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5 Lessons from My First Time Attending ESSENCE Fest

I just got back from New Orleans yesterday, fresh off my first ever ESSENCE Fest, and I am still not recovered. Whew. First world problems is being exhausted from 4 days of panels, pampering, and parties, I know. It was hella fun, though, but I don’t bounce back as fast as I used to. There are so many naps in my future.

I was there serving as McDonald’s @365Black social ambassador and I had a blast covering their awards (got hella selfies), old school skate jam (I almost busted my ass on them skates) and concerts (I got a picture with 112!). I took over their Twitter account for the weekend. I was also keeping folks updated with my #NOLALuvv hashtag and #365BlackEF. Check out my Instagram for the pics (and a couple of vids).

So, after my inaugural ESSENCEFest, I wanted to drop some lessons for those who will be going next year. I want to make sure you’re as prepared as you can be.

5 Lessons from a First-Time ESSENCE Fest

1. Bring flat shoes.

Now, many people enjoy the art of slayage every moment of every day. Sometimes, their version of fierceness requires heels. I am here to tell you that you need to revise that if you’re going to ESSENCEFest. You need to find you a couple of pairs of cute flats otherwise your ankles and feet might don’t make it.

During the day, the main events, panels and the exhibit hall are at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. It’s by the Riverwalk and it’s a giant building with multiple floors. You will be doing a lot of walking, just to get from one part of it to another, so you should be wearing shoes that you can trot in. The only time I wore heels was for the 365Black awards, and that’s because I was just going from the car that dropped me off at the door I needed to be, to the escalator to the gold carpet. I didn’t have to go on any pilgrimages across the building. Also, I had flats in my bag, so even those heels had an expiration time on my feet once the carpet was done.

Invest in cute flats.

Invest in cute and comfy flats. I rocked these day 2. Shoestagram: @MustLuvvShoes

At night, the concerts happen at the Mercedes Benz Superdome, also a giant building. It’s an arena. I never understand how people rock heels to concerts. You’re going to be walking and standing a lot. How do your feet prosper in 4 inches?

If you do plan on wearing heels at all during any point of the weekend, just make sure you have flats in your bag too.

2. Bring an all-white outfit

When 20 or more Black people gather, there is a 54% chance that they will do the wobble and suggest an all-white party happens. This is essentially the essence of ESSENCEFest. There’s old and young, and the love of music is real. To be on the safe side, make sure you bring an all-white alphet for the weekend. Not only might you get invited to an all-white brunch, but Frankie Beverly and Maze might be rocking out the concert on night one. It is better to be safe than sorry that you didn’t get your Lisa Raye on. Lovers of linen (like myself) can break out those all-white linen pants we got somewhere. Although, I did show up in an all-white suit.

Luvvie White Suit

The heels came off after I finished covering the 365Black Awards Golden Carpet.

3. Pace yourself.

There are 50-eleben things that happen at ESSENCEFest. As EmpowerU panels are happening, there’s activations and events on the main floor and sometimes in other venues around the Convention Center. There is so much going on at the same damb time and there is no way you can do it all. You need to pace yourself and prioritize what you attend otherwise you’ll run yourself ragged. You cannot do it all and that’s fine. Lower your expectations, check the agenda in advance and come up with a tentative schedule for yourself and be willing to be flexible.

4. You will not see all your friends.

Because there’s so many things happening, everyone has different schedules. This means that you might not see your friends like you thought. You might think that because you’re all going to ESSENCEFest, you’ll be rolling around together all day. Nah. Some of my homies, I didn’t even see the entire four days I was there. I just saw their pictures on Instagram and MakiDada’ed them from afar because I had my schedule and they had theirs and none of what we were doing were by each other. You actually have to make a concerted effort to catch up with folks, and that will probably happen after the Convention Center closes for the evening and right before the concerts begin.

5. Celebrities are accessible.

ESSENCEFest is pretty well-attended by celebrities, and they actually seem to hang out around the Convention Center all weekend. I ran into many, took pics with some and passed some in the hallway. You’ll see some of your famous old baes, some of your new ones and all that jazz. It’s a good time. Ask them for a selfie if they don’t seem to be in a rush, because most of them are really down-to-Earth.

Vanessa R. Wiliams, Cece Peniston, Lance Gross, 3 out of 4 of 112, Ava DuVernay, Yara Shahidi

Vanessa R. Wiliams, Cece Peniston, Lance Gross, 3 out of 4 of 112, Ava DuVernay, Yara Shahidi

Lance Gross is indeed just as FAHN in person. Hey boo heyyy.

I had so much fun, and I met many of you! If we took a picture and you Instagrammed it, make sure you tag me the Instagram way that will allow it show up when I click “My Photos.” You do that through “Tag people” feature on the photo itself, not just by putting my name in the caption. Those get lost in my notifications.

It was my first time in New Orleans too so between conferencing, I was somewhere eating my body weight. So much rice, so much gumbo and seafood, so many beignets. Listen. NOLA can get all my money because they fed me so right! I need to go back on a weekend that is not festival time to really explore, though.

I’m looking forward to next year’s ESSENCE Fest, now that I’m a veteran at it. HA! No, but really. It was an inspiring space to be in. So much brilliance, so many dope people, and good music. It’s a win. BTW, Usher made me a believer in concerts again with his set from Saturday night. I was on my feet the entire time as he performed hit after hit. I forgot how deep his catalogue is until I realized I knew every song and every lyric. I see you, Mr. Raymond! Shoutout to the 365Black team for making my first time so special. Props to the ESSENCE Magazine staff for a fantastic event!

