highlights of the area. Get to know a little bit of New Orleans’s history and heritage and join one of these tours, or take a walk along the Riverfront.

Beyond the Festival

Located just under two miles from the French Quarter, Bayou Road is a historic pathway in New Orleans formed over 300 years ago created to bridge the gap between Bayou St. John and the Mississippi River. Today, it stands as a hub for thriving black-owned businesses. Explore books, clothing, and jewelry at local shops like Material Life and Community Book Center along Bayou Road.

Central City and Tremé are two historically African-American neighborhoods that everyone should visit during their trip to New Orleans. Tremé is home to the legendary Dooky Chase Restaurant as well as a host of other black-owned businesses. Central City has a wonderful food scene itself; between Mexican street food at Casa Borrega, breakfast and snowballs at Café Porche, and soul food for a good cause at Café Reconcile, you’ll surely be satisfied.

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