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Essence visitors have love affair with Fest and Big Easy

5th July 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
The Louisiana Weekly

Of those who made their way to the Big Easy this past weekend for the 2011 Essence Music Festival (EMF), many are considered seasoned veterans when it comes to partying with a purpose. Where some spend the holiday barbecuing, or on the beach, New Orleans has become the routine July 4th destination for scores of African Ameri­cans.

And while it’s too soon to tally up the final figures for the 2011 turnout, Jennifer Day of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau Director of Communications & Public Relations says, “According to (Essence Festival) organizers, attendance for 2010 was 408,000.” So she’s not surprised to hear that many of the fest-goers have become regulars.

“New Orleans-based festivals have a very strong repeat appeal,” Day added.

“People come to the city for a celebration and it is so powerful; it leaves such an impression, that individuals look to recreate that experience time and time again.”

“What keeps me coming back to New Orleans for Essence is almost unexplainable,” says nine-year vet Marcia Woods, who’s from Los Angeles, by way of Akron, OH.

“New Orleans really is like no other place in America. As many times as I have been, I can honestly say I still have not experienced all that it has to offer and every year I find something new to do or see.”

To get a better idea of the number of EMF vets out there, one need only to check out the activity on the forums of numerous social network websites.

“The message board is indeed a wonderful medium for those of us who like to visit New Orleans and especially the Essence fest forum on neworleans.com,” says Harmon Weston, of Brooklyn, NY. “We have subsequently spun off and made a Facebook group dedicated to attending to Essence Music festival.”

Weston, who’s gearing up for his 15th Essence Fest, says the Crescent City has become a second home.

“This city is immersed in culture and especially for the people of African descent,” he says. “What keeps me coming back is the many friends I have met; attendees, my Masonic brothers who live there, the staff at restaurants and hotels and other venues — they make you feel at home. It’s a sense of being where you know you belong.”

Senitra Tate of Tampa FL. agrees.

“When you come here, you’re embraced by the people in New Orleans; it makes you feel like a native and I love that,” she says. “I made it my mission to make sure I knew how to pronounce those interesting street names. And after the first two visits, I was good.”

Tate was a new college grad when she first came to New Orleans and has only missed the event in 2006. “I took that year off from Essence,” she said. “I was looking forward to coming back and when I saw all that happened to the city, I was heartbroken. And I was afraid the city wouldn’t be able to recover. It just didn’t seem right to have Essence Fest anywhere but New Orleans.”

“The atmosphere at Essence is one of a kind; thousands of African Americans from all over the world,” Marcia Woods states. “I have made lifelong friendships from all over the states and as far away as London, England. I have stayed in hotels with celebrities, who are just as down to earth and engaging as us folks. Even they know to leave the ego at the airport. If one goes to Essence in New Orleans and has a bad time, then maybe they need to learn how to have a good time. Having a bad time at Essence or in New Orleans is unheard of.”

Like that of the Festival’s entertainment, Senitra Tate believes the city provides an assortment of happenings that everyone can enjoy.

“There’s so much to do and see; whatever you like, regardless of your age or background,” she says. “I’ve come to Essence with women of a variety of ages — and we all had a ball.”

“These (EMF vets) have become ambassadors,” says Jennifer Day. “They spread that intense love for the city to their friends and family and become a voice for the city. We love that!”

Praise, that is to tourism officials, and likely locals, music to the ears.

This article originally published in the July 4, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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