The summer 2016 was my first official visit to the Essence Festival as a New Orleanian, a local and the experience was completely different than coming to New Orleans as a visitor. It was still a great e\nxperience, but different, because the rules had changed, because I lived within the city that host millions of visitors. Living in New Orleans and attending Essence Festival comes with some perks, the biggest one is knowing how New Orleans flows. I would describe it as having a VIP pass, because within your family circle someone is working a big event. They can access if it will be crowded, if there’s traffic and if you do not have family working, we have that NOLA hospitality, which makes it easy to ask someone for assistance.
I learned so much being on the “inside” people engaged with me differently, it was as if I was surrounded by loving sisters, cousins and Aunties. While waiting in the long lines I made friends with so many women, all gave insight on who had the best freebies or which line was worth standing in, sessions where you can interact with the stars, which vendor has both good food and decent prices. Someone may pass on, “Girl, My Black is Beautiful has a long line, but Swag Bag is loaded full size great products and the bag is hott.” Tips such as these would prevent you from wasting precious time waiting in line for a bag with coupon for $2.00 off or worse for the vendor to run out of a product, but worse that time spent could have been sitting in on an empowerment session.
I was approached by several women as w\nell, most asked if I was a local, followed by wanting to know where the locals go, why are we in line, is an appointment needed and the list goes on which prompted me to write a few Essence Tips of my own.
Let’s start off with the obvious, which is planning your trip to New Orleans for the Essence Festival early, some people start planning while they are in the midst of the festival for the next year, yes it’s that real. The sooner the better, especially for those of us who are on a budget, both airline and hotel prices are increased to the tune of 300%, but hey if you have it like that, then do you, Chic. There were times when I came home for a visit a week before an event and the cost get a 4 star hotel for under $125, but during the Essence Festival, actually any festival or event that same hotel, same room will run you about $400. You can cut cost by booking early, more than 60 days prior, because once the rooms get booked means the prices increase, the same goes for airfare.
Inside Pro Travel Tip: Prices increase once the rooms and airline seats are just about at full capacity, not the opposite. Some people think a deal will pop up when this is the case, they wrong and end up spending triple by waiting at the last minute. The only way to get a deal is to buy when no one else is buying. You will notice when more than half the seats or rooms are open is when prices are at their lowest. Companies such as hotels and airlines sell a block of rooms/seats to discounted sites such as Hotwire, Travelocity and etc, these sites offer a greater discount, but there are only so many offers they can sell, booking early is the only option to get a great deal on these sites.
Essence Concert tickets
As with any hot event, concert, party, if you want to attend, get good seats, you must purchase your tickets early or you run the risk of sitting in the nose bleed section or worse the shoe sells out. I do not know of any discounts for tickets to the concerts at the Superdome, but your mainstage tickets includes access to the Super Lounge, where you can get up close and personal at the intimate smaller shows on the 2nd level as well as there are free concerts at the convention center. At the Super Lounges you have a great chance at meeting a celebrity, like my cousin Mykia Jovan!! She’s so sweet and has the most beautiful voice, you have to check her out.
Ticket tip. If by chance you did not purchase tickets and your coins are accounted for, you may luck up and win tickets at the convention center or online via Essence giveaways. Several vendors at the convention center have options to win tickets. Last year, my Auntie Cookie won two tickets by getting an HIV test done onsite, it was as simple as that. She gifted me the tickets and I had an awesome time. We were there the night to witness the lady win the car from entering the Ford sweepstakes. Master P did the thing bringing the whole New Orleans family on stage , Chance the Rapper made me fall in love with all that he embodies and Solange needs is a true Nola Chic in my book!
We made the silly mistake and drove, well my girlfriend drives for Uber and Lyft and the plan was for her to drop me off afterwards and she would go back to make some money driving people from the Superdome and that worked for her, but traffic was cracra and parking was $40!
Free Day Time Experience
Daytime Experiences include speakers and sessions on topics ranging from business and entrepreneurship to a beauty and style expo.
