By DIANE LARCHE’
It’s part music, inspiration and education. The Essence Music Festival in New Orleans over the Fourth of July weekend started in 1995 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Essence Magazine. It’s now an annual event in its 17th year and has been presented by Atlanta-based Coca Cola Company for 15 years. Essence, the largest annual African-American cultural event in the country, draws nearly a half-million people to the Crescent City and Louisiana Superdome and pumps more than $100 million into an economy that could use a boost.
Only away from New Orleans for several years after Hurricane Katrina and taking up temporary residence in Houston in 2006, the fest has drawn more than 3 million people and added more than $1.7 billion to the Louisiana economy over the years.
It has been regaining steam since returning in 2007. More than six years removed from the catastrophic hurricane, New Orleans still has cleaning up to do as many communities still have major devastation from the storm.
New Edition was a great addition to the Essence Music Festival this year. To the delight of their intergenerational fans over a 30 year span, yes can you believe its been 30 years since “Mr. Telephone Man,””Candy Girl” and a string of bubble gum songs catapulted the Boston born group to stardom. The original New Edition — Ralph Tresvant, Ronnie DeVoe, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell and Michael Bivens, along with later addition Johnny Gill, performed a repertoire of songs as a group and made room for individual solo projects of Bobby, Bell Biv DeVoe, Tresvant and Gill. A tour is in the planning. The group sported white dinner jackets with black vests and pants, and had the crowd on its feet singing along and dancing in the aisles. Later in the interview room, journalists eager to hear what’s been going on with the group since they last performed experienced a lock out when the media room got so full reporters were turned away.
There is a major problem with Essence but it’s a good problem to have: So much to do and so little time to do it all. With educational and informational sessions going on at the Convention Center, performances on the main stage and those going on simultaneously in smaller spaces called “Super Lounges” it can be difficult to see it all.
The lounges where George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic (McDonald’s Super Lounge Stage) and Doug E. Fresh (Essence Super Lounge Stage) performed were both over capacity with long lines snaking around the arena as die hard fans waited. Either of these groups could have performed in the main arena that seats thousands.
Not to disappoint, and in Funkadelic wild fashion, the group was dressed in glitter with one shirtless member dressed in a