Friends Sabrina Bouyer and Natalee Simms had never been to ESSENCE Festival, but all it took was one strong vote of confidence to lead them to New Orleans
Sabrina: One of my clients told me that it would be a nice festival to attend over the summer so I called my friend up and said," Hey, let's do it." And so far, it's been better than I imagined. We're already planning on coming back next year."
This group of friends traveled from England to enjoy the festivities. Although it was the first time attending for Nkem and Toieay, it was the encouragement of the other Toieay, who is enjoying her second festival, that persuading them to cross the pond for New Orleans.
Toieay: I had to come back. It's just the music. It's the line up and it's also the people. Whenever we come to the States, we always have an amazing time. The people are so friendly! Over in London, no one says hello when you're walking down the street, but here everyone's friendly and welcoming. .
For Sharron and Bryan Hawkins of Huntsville, Alabama, there were several aspects of the ESSENCE Festival that drew them here.
Sharron: I came to see Beyonce. It’s all about Beyonce for me, but we’re definitely looking forward to seeing the panels and the speakers on all three days in addition to the Superlounges.
For Melenie McNamara of Pensacola, Florida and Myra Crawford of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the ESSENCE Festival has provided the sisters with an annual bonding trip to look forward to every year for the past decade. With so many festivals under their belts, they quickly how hard it was to pinpoint which moment has been their favorite.
Melenie: The last time that Maze performed here and they received their Lifetime Achievement Award was a great moment.
Myra: Oh and the time when The Commodores did a reunion. Lionel Richie was performing and he brought out all the guys from the group. Milan [Williams] was the only one who wasn't there, but yes, that was a good one too!
For six time ESSENCE Festival attendee Cheryl Peters of New Jersey, the time was right to make this year's festival a true family affair. Joined by her husband, her cousin and cousin-in-law, all first time attendees, she's excited to be sharing the festivities with her loved ones.
Cheryl: I just really love the festival. I love the music and I really love the activities at the Convention Center with the speakers. Getting a chance to share this experience with my family makes this year even more special.
New Orleans' Exposé Family has been making the ESSENCE Festival a family affair for as long as they can remember. More than just a chance to check out music's best acts and biggest superstars, the family enjoys the educational aspect just as much.
Hayward Sr.: We come back every year because it's a party with a purpose. We enjoy everything that comes with Essence. We like the seminars and we like the concerts. We like the educational opportunities we get from the festival as well and enjoy getting to meet people from all areas of the United States.
For New Orleans native Dianne Jones and longtime attendee, the ESSENCE Festival is as much a part of the city's identity as Mardi Gras. This cultural meshing is exactly what drew Maryland resident Kimberly Haines to her second festival. Despite looking forward to this year's performances, Kimberly's very first festival will always hold a special place in her heart.
Kimberly: I came to the very first one and I'll never forget it because Frankie Beverly and Maze were staying at our hotel. We were so excited! I mean, we grew up on their music. Essence Festival is just a big melting pot of entertainment, music, good food, good people and southern hospitality. I mean, how could you not come to Essence Fest?
Cousins Shenek Reeder of Greensville, South Carolina and Cheryl Hunter of New Orleans kept it in the family this year by bringing their children along for the fun. While they admit that they love all aspects of the festival, its the feeling of unity that warms Cheryl's heart especially.
Cheryl: You get to meet a lot of people and make new friends. Everybody is just open and friendly. It’s just that atmosphere of being around our African sisters and brothers and having a good time. That’s what its about.
When Brooklyn couple Quiana and Darryl Andrews were planning their vacation, Darryl found inspiration in a radio spot adverstising the 2013 ESSENCE Festival. For Quiana, attending her first festival has been about more than just the talented performers on the roster.
Quiana: My purpose of being here is because I'm into black unity. I'm into the black power within this event. I made my trek here this year because I had to be here. We haven't even seen tomorrow yet, but I'm already planning to come back next year.
For girlfriends Kimberly Morris and Ginette Braziel, taking part in this year's activities provided them both with a chance to revisit the city that Kimberly hails from.
Kimberly: It's been a long time since I've been here, since before Katrina. I wanted to come back and see how the city's progressed. I'm enjoying it, it's beautiful. The city, the people, everyone.
With at least nine ESSENCE Festivals under his belt, it'd be easy for Kareem Hill to feel like he's seen it all. However, the Savannah, Georgia resident continues to be wowed, year after year, with how festival organizers keep things fresh and engaging.
Kareem: It's just the energy and the people. It's always great to be around positive black folks. And of course, Essence just does a great job every year with all the activities they have planned.
The first time Arthur and Desiree Spencer visited for Essence Festival, they paid little attention to the activities beyond the nightly concerts. Now a family of five, the Spencers discovered the economical way to enjoy all that the festival has to offer.
Arthur: Earlier today we watched an Essence Empowerment Experience session with Dr. Steve Perry that was very inspiration. Things like that were available to us and we never even knew.
