Essence Music Festival on A Budget

Essence Music Festival  & Expo
Essence Music Festival & Expo

This is my second time attending the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans (the Houston attendance doesn’t count when they moved the festival for Katrina). Essence is a wonderful experience but can be very costly before you know it. The first time I attended, I booked my hotel at least 7 months in advance. Unfortunately, the closest hotels make you pay up front without any flexibility to change. The average room rate is about $300/night. There are ways to enjoy essence without losing all of your shirt.

This year, I decided to attend at the last minute (less than 30 days). I used to be a frequent traveler so had a large bank of points for hotel and airlines. Now, I have a couple of credit cards that help me with points. I choose to redeem my points during festivals or conferences when rates are at their peak.

I was able to find a hotel about half a mile from the Superdome. Once I saw the lounge line up, I was convinced I had to purchase tickets for the show. I was able to find a hotel for 20k points per night. I could not cancel the hotel or chance losing my points but it was worth it. If I paid, the rate was $300/night. Some people opted for hostels or AirBNB which are usually more reasonable but some distance away.

I also used Southwest Airlines points for half my ticket. I love the flexibility of Southwest that you can use points for a one way ticket and change it if needed with no penalty. You can also cancel the flight and refund your points. On the other half of the ticket, I caught one of the sales. My plane ticket one way was $88, which was what I would spend for Megabus (another low budget alternative).

I did not plan to rent a car but budgeted about $70 to get to and from the airport. About a week before my trip, Southwest emailed me a special for a rental car with an incentive of 1200 southwest points. The rental car for 3 days was going to be $78. I arrived so late on Friday, the economy cars were gone. I was upgraded to a mustang (ok, that is due to favor). Though I would have to add hotel parking ($29/day), I had the flexibility to drive out of CBD whenever I needed.

Won't He do it!
Won’t He do it!

Another big budget saver is not to drink alcohol. For most people that come to New Orleans, alcohol is on top of the agenda. Yet, it is pricey. I opted out of drinking this weekend and found my daily food budget was saved. The hotel also had free continental breakfast included which I took advantage for 2 of 3 days.

Another big budget item are the show tickets. Excluding favor, I was able to score tickets on Stubhub. They also had a summer coupon for 10% off. I realized that 90% of the people I wanted to see were in the lounge. That means, I would spend most of my time walking around the 2nd floor of the dome as opposed to sitting in my seat. I realized a nose bleed seat would be a perfect idea. I scored a 3 days pass on Stubhub for $144. I trusted Stubhub because if the tickets didn’t work, they either replace them or refund your money.

If parking at the airport, remember to make reservations for parking. I usually take a cab or uber to the airport but sometimes park in off-site parking. Parking is about $7/day as opposed to $25/day for valet at Hobby or Bush (I stack points for their program there too in order to score free parking). This holiday weekend ALL parking  was full. Even valet. I was so happy I went with my instinct to pre-book for parking.

In short, I was able to see about 15+ artists, support an amazing brunch for Walker’s Legacy, roam the convention center, eat great food, walk to the superdome, dessert at Sucre all under $500. The early bird does not always get the worm. As hotels get more desperate, they make availability in order to increase their occupancy (yet don’t wait too late or they will gauge you). When you make the decision to attend, understand that all rates are non-refundable. Shop around. Prepare for a great time!

I Am Walker's Legacy Brunch
I Am Walker’s Legacy Brunch

D’Angelo

image     I can not recall the first time I heard D’Angelo, but his music was the soundtrack of my college years. He is one of the few artists that my college sweetheart and I could agree on. He was a traditional jazz head and had enough patience to deal with my limited exposure to soul music. I had opened my music collection from R&B and Miami Bass to a genre that fit more with my personality. Neo-soul became a genre that is one of my top choices of music ever since.

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Prior to the D’Angelo we know today, he made his first hit with the song “U Will Know” which was on the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack. D’Angelo has always stood firm not only on his talent, but also songs of substance. I racked my brain whether I had seen him perform before. I really can not recall. I have seen Angie Stewart twice and the last time I saw her was during the announcement of the Trayvon Martin verdict (literally in the middle of her set). I thought about that tonight only to eerily find out about news of violence in South Carolina after the concert. Artists like Angie and D’Angelo provides us with sounds to soothe us through these painful times.

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As soon as I arrived to Warehouse Live, I went into a peaceful zone. I was able to complete a 2 hour power nap, have a quick dinner, orthotics and comfortable pumas. I was ready for my journey. I arrived about 9:30pm and it took about 20 minutes for the set to start. Perfect timing because I would have been salty if I got there at 8pm (wisdom).

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The night was absolutely magical. I was happy I was able to see, despite it feeling like every tall man in Houston came to the show. It was quite warm but I didn’t mind working up a sweat for an artist that came to make you move. I also loved the diversity of the audience. We all have one thing in common, love of great music.

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Every single band member brought their piece of the pie. They all had talent and I loved the way the show ended, slowly dropping off to leave D’Angelo on the stage to serenade us while giving each artist an opportunity to be showcased. I did not want this show to end though I knew it would be only a matter of time before my knees would beg to differ.

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Thank you D’Angelo for passing through Houston. We love you. We are here with you through it all. Thank you for bringing all of you and we hope to see you again!

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Home at Ensemble Theater

I received an email advertising Ensemble Theater’s reading of Home by Samm Art-Williams. The reading was a national reading of 30 institutions paying homage to African-American Theater. Typically, I did not have a lot of time to research the show, but two things stood out, the actors and direction.

Cast of Home
Cast of Home

I have a talent for spotting  stardom, and I think my average is nearing perfect. My scout eye has been admiring Crystal Dickinson and Brandon Dirden (Houston’s own). I find it more interesting that they are happily married. The fact this reading would have them working together piqued my interest more. They both are stars in my eyes (even though I am late to the party).

My introduction to them began when I saw a show (somewhere) and read about Brandon in the Playbill. I believe he was being nominated for a Tony at the time. I kept scratching my head why I did not know him because he is my Morehouse brother. We have a lot of mutual friends but I do not remember him in school. Maybe I was in too many chemistry labs or stuck in the library pretending to study.

Crystal Dickinson and Brandon Dirden
Crystal Dickinson and Brandon Dirden

Crystal happens to be a friend of a friend…and when I saw our friend talking about her show on Broadway, I made a point to see the show (You Can’t Take It With You) when I was in NYC. The show was amazing. Though I was not familiar with all the actors (except James Earl Jones), I watched Crystal’s performance with a hawk’s eye. I was impressed. Yet, after the show, it rained like I was in a King Kong movie while in Times Square. I had to get out of there as fast as I could.

Crystal Dickinson and I
Crystal Dickinson and I

Yesterday, the storm warnings began for flash floods (a little irony), and I kept debating if I should see the show. I made the decision about 1 hour before the show because the rain had not begun. I did not have a ticket. Was working up until that point and had no clue what I would wear. I somehow pulled it together only arriving 10 minutes late.

I can not recall the last time I attended a reading. I am thinking at least 10 years ago when I frequented Hartford Stage. Readings can quickly lose your focus as it is bare – no costumes, props, etc. to add color to the performance. The show opened and I quickly realized this was going to be wonderful. The characters were based in Crossroads, NC and of course they would open in a gospel hymn (that was in key, I may add).

I thoroughly enjoyed Home. Though I was there to support Brandon and Crystal, I was pleasantly surprised that Samantha West was also talented. Though my thespian days are very foggy in my memory, I have a gift for analyzing theatrical productions. My six years of studying the art never left me. The content of the play was also well written, but unless you have actors bringing it to life properly, you lose much of the steam. This reading of Home was the best reading I have ever seen. It was one of the top shows I have seen at Ensemble. Though I took a risk of nearly floating in a flash flood, it was worth every bit.

Happy Hour

Tonight I met a friend for Happy Hour and we had a bit of difficulty getting to a spot. Most of my favorites on my list were going to be difficult to get to because of traffic. I was excited to try out Eleven Eleven only to find it out it was closed. We settled for Rosemont Social Bar. Cute concept but the service was lacking. We went next door to Uchi and the wait was an eternity…so we settled for Paulie’s.

It doesn’t take much to satisfy the Bohemian in me. They had me at the wooden cases for their ipads/cash register. I love white decor at restaurants and there were plenty of white lines for me to at least pretend it was clean. I initially had a hard time finding a warm vegetarian meal….then after looking the menu 50 times, I finally saw panini. At last.

When the giganormous panini came out, it was already too much for me to eat (though after eating one half,I felt I could eat more…but had to suffocate my inner big girl). I was just in Atlanta where I had “normal” serving sizes. Eating in Texas, you forget that there is a regular size…then Texas size. Which Texas size becomes your new normal…which is actually abnormal.

I enjoyed my meal and hope that my leftovers make it until tomorrow. What also caught my eye was Camerata next door. It was a great wine spot a few doors down and also owned by Paulie’s. I see they have classes coming up and they all seem to be centered around wine. There is even one around Cider. Uhm, did the memo go out about my obsession with a good cider. Yummy!

So, though we did not make it to happy hour, I was pleased with my final destination. Another one of those hidden gems in Houston that I have literally passed on Westheimer 100 times. I am always excited to discover new places that make me feel like I have been there all my life.

Summer has arrived

June is coming in with lots of clarity, focus and warmth. Three of my favorite things. Unlike in the Northeast, summer in Houston is more similar to winter. Though activities pick up, many have a tendency to stay indoors until the evening because of the heat. We go into a mode of hibernation. Hence, this is a great time to catch up on things that spring flings may have thrown us off schedule (we had a beautiful spring despite all of the allergy issues).

I am grateful that we have a few days with no rain. I am sad I will miss the Free Press Houston concert and Caribbean Heritage Celebration this weekend. Yet, with the end of school, I am happy I don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn. This is my time of reflection and planning and optimizing on the best things to do in Houston.

Don’t forget to check out the calendar to see events added daily.

National Small Business Week Reception with Walker’s Legacy

May 4, 2015
Contact: info@walkerslegacy.com

Walker’s Legacy & Google Celebrate Women of Color for National Small Business Week

(Washington, DC) – In an effort to celebrate the achievements of the fastest growing entrepreneurial segments of in the country – African American and Hispanic women – Walker’s Legacy, a national women in business collective founded in 2009, is proud to partner with Accelerate with Google to host programs to support women of color in business throughout the country for National Walker’s Legacy Day, May 7, 2015.

Established in 1963, National Small Business Week recognizes the contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout the country, formalized through Presidential proclamation.

Today more than half of all American’s owning or working for a small business.   According a report by the Minority Business Development Agency, diverse women-owned businesses are the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment in the country accounted for 2.2 million of the 5.8 million minority-owned firms in the US, 186 billion dollars in gross receipts and 1.2 million employees.
In total, the organization will host nine programs throughout the country including Chicago, Washington, DC, Houston, Atlanta and Los Angeles among other markets.

“African-American and Hispanic women are making great strides in entrepreneurship throughout the country, our goal for National Walker’s Legacy Day is to bring greater attention to our role as business owners and economic contributors to the US,” stated Natalie Madeira Cofield, Founder, Walker’s Legacy.

To attend the Houston reception, please visit http://bit.ly/1OVRcHu for more information.

About Walker’s Legacy: Established in 2009 and named in honor of Madam C. J. Walker, Walker’s Legacy serves as one of the largest entrepreneurial associations for women of color in the country.

About Accelerate with Google: Google is committed to making the web work for small businesses. That means making the web and all of our tools for businesses more accessible and useful. Accelerate with Google supports businesses in communities that are underrepresented on the web, growing diversity and inclusion in Google’s user, customer and partner base.

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Tiny Boxwoods

Yesterday, I was calling a friend for her birthday. She was on her way to Tiny Boxwoods. She described the restaurant to me and kept harping on their cookies.

I went to their website last night and was at first in awe. Then I became angry. How did I miss this gem. A beautiful garden, great food and awesome cookies. This sounds like Nirvana .

There are a couple of movies on the lawn events left that I hope to attend. We only have a small window before the heat and mosquitoes arrive. I can’t wait.

Update: Finally went. I am officially in love. Food was amazing. Ambiance was perfect. I saw stars, heard birds…forgot I was in Houston. The hostess Abby was absolutely on point with customer service. Meat and cheese board is FANTASTIC. The cookies….dangerous! Donuts too!

South By Southwest (Interactive)

I was blessed to attend my third SXSW this year and it has been a couple of years since I attended. I recalled last year hearing the news of the fatalities while I was overseas. I definitely felt the difference in this year’s conference. There were many more policemen. Nevertheless, it was a great conference as usual.