All daytime events are held downtown at the Convention Center
Center Stage is just that – the center of all things entertainment. Center Stage is your hub for the latest from TV, movie & music stars, celebrity meet & greets and free live performances.
DAILY MORNING WORKOUTS at 10:00am
DAILY AFTERNOON DANCE PARTIES
ESSENCE Path to Power
Create your own business, grow your wealth and thrive in your dream job with expert advice that will make you shine!
Beauty & Style Expo
Calling all beauty & style gurus! Steal secrets from beauty icons, discover a new look and get a sneak peek at the latest fashions!
ESSENCE Entertainment All Access
Be the first to see sneak peeks, premieres and meet some stars at Center Stage, Fan Zone and the Screening Room
Lifestyle Experience focuses on wellness of the mind, body, and soul. All daytime events are held downtown at the Convention Center
ESSENCE Empowerment Experience
Get woke by the most influential voices in entertainment, business, music, politics and beyond to build a better future for our communities.
See celeb chefs and savor Southern faves, like shrimp and grits, crawfish etoufée, gumbo and more made by NOLA’s best cooks.
The Swag Bags are the main attraction at the convention center believe it or not. Women are not standing in line waiting for the doors to open to run to get a front row seat at the empowerment stage, they go straight to My Black is Beautiful and get in another long line to get the Swag Bags and I don’t blame them, there are some pretty nice things in those bags, the bag it’s self is nice. As I mentioned my Auntie is an Essence Festival Master Goer, her speciality is getting the Swag Bags in a timeframe that will enable her to enjoy the sessions and concerts.
My Black is Beautiful is by far the most popular bag and this is her first stop. You will stand in line for all of the bags, but My Black is Beautiful has a different set up. After you stand in line you are given a wrist band and a time to come back to get your My Black is Beautiful Swag Bag which will have some full size great hair products that I believe retail at $25+per bag, so your time is compensated. It can be an hour or two before your time to come back to collect your bag, there will be a line again, but it goes pretty fast. While you are waiting to get your My Black is Beautiful Swag Bag, I suggest you make your way to the following vendors:
1. Shea Butter
2. Carols Daughter
3. Coke Cola
4. Cream of Nature
None in any particular order. Also, as you are walking to the Convention Center there will be brand reps giving away products along the sidewalk. Don’t blow these people off, they aren’t gonna get ya, ask you for a $1.00 or anything, but they are gifting you with products. I noticed that lots of tourist ignore New Orleanians as they walk past them and the majority of the time it’s just us, being hospitable, even if someone was to ask you for a few coins just say, ” Sorry, I don’t have it and keep it pushing. ” Remember you are in New Orleans and we speak to to everyone, but in this case, the rep is trying to give you a T-shirt, cup or even tickets!
Swag Bags can contain anything from hair products, t-shirts, scarves, towels, Coke Cola drink, church fans, cell phone gadgets to laundry detergent to souvenirs. In my opinion all the products are name brand high quality products and worth standing in line if you are into freebies as well as Essence Festival keepsakes.
There’s a booth to sign up for an Essence Magazine subscription and you get a very nice gifts, unlike the other Swag Bags this one is not free. There’s a cost for the signup to get the magazine’s then you get the free bag of goodies.
Once you have your My Black is Beautiful Swag Bag and a few of the others you are free to maneuver through the convention center to hit the panels, sessions and food court. The key is to get those main bags out the way and you can go back throughout the day for the others. suggest having a schedule at this point, unless there’s no particular session or panel you would like to attend, but that’s unlikely, we all pick what’s going on, what celebrity we want to see, who’s on main stage when deciding what day to attend. Make sure to download the Essence Festival App to keep up to date on event changes. As an added plus, do yourself a favor and download the Black Nola App as well to get
On the stages at the convention center you will have the opportunity to hear the celebrities share their professional and personal stories. Mary J had us all in tears last year after sharing her story on stardom and love. Cast members of Queen Sugar, Insecure, Girls Trip were in attendance as well as celebrities, Halle Berry, Tina Lawson, Kenya Moore, Queen Latifah, Iyanla Vanzant, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Dr. Cissy Houston were some of the most influential people that grace the Free Daytime Experiences stages.
