You've heard the stories. You've probably seen the pictures. And now you're finally ready to attend Essence Fest and experience the hype for yourself. Those who have gone before you will try to give you first-timers an idea of what to expect. But take it from me, a man who has been to four of them, you're not ready. There's too much of everything you love in one place; it's sensory overload. The best you can do is survive, so think of this list as a survival guide for all the dancing, eating, and drinking you will do. How you handle each of these situations is completely up to you. Like the old saying goes, if you stay ready, you don't have to get ready.
You’ll feel right at home.
Essence Fest is like a family reunion, only people like Prince, Mary J. Blige and Lionel Richie are invited too. Even if you’re visiting New Orleans and Essence Fest for the first time, it will look as familiar to you as your own city. Strangers will greet you like they’re members of your family. If you’re cutting up too much, someone is going to calm you down to remind you where all here to have a good time. If you’re being a wallflower, and merely doing shoulder shrugs in your chair, someone is going to look at you like you need to use the feet God gave you and get on the dance floor.
Photo by Aldis Hodge
Your good eating habits will be put on hold.
Here are your four food groups during Essence Fest weekend: Beignets, crawfish, gumbo, and po’ boys. Eat everything because it’s all good, literally. There’s no sense in calorie counting this weekend. Enjoy all the goodies Nola has to offer and worry about the scale the following Monday.
You will be overwhelmed with all the good music options.
There’s a good chance your favorite artist is going to perform at the same time as your other favorite artist who will be followed by another favorite artist. Just remember, this is only a test, and there are no wrong choices. Yes, you missed your favorite, but it’s only because you were jamming to your other favorite.
Photo by Erika Goldring
You will change clothes more than once a day.
Forget trying to wear transitional outfits that can go from night to day. The weather will be hot, muggy, and maybe even rainy, which means your all-white set is going to look like an off-white set by around 4 PM so be prepared. Speaking of clothes…
Photo by Erika Goldring
You will be in awe of the crazy fashions.
Fashion Week this is not, but make sure your phone is charged up to take pictures, because your eyes will see outfits that nobody will believe if you described to them.
You will make new friends.
To this day, there are people I met at my first Essence Fest in 2008 with whom I am still friends. Something about the festival and the city of New Orleans makes even the cagiest curmudgeon bloom into a social butterfly.
Photo by Skip Bolen
You will be tempted to sell your tickets. Don't.
There are plenty of good times happening away from the Superdome. While attending one of these events, people will ask to buy your tickets to the concerts. And you very well might want to, since you're at a party having the time of your life. Don’t do it. When night falls, the Superdome is where you want to be.
You will get to drink freely in the streets.
One of the best things about New Orleans is the non-rule about drinking outside. You can walk all of the French Quarter with the adult beverage of your choice. We encourage you to do that (there are too many day parties to sit at one place all day), but don’t be sloppy or consume so many hand grenades that you end up passing out in your room by 7 PM. Hang in there, drink plenty of water, and keep it together.
Photo by Washington Post
You will wait in ridiculously long lines.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If there’s a line, it’s probably for a good reason. A perfect example is the soul food restaurant Mother’s, which is located near the Loews Hotel and the W. Hotel Poydras. It’s a Nola institution, and though the line will be out the door, the wait will be well worth it. Trust us.
You also might learn a thing or two.
One of the best parts about Essence Festival is the Empowerment program which is full of motivational speakers and other workshops focusing on self-development and improvement. Don’t think visiting there is an option, it’s mandatory. Speakers such as Iyanla Vanzant, Reverend Al Sharpton make the afternoon as star studded as the evenings.
You will need a nap.
Essence Fest is a wear out, just one big exercise in durability and stamina. If you want to take a nap, take one, but just know you’re missing something that can only happen in New Orleans during Essence Fest. Sleep? That’s something you can do on your next vacation. And while we’re on that topic…
When it’s over, you will need another vacation.
The Essence Music Festival is not a relaxing trip where you spend most of your days lounging by a pool. It is a three-day party intended to keep you up at all hours of the night and day so be prepared. On Monday, whether you chose to drink hand grenades or not, you will have a vacation hangover unlike any you have ever felt. If you can, take the Monday after off.