One of my favorite festivals is the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. This will be my third year attending so I feel like I am a veteran. With less than a week away, I wanted to give my tips for Essence to help you navigate successfully this year or for years to come.
- Do plan for housing at the last minute but not too late
Essence is one of the few conventions in New Orleans that requires an up front in full deposit for ALL of your nights (non-refundable). Due to the policy of inflexibility, I suggest waiting until about two weeks before to book housing if you plan to stay in a hotel. You will be more likely to fulfill your plans and get the best rate. This is also a great time to use loyalty points or loyalty points with cash. I have noticed booking direct with the hotel is more cost effective than the Essence website. The first year I booked the hotel almost a year in advance and saw no benefit in prices than the second year when I waited until 2 weeks before. If you plan to use something like AirBnB, you might want to do that earlier. I recommend getting a hotel in CBD.
- Do buy 3-day tickets early
The best value if you plan to attend concerts is to buy the 3-day pack. My other trick is knowing most of the artists I want to see will be in the superlounge, I get the highest and cheapest ticket I can find. Last year, I sat in my seat for maybe 1-2 acts. The rest of my time was walking the entire Superdome between the two lounges. The schedule is also pretty tight. This year, I got more sophisticated with a priority system knowing I can’t see everyone. I took off people that I either did not want to see or have seen already and don’t have to see twice. My first priority is seeing artists I have not seen before and always wanted to see.
- Don’t plan to party hard and attend concerts
Your essence festival will be a wash if you choose to do too much. The first year, I didn’t have tickets to a show (though was blessed with a ticket to Beyonce at the last minute XOXO). I did the party track…and that is one of the last times I got home at 6AM (which caused me to sleep until 6PM.) The party hard plan worked because we did not have concerts to attend. Yet, when you have shows, sometimes the artist you want to see is scheduled early. There are no ins and outs for the concerts, so you are stuck if the other one you want to see is at 10PM. Last year, I had to see Goapele and she was one of the first acts. I don’t regret getting there early to see her. She was amazing. Yet, if I had been partying all day, I may have missed her. The one regret I had last year was not knowing about Solange’s party in time. This year, I am prepared and have already purchased tickets for both days. Will make sure I eat my wheaties!
- Do attend the empowerment sessions
There is an entire free conference held in the New Orleans Convention Center with some pretty amazing sessions. Last year, I witnessed a panel with Issa Rae and was very excited. On Sunday, I was able to attend the gospel extravaganza with a tribute to Kim Burrell. The Spirit was definitely in the place that morning. The vendors in the convention center are also wonderful. They are selling ranges of items such as jewelry, clothes, art and food. Don’t forget to stop by the sponsor booths where you usually can get free items including free smoothies 🙂
- Do dress comfortably
It is July in New Orleans. One or two things will be happening and sometimes both. It will be hot and humid (with some chances of rain). Prepare by having an umbrella and very comfortable shoes. No matter what you plan to do, you will walk a ton. Walking is usually faster than being in a car. There are some people that drive in town and park at the convention center but once you get downtown, you will be walking. Don’t focus so much on being cute that you end up hurting yourself. (I am pretty sure I was in the 15-20k step range daily.)
- Do talk to strangers
Most people at Essence are there to have a good time. So, if you meet someone, don’t be afraid to be cordial. Yes, New Orleans is a city where you have to keep your eyes open, yet being overly cautious could have you missing out on a genuine connection that could last beyond your trip.
- Do eat
Despite food being sold in the Superdome and the Convention Center by vendors, I recommend at least a few good meals outside. For some of the more popular restaurants, reservations are required ahead of time. We were able to get in Commander’s Palace and Compere Lapin and loved it. There was another restaurant we booked at the last minute on open table and it worked well. Others book months in advance.
- Do have a communication back up plan
Some years, I have had a terrible time getting cell phone coverage. It really threw off plans especially when in the Superdome or in the hotel. Have people’s hotels and room numbers as a backup just in case you have to leave a message the old fashioned way.
- Do plan to network
Last year (and this year) I attended the Walker’s Legacy Brunch. For women entrepreneurs, it was a great place to come together for a couple of hours and mingle. There are also all types of side conferences happening at Essence such as business pitch competitions, hair product showcases, etc. Keep your ear to the ground in order to find jewels off the beaten path.
Essence has changed significantly over the years but what has remained constant is the amazing experience. Some people who went in the early years feel like it is too commercial now. I can’t compare as I am a newbie but it is still a great place to have the family reunion you never planned to have. I always run into people from all over and also make sure to make new friends.