*Without question, this year’s Essence Festival was a success.
New Orleans city officials and organizers of the event, which marked its 20th anniversary at the city’s convention and superdome, revealed the festival attracted more than 550,000 attendees as it set a record for its annual attendance. The turnout bested the attendance at the 2013 event, which featured a sold-out performance by Beyoncé, by 10,000.
During a news conference, Essence Communications Inc. president Michelle Ebanks expressed her reaction to the festival’s success, saying, “I woke up this morning and felt a great sense of pride and gratitude.”
The 2014 Essence Festival included a variety of entertainers with more than 80 musical performances from the likes of Prince, Lionel Richie, Charlie Wilson, Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, Trey Songz and The Roots. In addition, the event featured more than 150 speakers speaking on topics ranging from solutions to crime and violence to growing entrepreneurs to maintaining healthy relationships.
Essence general manager Joy Profet highlighted the “deep community collaborations” created by the festival while noting the $25,000 in seed capital won by an entrepreneur as part of the PowerMoves Nola program for aspiring business owners, in addition to the new apps and web-based solutions created and pitched by 200 young girls and boys as part of the event’s #YesWeCode initiative.
Despite the success of the Essence Festival, a bigger issue exists as this year marked the official end of New Orleans’ partnership with the event. Although Ebanks and New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu expressed their commitment to a new deal for the festival, Ebanks stated they are “working through the (contract renewal) process” at this time and will reveal details once all the details are worked through.
The festival’s impact on New Orleans was evident as Landrieu mentioned how the event was responsible for injecting life in the city with attracting visitors during the July 4th holiday since it’s launch 20 years ago as well as creating a consistent business with hotel bookings at about 97 percent each year.
As it stands now, work has already begun on next year’s Essence Festival, which will coincide with the 45th anniversary of Essence magazine, Ebanks said.