Were y’all there? Lemme know. I’ve been getting messages from some of you saying you saw me. Next time, say hey to a G.

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  1. Jess H
    July 8, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    It was my first Essence also and we had a tipsy (me) conversation about our experience during the Missy/Usher show. Thanks for indulging me.
    I will also definitely be back.

    • Jess H
      July 8, 2015 at 3:05 pm

      …what was not to love. .waist trainer models, 5000 white parties, all the aunties wearing white, instagram eyebrows, fried chicken, fried fish, beignets, uncles with their wedding rings in their pockets

  2. NOLAgirl
    July 8, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    “a weekend that is not festival time” tee hee, every weekend is something. SO glad yo enjoyed, sorry this was the first one I missed since they thought it could go to Houston.

  3. Melissa T
    July 8, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    OMG Luvvie!!!! I am so glad you enjoyed Essence. I’m from New Orleans and I go to something Essence-related almost every year. There is so much more to do so I am glad you’re coming back. And if you come to New Orleans during another part of the year, make sure you post it so I can come find you and say, “Hey girl, hey!”

  4. July 8, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    I truly enjoyed meeting you and your list is on point!!! lol Our beignet adventure was the beginning of a FANTASTIC weekend for me so thank you for your generosity and I’ll see you soon!

    • Mobaygurl
      July 9, 2015 at 8:50 am

      So sweet of you to courier some beignets to our tired Queen Luvvie. #oneloveluvvnation

  5. Dana
    July 8, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    So on point, all of it. I lived in flats the entire time. Folks were struggling and cursing their stilettos.
    I do believe that this event depletes the national supply of white clothing annually. Wore my whites today, lol.

    This was my first Essence Fest as well, but not my first NOLA trip. I stayed a few days after to explore it on my own. This place is like another country. Love it. The people are so nice. And my GAWD the food. *single tear drop* Sitting in the airport now with a supreme tink-tink face. Le sigh.

  6. Monica
    July 8, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    I’m a NOLA native so I’m lucky to say that I have never missed an Essence Fest, except for the post-Katrina year that it was in Houston. Everything you said is spot-on, especially about the shoes. The Superdome is brutal on (high-heeled) feet, especially if your seats are up in the birds’ nest (upper level).

    Now that we’ve busted your cherry. Come back to NOLA for Mardi Gras. You’ll never want to leave!

  7. Denita
    July 8, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    So this was like my fourth or fifth time attending and it never gets old! I did however make the mistake of wearing heels to see Charlie Wilson and Frankie Beverly and MAZE (who had me on my feet THE WHOLE TIME!!) and was dying the next day cuz my legs were killing me. Not just my feet chile! My whole legs!!! Sad I missed you!! Hope to see you next year!!

  8. Terry
    July 8, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    So happy that you had the chance to experience Essence Festival and New Orleans. There is nothing like it The culture , the food , the entertainment. Sorry I was unable to see you up close and personal , hopefully next year we can connect

  9. July 8, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    I’ve never been to Essence Fest. But every single year around this time I say to myself “I’m going next year”.

  10. July 8, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    I am giggling over your comment about what happens when more than 20 Black folks gather — it’s funny because it’s true!!

    I am glad that you had a good time and took lots of photos.

    One of my Facebook friends posted a picture that she took with Idris Elba in the French Quarter a few years ago, and I was so bitter about it because she was sitting real close to him, 8(

    I am planning to go next year.

  11. Connie Payton-Nevels
    July 8, 2015 at 9:31 pm


    Hey Girl, hey! So glad you enjoyed my fair city. I actually went to a Essence Festival Concert some years ago and vowed that I’d never do that again……I am a New Orleans native and I learned to respect that damb superdome! No thank you very merch!!!! The ramp and the walking was more than I could endure…..I’ve never been to the convention center but came in town with my 24 year old son to specifically attend all of the empowerment functions…..had a last minute reprieve when he was invited to the concert on Saturday! So I basically spent the entire weekend eating my way thru the city! Yummy!!!!

  12. KLySha
    July 9, 2015 at 2:03 am

    I’ve been to many Essence Fests dating back to the late 90’s and those tips are on point. I haven’t been since 2013 but your posts have me wanting to start planning for next year now. I have another tip to add. I heard the weather was nice this year but sometimes New Orleans is HOT and sometimes New Orleans is rainy. Not just regular hot, but hot like lawd Jeebus it must be a fire. And not just regular rainy but rainy like you might be out there looking for Noah to float by any minute in an all white suit. Bad weather won’t stop the fun from happening but you must prepare accordingly. Oh and to counteract all that heat plus the heat of thousands of black folks sometimes the superdome is freezing. Might be a good idea to coordinate a wrap or something into your “alphets” just in case.

    • Keyana
      July 10, 2015 at 1:33 am

      “Not just regular hot, but hot like lawd Jeebus it must be a fire. And not just regular rainy but rainy like you might be out there looking for Noah to float by any minute in an all white suit.”

      The cackling I just did at the thought of Noah floating by in his all while garments…..LOL!!!

      I used to live in Pascagoula, Ms and can definitely vouch for the weather.

  13. Terry hall
    July 9, 2015 at 6:47 am

    Your advice was always on point! Not my first time and, sho nuff won’t be my last ! Sandals all day,but forgot my white. My friends missed me, I had to take several breaks,most empowerment sessions where booked when I got to the ticket window. So many performances I lost my mind! Gained 20 lbs and got to shake Charlie Wilson’s hand but hate I missed you

  14. Milaxx
    July 11, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Essencefest is on my bucket list.

    I have to ask though, how is Cece Peniston looking that young and beautiful?