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Jill Scott - ESSENCE Festival
Jill Scott - ESSENCE Festival
Jill Scott - ESSENCE Festival

The Ultimate Essence Fest Guide

How to make the most of your Essence weekend

What is Essence Fest?

What began in 1995 as a one-time event to celebrate Essence Magazine's 25th anniversary has blossomed into an annual festival, which has welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests to the Crescent City each year over the past two decades.  Often times referred to as “a party with a purpose,” Essence Fest promotes, celebrates and explores health & wellness, spirituality, beauty & style, food, community & culture, entertainment, entrepreneurship and much more within the African American community. 

Attendees are invited to engage in panel discussions, shopping, meet and greets, activities, and of course, nonstop live music featuring some of the best in R&B, soul, funk, gospel and hip-hop each and every Fourth of July weekend. 

With a jam-packed weekend like Essence Festival, it’s important to navigate it like a pro to get the most out of your experience. Below is everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable Essence Fest getaway! 

Zack Smith
Essence Fest 2017

Preparing for Essence Festival 

When and where is Essence Festival?

Essence Festival takes place during Fourth of July Weekend of each year. For three days, the city is filled with eager attendees creating their own Essence experiences. With different expos, activations, parties and concerts, Essence Festival is a citywide event. The festival’s home base is located in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center during the day and the concerts begin in the evening at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.   

Other events, shops and giveaways can found throughout the Central Business District/Downtown and the Arts + Warehouse District. Be on the lookout for special events, promotions and recommendations to check out during the rest of the city as well.

This year, Essence Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary. From July 5-7, ladies, women and girls from all over are invited to celebrate in the Crescent City with them.  

When should I book my flight for Essence Fest?

It’s never too early to start planning for Essence Fest. Keep an eye out for flight deals and discounts. Whether you’re flying or driving,  it is recommended that visitors arrive midweek to allow themselves time to explore the city before the festival. Beginning Friday and running through Sunday, Essence Fest will feature daily activities and nightly concerts. 

Events Before Essence Festival

There’s plenty to do leading up to Essence Fest including Fourth of July events and Black Restaurant Week New Orleans. View fireworks along the river or check out exclusive menus and deals at participating black-owned restaurants across the city. Browse our custom-curated itinerary for Essence Fest for more ideas and inspiration. 

What are the best lodging options for Essence Fest?

Hotels and bed & breakfasts located in the Central Business District, Arts + Warehouse District or the French Quarter make commuting to and from fest activities and concerts most convenient. Lodging accommodations outside of downtown New Orleans allow guests the opportunity to explore the uniquely NOLA neighborhoods throughout the city. 

Review our directory of lodging accommodations by neighborhood here, and check out Essence’s list of featured properties with event block pricing here

Zack Smith
Essence Fest Attendees at the Convention Center

Essence Festival Tickets + Admission

They daytime experience at Essence Festival is free and open to all. There is no admission price to enter or participate in any of the activities held at the convention center. Additionally, there are several sponsor lounges, events, pop-ups and more throughout downtown New Orleans that are free and available to the public. 

Concert tickets can be purchased as single day tickets or weekend passes. The purchase of an Essence Fest ticket grants access to all mainstage and superlounge performances for that evening. Purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended as tickets do typically sell out. 

Early bird tickets are on sale now. Catch weekend package deals before the lineup is announced and while supplies last. 

Planning on doing Essence Fest with an organized group? Learn more about the Essence Fest Squad Goals Program and unlock perks for traveling as a group. 

Essence Festival Lineup

Year after year, the stages of Essence Festival are filled with some of the best in soul, hip-hop, R&B  and funk. Show-stopping headliners, up-and-coming artists, celebrity DJs and more are all part of the Essence concert experience. 

The lineup is typically announced mid-spring. If you’re buying tickets in advance keep an eye out for the Essence Fest schedule, which usually drops in June. It breaks down the dates, times and stage locations of each performance, panel, demonstration or exclusive event throughout the weekend.

Paul Broussard, NOTMC

What should I wear to Essence Festival?

There’s a photo op around every corner at Essence Festival. From elaborate signage, interactive activations and a host of celebrity guests, make sure you’re Instagram-ready at any given moment. The heated July weather is the perfect opportunity for colorful sundresses, bold fringe tops and sandals galore. Aim for cute comfort because Essence Fest is filled with walking. 

Essence Festival Activities

Taking place over three days at two official locations featuring a handful of speakers, performers, vendors and experiences, Essence Fest is a lot to take in. Explore more below about the ins and outs of the festival weekend to make the most of your time. 

Essence Fest during the day

The Essence Festival daytime experience takes place at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center with daily, free admission from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Dynamic programming and experiences intended to motivate and educate can be found throughout the convention center. Anything from live cooking demonstrations featuring locally and nationally acclaimed chefs oto panel discussions with community activists and politicians, as well as workshops and live tutorials by beauty bloggers and onsite pop-up shops and food from a variety of entrepreneurs can be found. 

Past speakers and meet + greet opportunities included Angela Rye, Iyanla Vanzant, Lena Waithe, Ella Mai and many more. Attendees are asked to register ahead of time and download the official Essence app to help curate and navigate their experience.

Paul Broussard

Essence Fest at night

Once the convention center closes, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome comes alive. Opening daily at 6:00 p.m., the all-star Essence Fest line-up commences with some of the best in R&B, hip-hop, funk, gospel and soul. Categorized as either mainstage or superlounge, performances and concerts take place in the dome throughout the evening. It is highly recommended to arrive early for all superlounge performances as they do have capacity restrictions. Make sure to review the Essence concert schedule prior to arriving in order to map out your evening. 

What is the difference between a mainstage and superlounge performance?

Mainstage performances are the headliners of the evening. Greats such as Prince, Janet Jackson, Aretha Franklin and many others have all graced the main stage of Essence Festival in past years. Mainstage performances embody the full concert experience featuring legendary performers whose music transcends generations. 

Superlounge performances are held throughout the Superdome in a more intimate and casual setting. General admission style, these concerts have no reserved seating and are available on a first come first serve basis. Up-and-coming and popular new artists usually take the stages of superlounges.