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One of the hottest spots was the new JW Marriott. There was never a dull moment in the hotel. I could tell the restaurant staff were overwhelmed as there was no break from sunsrise to sunset. The JW Marriott Austin is the largest (and newest) in North America and the 2nd largest in the world. It was a beautiful hotel, but still very new. All kinks were worked out during this event. I even passed Mark Cuban there and wished I thought of something to pitch.

A couple of places kept me taken care of on a food perspective. Gigya had lunch and dinner on 6th street. They even threw in some live entertainment. There was also a restaurant near the convention center rented out by the Washington, DC economic development council. They fed as well but promoted a very convincing program to live in DC free for 3 months (the application was due March 22nd @ wwww.wedchouse.com). The start-up company will be selected on April 3rd.

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WE DC House

A strong theme at Interactive was 3-D printing. I attended several sessions learning about 3-D printing and how it will impact industries such as healthcare, fashion and manufacturing. In addition, my favorite session was about blogging and branding. It was hosted by Indiana Adams and Bethany Joy Clark. I was there early and still was standing for most of the session. At the very end, I was able to grab a seat as people were leaving early. Lucky me, that seat allowed me to win a new Toms Handbag (more like a backpack). There were only 15 of us that won. I LOVE my new bag.

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Toms Handbag I won. I love yellow!
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3D Pen from a company in Singapore
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Dr. Talithia Williams on Mining your Personal Data
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JW Marriott Pool

This year there seemed to be many sessions that were very full and if you were not early, you were not able to get in. There were also many secret parties. I was able to get in on a “secret” Facebook and Uber party…but still am salty about not being able to see D’Angelo. Another surprise and highlight was a Houston meet up sponsored by the Houston Business Journal and The Greater Houston Partnership. I was so happy to connect with Houstonians. We filled up our poolside room quickly.

SXSW has always propelled me into a sneak peak of what’s to come. If you have not checked out Meerkat, that is supposed to be the next hot thing (though there are others that beg to differ). Though, I was sad to leave before SXSW Music started, I definitely did not leave without a headful of knowledge. I look forward to the next time I can attend and fellowship.

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Robot at CMU Happy Hour
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Awesome panel including Franchesca Ramsey

Audra McDonald

Growing up, I considered myself a Broadway baby. Though I was in South Florida at one of the best art schools in the country, I still believe I grew up in southern New York. There were always New Yorkers around me and I sang a song from a musical daily.

I heard Bernadette Peters name often and it was as if she floated on clouds. I never got to see her as many of my classmates did so I added it to my bucket list. When I saw she was an option at theater open day, I committed to purchasing a ticket even though it was about 5 months prior to the show. I enjoyed her show immensely.

On Saturday, as I rushed to the Wortham to pick up tickets from will call, I saw an ad that almost made me hyperventilate. It said Audra McDonald was performing on March 10th. As in three days from Saturday. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it happen, but I had to think of something. How in the world did it slip past me that she would be in town.

Let’s take a step back to summer of 2012. It was a very humid and sticky day in New York City. My friend and I finally committed to go see Porgy and Bess. To be transparent, I was most excited about seeing my college classmate perform in the show with a runner up excitement to see Audra.

I left Porgy feeling conflicted. On one hand I was overwhelmed with joy to experience such an amazing performance which Audra and the cast gave me chills. Yet, I was angry that no one ever talked about Audra in my circles.

I decided I could not allow an opportunity to go by without seeing her again. Audra is a legend. I purchased my ticket the night before and I am so happy I was able to be a part of such a special night.

Audra’s voice is perfect. At first, I was thinking no wonder I chose engineering over Broadway. I can carry a tune, but I am no Audra. Then in a break Audra mentioned how much her daughter hates her voice. She told her as a toddler “it makes my ears cry.” Then I became inspired. Maybe my family was wrong about my singing ability. Maybe I still have a chance on Broadway.

That’s what happens when you witness a diva. She makes you believe you too can make your dreams come true. She even sang about it. To put icing on the top, she talked about her work with the covenant House. An organization to help teens stricken with homelessness. A woman after my own heart, pulling up others with you as you climb.

I am speechless with how wonderful the performance was. Though I have renewed my faith in my dreams through the arts, I knew better than to sing along when Audra commanded the audience to sing. There were talented people all around me. There is nothing like a true singer giving you the eye when you sing out of key.

I am so grateful for Audra and the authenticity she brings to the stage. Houston keeps surprising me with amazing shows!

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