About a week ago (week ago), my friends Germaine, Crystal, Kelli, and I attended the 2015 Essence Festival in New Orleans, LA! I don't even know where to begin telling you about this experience! There was so much to do, and such little time, but we still made the most of our experience. I had only been to New Orleans one other time, so I was excited to see more, eat more, and do more this time around. Here is my recap of my Essence Festival/New Orleans experience.
Thursday, July 2
We arrived in New Orleans around 5:30 pm, and headed to our hotel, the Omni Riverfront on Convention Center Blvd. Our hotel was located directly across from the riverfront, and in a central location that made moving through the city easier. The only thing on the agenda for this evening was a white party, not affiliated with the Essence Festival. The party was held on the Creole Queen, a New Orleans riverboat, and hosted by various reality television show personalities. There was music and a concise menu of food for ordering. I ordered a plate of what was said to have been seafood pasta, but there was pork sausage in there, also (gross!). After the party we adjourned to our room and called it a night.
Friday, July 3
I had to wake up early to head to the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for the Essence Festival opening press conference. A few months ago, I applied to receive press credentials to cover Essence Fest daytime and night events, and my request was approved. I got to preview the convention center, and watch as the finishing touches were placed on the displays. During the conference, we heard from esteemed Essence staff members, and sponsors including Walmart, Ford, and State Farm. The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, also took to the stage to thank Essence for its continuous relationship, and for giving back to the city of New Orleans. Once the conference had ended, I went to get my press passes, and then returned to the hotel to have breakfast with my friends.
We enjoyed breakfast and conversation at the Fulton St. Restaurant inside of the hotel, and set out our plans for the day. For breakfast, I enjoyed the crab benedict, with a side of wheat toast and a glass of orange juice. After our meal, we went out into the city of New Orleans, walking about and sightseeing. My friend Crystal and I later returned to the convention center for the afternoon lineup of activities at the Ford Motors stage, hosted by BJ Stone and Donna of SiriusXM's Heart & Soul channel. We watched the interviews of Heavenly Kimes of Bravo's Married to Medicine, Shanti Das, Luke James, Tank, and Demetria McKinney of Bravo's Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Crystal and I later returned to our hotel room to change for the evening’s festivities. The girls and I went down to the infamous Bourbon St for a night out on the town. If you've ever been on Bourbon St, you know that it was turned up to the max, with thousands of people lining the streets in every direction, dancing, drinking, eating, singing, and partaking in some other activities I'd rather not say. We stopped for dinner at Le Bayou, and I had the crawfish etouffee. After eating, we took to Bourbon St. to join in the madness. We danced and we laughed, and then returned to our room.
Saturday, July 4
Happy Indepence Day! Let me just say, it did not feel like a holiday at all. The night before we made plans to stop by Cafe Du Monde for a breakfast of beignets, and that is exactly what we did. I was so excited to try them after watching The Princess and the Frog dozens of times with my nieces. I don't know if you know this, but beignets are highly coveted, and the lines at the shops can be almost ridiculous at times. Luckily, our plan to go first thing in the morning was a success! There was no line, no long wait, and we were able to seat ourselves. My friends and I enjoyed the fluffy pastries covered (and I do mean covered) in powder sugar, and I washed mine down with a cup of cafe au lait. After breakfast, we walked down Decatur St, looking at souvenirs and enjoying the scenery. When we got back to the hotel, we prepared ourselves for a day at the convention center.
While my friends enjoyed the festivities, I made my way to the press room and caught some interviews. This whole idea "press exclusivity" was brand new to me, and I had no idea what I was doing. A fellow blogger gave me some tips, and I got a good seat so that I could take it all in. During my time in the press room, we were joined by some of the cast of Fox's Empire: Jussie Smollett, Yazz Gray, and Gabourey Sidibe; celebrity stylist June Ambrose, Flex and Shanice, and Justine Skye. Everyone shared their new projects and smiled for the camera (flick, flick, flick!). Here's the skinny: The cast of Empire are currently filming the second season of their critically-acclaimed series, June Ambrose is gearing up for her Fall line on HSN, the new season of Flex and Shanice airs this weekend, and Justine Skye is currently promoting her new album Emotionally Unavailable.
I met back up with my friends for lunch, and I'm not going to say what I ate because it wasn't great. However, I had some cheesecake from Minnie Pearl Pies & Pastries that was amazing! It was topped with fresh strawberries and the filling was so smooth, rich and creamy. That cheesecake was thee bomb! Since we were scheduled to attend the concert on this evening, we left the convention center so we could get ready.
A few hours had passed and we were dolled up, and ready to make our way to the Mercedes Benz Superdome to see Common, Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott, and Usher tear down the mainstage! I, of course, had to see Wale's set in the Now Playing Lounge before I could do anything else. As he was wrapping up, I headed to the press room to catch some interviews, and after thirty minutes of confusion and uncertainty (I did however see Raheem DeVaughn, in passing, as he was getting off an elevator), I was pointed in the right direction. I was able to catch the end of Wale's interview, but I was undoubtedly sad that I had missed a great portion of it. Instead of waiting to see who was coming up next in the press room, I decided to join my friends at our seats and watch the rest of the show. My favorite performance of the night was Missy Elliott's, hands down! She gave me just what I needed, performing classics such as Get Ur Freak On, Work It, and The Rain. I had never seen Erykah Badu live, and she certainly sang to my soul as performed Appletree, Tyrone, and Cleva, a few of my favorites by her. Ms. Badu announced during her performance that she is on the cover of Essence Magazine's first ever global issue (On stands 7/10/15). When we left the concert, it was late. So we took a cab to Harrah's Casino and got some burgers. As we sat and ate, to our surprise was another RHOA star, Cynthia Bailey, and her husband Peter. We also saw Demetria McKinney and Claudia Jordan (also of RHOA) making their way through the casino.
Sunday, July 5
Our last full day together. Crystal and Kelli went to the convention center to get their faces beat at the My Black Is Beautiful booth, and there they saw the beautiful Belle in Brooklyn, Demetria Lucas. When they got back to the room, we took advantage of the rest of the day and went on a city tour of NOLA. We got to see some of the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, and many other historical points of interest. One of the stops on the tour was a cemetery, and we got to hear about the burial process in New Orleans. Later that evening, Crystal and I went over to the convention center to catch 112's performance at the McDonald's stage, and we got a great spot in the front. The concert was great, and the songs sounded just as good as they did when I was growing up listening to them. At the end of the night, the four of us had dinner at Mulate's The Original Cajun Restaurant. I had the stuffed shrimp with a twice baked potato and homemade cole slaw.
Overall, I had tons of fun at the Essence Festival with my friends, and as working press. It is a great place to be during the fourth of July weekend (even though we didn't see any fireworks). The Essence Fest is a great place for lovers, a girlfriend's getaway, and families to enjoy themselves, and experience the culture of the great city of New Orleans. Check out some of the pictures from the trip, below: