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Essence Fest 2014, The return of Prince to New Orleans

30th June 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Without a doubt, Prince’s return to the Essence Festival, July 3- 6, after a 10-year hiatus has created a huge buzz. That’s for good reason. The seven-time Grammy winner is noted almost as much for his elusiveness as his huge talent as a vocalist, guitarist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, actor and producer.

It’s almost as if Friday is dedicated to Prince with artists with whom he’s been associated, vocalist Janelle Monae and producer/guitarist giant Nile Rodgers, on the schedule. They perform in the main arena at 8:20 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. respectively. Word is that Rodgers will share the stage with Prince, whose set begins at 10:30 p.m., and it’s altogether possible that he and Monae will mix it up too. She nailed her contribution to the BET Awards’ tribute to Prince several years ago.

The significance of Prince’s being at the festival is reflected in that only the above named three headliners will perform in the big arena where generally there are four or five. As always, the smaller, four, upper level superlounges will also be presenting an array of artists beginning at 7:25 p.m. Highlights include Naughty By Nature that hits at 8:50 p.m.

Since the Essence Festival began in 1995 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine, the format has basically remained the same – nighttime performances in the Superdome and the free Empowerment seminars held each day at the Morial Convention Center.

“As then-Mayor of New Orleans, I served as founding mayor of the Essence Festival and was there when it began in 1995 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Essence magazine,” said Marc Morial, president & CEO of the National Urban League adds. “I am thrilled to see it blossom into more than any of us ever imagined — the largest, most exciting and purposeful gathering of African-Americans anywhere in the U.S. The partnership of the Essence Festival and the City of New Orleans was ideal from the start.”

Last year, organizers added a new, fun event called Family Day that is back again in 2014. Hosted by Carla Ferrell, a syndicated program director for the “Steve Harvey Show,” the free event will be held on Thursday, July 3 at Woldenberg Park. The music kicks off at 11 a.m. and includes local favorites such as Cupid — get ready to line-dance — and soulful keyboardist Nigel Hall. Naturally, there will be food booths and, with luck, a breeze off the Mississippi River.

What is new this year is that Essence Festival has added another night, Thursday, July 3 at the Superdome. It’s now four nights instead of three though music will only be presented in the main arena with the action at the superlounges not kicking in until Friday. Five acts will perform starting at 7:30 pm and include such stars as Nas and Trey Songz.

It’s difficult to call Saturday and Sunday at the Superdome “ordinary” considering the amount of talent that will be presented under the roof. Let’s just say these nights follow the very successful and unique main stage plus superlounges formula. As folks absolutely discovered when Essence was forced to move to Houston for its 2006 event following Hurricane Katrina, there’s nothing quite like having the opportunity to experience a major concert (the main stage) and intimate shows (the superlounges) all in one night and in one building. Unfortunately, many folks haven’t altogether caught on to the wonderful food that is available upstairs in the lounges. In a place like New Orleans, so noted for its cuisine, more emphasis and advertising might be needed in order to keep our local vendors happy.

Back to the music…Vocalists Mary J. Blige and Jill Scott, both Essence Festival regulars, return to the Superdome on Saturday at 10:10 p.m. and 11:50 respectively. Debuting on the big stage at 8:50 p.m. is The Roots, rap/soul giants formed in Philadelphia in 1987 by drummer/vocalist Questlove and Tariq Trotter. Always a powerhouse, The Roots have exploded and gained a legion of new fans since 2009 when they became the house band for the “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Show” and moved with the host to “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” With the band’s bulging bag of material — Is there any song these guys don’t know — The Roots will get down. Later, Questlove travels uptown to Tipitina’s for a deejaying session with special guest DJ Soul Sister starting to spin at 10 p.m. Ledisi, who in 2012 made local history by being the first artist from New Orleans to headline a show on the arena stage brings it on again at 7:45 p.m. New Orleans own Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also be in the house, upstairs in a superlounge at 7:15 p.m.

Superstar Lionel Richie closes out the festival this year beginning at 11 p.m. The always warm-spirited Charlie Wilson, who performed at Jazz Festival just two months ago before an adoring and smiling crowd, will heat things up at 9:10 p.m.

Those who have been lucky enough to catch keyboardist Robert Glasper at his New Orleans appearances at last year’s Essence Festival and this winter at the Civic Theatre will definitely want to head to the lounge area at 9:35 p.m. Once noted as a jazz musician, who performed with trumpeter Terence Blanchard among others, Glasper’s creativity has taken him to another level that was first introduced on his 2012 release, Black Radio.

“New Orleans has been just a tremendous home for the Essence Festival. There’s not a better place. Louisiana is famous for festivals. We believe there is a symbiotic relationship that we have here,” said Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications.

This article originally published in the June 30, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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