You can’t be anywhere in New Orleans and not eat the delicious food that we dish out here and at the convention center the food court has some of the best New Orleans restaurants, caters and cooks serving up good eats as well as cooking demonstrations best of New Orleans chef’s. One year I had a fried blue crab, unlike the soft shelled crab this crab was hard shelled, but omg it was so good. Last, year I tried the seafood nachos and I have been out here with a flashlight ever since trying to find someone who makes em. The food court has so many different New Orleans favorites as well a new creative dishes and treats. Please treat yourself as well as support the vendors, these vendors are typically New Orleans Black entrepreneurs, small businesses and pop-ups. Essence Festival gives these entrepreneurs a chance to showcase their delicacies to a larger audience, please assist them towards achieving their goals. Just think you will help put dollars back into the black community, black businesses here in New Orleans. Plus vendor fees are expensive, your support would be appreciate.
If you do not grab a bite at the convention center, don’t trip, New Orleans is full of great restaurants which include black own estabhilshments that I suggest you try. I know the feeling of wanting to be downtown where all the fun seems to be going down, but there’s so much more to our city. I highly suggest you get to know our city outside of the tourist trap.
If you have to stay within the downtown area here’s my recommendations for black owned restaurants that are within walking distance of the convention center.
- Backatown Coffee Parlor 301 Basin St, New Orleans, LA 70112 504-372-4442 Backatown is a locally-owned coffee boutique designed to reflect the unique personality and charm of old Storyville with excellent offerings and customer service.. There is something for everyone here. In addition to premium coffee and espresso drinks, the boutique also serves loose leaf teas, juice, fresh baked pastries and desserts along with an assortment of light fare meals for families to enjoy. I recommend the Sweet Potato Pie. Omg, I haven’t had a sweet potato pie with that texture and flavor, since Hurricane Katrina took my grandmother out of her kitchen. http://www.backatownnola.com/
2. Bennachin Restaurant 1212 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 504-522-1230 For a taste of traditional African cuisine, Bennachin Restaurant is the place to be. Offering a variety of dishes bursting with flavor, Bennachin welcomes everyone in its comfortable and friendly atmosphere.
3. Café Rose Nicaud 632 Frenchman St. New Orleans, LA 70116 504-949-3300 In the early 1800’s Rose Nicaud became the first known coffee vendor in New Orleans. Rose, a slave, saw the opportunity to provide a service to French Market vendors, workers and shoppers by providing them with fresh, hot coffee. Rose created a portable cart which she pushed through the market on Sundays, selling “cafe noir ou cafe au lait”. Her entrepreneurial efforts were a quick success. One customer is quoted to have said, “Her coffee is like the benediction that follows after prayer”. https://www.caferosenicaud.com/
If you follow me you know how much I speak of good eat at corner stores and gas stations. Do not be intimated to come into our neighborhoods or if you see someone standing outside the gas station asking for a dollar, simply say, “I’m sorry, bruh I don’t have it” and that’s all it takes. It’s something how just acknowledging makes a difference. But here’s a couple spots within walking distance of the convention center.
- Brother’s Fried Chicken 222 Carondelet St., New Orleans, LA If you want to really dig in to the culture and taste what the locals like, this place can’t be missed. You get it to go and you’re good, dining isn’t an option.·Brothers chicken in New Orleans has some of the best chicken I ever tasted. I can’t believe it’s cooked at corner store or gas station . Where else can you go and get a 2 piece fries and a drink for $4.93 and a 40 piece for $16.99 wow gotta love it!
- Basin St. Supermarket 237 Basin St, New Orleans, LA 70112 Cornerstore with excellent food that served the families of the Iberville Housing Projects before Hurricane Katrina. I think this place is better then a lot of the tourist traps in the area. The food is delicious, 12in Po-Boys for $6, broiled seafood, liquor all at affordable prices. I would recommend this place over most of the places in the French Quarter. In fact if you want to eat good avoid the French Quarter altogether all the good places were around it! Come into our neighborhoods!