Desiree: We totally missed this entire other side. And the best part about the sessions is that they're free and when you're on a budget, every bit counts and we still get a chance to experience New Orleans culture as well.
Nineteen year-old Clinisia London has been attending the ESSENCE Festival for as long as she can remember. The New Orleans native and her family, like many others, have turned the festival into a yearly tradition.
Clinisia: We always come out and have fun. My favorite part is the food, music, the people and just everything. It's always real nice.
Even with all of the other events that are built into ESSENCE Festival, music remains the main attraction for New Orleans family Kelly Jones, John Simmons and their son Skye. The trio attended the Family Day to lend their support for their friends.
John: We came out today to see our friends' band Water Seed perform. Events like these are great. I just wish that there were more locals acts that performed at events like this.
Kelly: The music is definitely what I enjoy most about Essence Fest.
Travelling from all the way from Bermuda to attend their first ESSENCE Fest, Johnette Wolff and Grace Daniels prove that the festival's reach is immense.
Johnette: I've always wanted to come just for the experience. I'm looking forward to doing a little bit of everything. The only thing I won't be doing today is eating. It's just too hot to eat," she quips.
This Harrisburg, Pennsylvania couple travelled to ESSENCE Festival for the first time to commemorate Ray's birthday. So far, they have enjoyed themselves immensely and are already thinking about returning for next year's 20th birthday celebration.
Taressa Garrett and Kwanjalynn Garrett are using ESSENCE Fest weekend as an opportunity to connect on a deeper level. Despite it being her first festival experience, the Alabama mother is also making the most of her time by strengthening the bond she has with her daughter, Kwanjalynn.
Taressa Garrett, brewston Alabama and Kwanjalyn Garrett
1st time for mom and 2nd time for daughter
Daughter looks forward to the empowerment sessions
Mom loves being there w/ her daughter. “I’ve always wanted to come. I love it. This is bonding time between us.
Sisters Phoebe and Elizabeth Jerome, along with their friend Monique Beckford are experiencing ESSENCE Festival for the first time this year. The trio hails from Florida and felt that Family Day was a great kick off to what's sure to be a memorable weekend.
Phoebe: We've been wanting to come for a while, but everything just fell into place this year. There are so many things that made us want to come down this year and we're just happy that it finally happened. We're loving it so far. This may be our first, but it definitely won't be our last."
This extended family of cousins, nieces and nephews cherishes any moment that they get to get together. Being able do so during the Family Reunion Day made their Independence Day that much better for the Louisiana-based family.
Mack: We always love when we can get together as a family and we chereish these moments. This is such a great event that allows families and friends to come together and have fun and celebrate.
Husband and wife team Markquelyn and Will Ursin's love of music has made them frequent ticket holders for numerous ESSENCE Festivals.
Markquelyn: The line up brings us back year after year. We're looking forward to seeing Beyonce and Charlie Wilson. Some of our best experiences with the Essence Fest are based on the artists we've been able to see perform through the years.
Will: So many of the artists that perform at Essence only come around once in a lifetime so when you get a chance to see them, you don't want to miss anything.
This family contains a veteran festival goer and a first-timer. Despite their differences in experiences, all ladies agree on what makes the ESSENCE Festival so important to the community.
Dawnshey: I just enjoy all the scenery, the food and the family time. ESSENCE is all about family, culture and just enjoying the experience of music. That's why I keep coming back and why everyone should come back.
This group of friends from Chattanooga, Tennessee is also a mix of newbie and experienced festival-goers. In fact, it was the group's veteran festival attendee, Theresa Davis, who inspired her girlfriends Valerie Leslie and Candace Featherstone to join her this year.
Theresa: They've heard me talk about it so much because I've been several times. Everytime i come, it's such a good experience. Where we're from, we don't have a lot of entertainment for people of color so we like to come here and see all of the positive black people at the Convention Center and the concerts.
Though this newlywed couple is still settling in to married life, they took time out to check out the ESSENCE Family Day. And while work obligations will prevent the two from enjoying the festival as a whole, they have plans to dig deeper into the festival in upcoming years.
Jamie: This is my first experience with the ESSENCE Festival at all. We just moved to Laplace, Louisiana so it's close to New Orleans and we decided to explore the city on our day off.
Gregory: We just wanted to come out here and experience. The food has definitely been the best thing about being out here.
Though this New Orleans native has been to many ESSENCE Festivals, he was excited about checking out the Family Reunion Day. ESSENCE caught up with him to find out what he enjoys most about the festival weekend.
Jason: One of the best thigns about ESSENCE Fest is the people. You get a lot of people from out of town, nice concerts three nights in a row, great parties [and] a lot of celebrities. It's a good time. I'm definitely looking forward to checking out Beyonce this year and I may go see Maxwell also.
These Georgia peaches are excited to experience this year's ESSENCE Festival to the fullest. Not even a light drizzle could deter them from their goal.
Pamela: The music in general keeps us coming back. We're going both Friday and Saturday nights and are really looking forward to it.