If you’re mobile your selection choices are plentiful and I’ll list my faves below. New Orleans has several African-Americans who dominated New Orleans kitchens through much of the city’s history, but most can not afford to have a business in the business/downtown district. I do not know about you, but I’ll drive across town to get me some good food. I know yall hear of people stating they are brand loyal to clothing and etc, but I am food loyal. lol I refuse to waste my money on white table cloths, candles, crystal glasses and etc if I’m not 100% sure that the food will have my eyes rolling in the back of my head and have me doing a tasty dance in my chair after that first bite. I honestly feel that you need that French Quarter experience, so please do not think I’m telling you to avoid it. I would like for you to give a restaurant, business outside of the tourist trap a chance to get some of those tourist dollars.
- Dooky Chase’s 2301 Orleans Ave., 504-821-060 There are more famous chefs in New Orleans, but none is more widely respected than Leah Chase, who, now into her 90s, has been presiding over Dooky Chase’s kitchen for more than 60 years. Her cooking is considered Creole-soul to differentiate it from French-Creole, from which it stands apart by virtue of the dishes you won’t find at Galatoire’s (macaroni and cheese, collard greens) and its frankly legendary place in the history of black America: Ray Charles sang about Chase’s food, and Louis Armstrong and Thurgood Marshall had favorite orders. The distinguished collection of African-American artwork on the walls is a powerful symbol of the history of this restaurant, which first opened in the teeth of the Jim Crow era. At that time, it served as a symbol that African-Americans deserve nothing less than the best. Ms. Chase continues to give her customers the best with cooking that embodies her own Creole heritage: gumbo, shrimp Clemenceau, speckled trout topped with lump blue crab. And yes, the fried chicken is that good. Friday is the only night Dooky’s serves dinner; lunch Tuesday through Saturday
- Li’l Dizzy’s Café 1500 Esplanade Ave., 504.569.8997 Li’l Dizzy’s owner Wayne Banquet is one of New Orleans’ most seasoned restaurateurs. He literally grew up inside Eddie’s, the legendary Creole-soul joint in Gentilly owned by his late father, Eddie. He opened Li’l Dizzy’s in the mid-aughts after running a string of New Orleans places specializing in the kind of cooking you find here. Among the specialties: fried chicken, red beans, po-boys, gumbo and a happy marriage between finfish and blue crab called trout Banquet. The restaurant is only open during the day. Breakfasts are bustling, and the lunch buffet is particularly popular.
3. Two Sisters in Da East 9901 Chef Menteur Hwy., 504.242.0469 The Finister family opened this spin-off location of Two Sisters, their popular soul food restaurant on North Derbigny Street, four years ago. With the original restaurant temporarily shuttered, this outpost in the East is the only place to enjoy the Sisters’ (there are actually three, plus a brother and a mom) stuffed bell peppers and dizzying array of delicious stewed vegetables and proteins served over rice. Its daily-changing menu features neckbones, oxtails, hamhocks, pork chops, hen, pig knuckles and pterodactyl-size turkey wings falling apart in pools of gravy. The gumbo, served on Thursday through Saturday only, is a show-stopping surf-and-turf merger, and the various legumes red beans, white beans, black-eye peas — solidify this kitchen’s pot-cooking bona fides.
4.Some visitors find it difficult to compute how a lunch-only restaurant in an off-kilter building in a neighborhood marked with blight could be famous. The confusion melts away once they try Willie Mae’s fried chicken. Crisp, tightly battered, juicy and seasoned just so, it is among the best versions of an iconic American staple, yet it isn’t the sole reason regulars and tourists happily beat an increasingly well-traveled path to Willie Mae’s door. There’s the bread pudding, for example. And the smothered veal, which produces the gravy spooned over your rice. And pork chops you can choose to have fried in one of three different batters.