By CHEVEL JOHNSON
Nearly two decades after Essence magazine launched a festival here to “party with a purpose” and celebrate black culture, music and people, the Essence Fest may be facing some new competition.
Like Essence this weekend, last weekend’s BET Experience in Los Angeles had Beyonce as a headliner. It also had panels discussing topics important to the community and spanned a three-day weekend — a format Essence until recently had used for years.
But Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc., said the similarities end there.
“Yes, there’s some overlap,” Ebanks acknowledged. “But we’re relentlessly focused on our community and serving the black woman like no one else does or can because she’s worth it. That’s our goal and we believe we do that better than anyone else.”
So far there’s no sign that the BET Experience — a celebrity-driven lead-in to the cable network’s BET Awards show — is taking away from the Essence experience in New Orleans.
The city’s hotels are showing healthy bookings, and music fans are ready to party. Many are arriving early to catch the Essence Festival’s outdoor celebration on the riverfront on Thursday.
Hotel occupancy is at 97 percent for Friday and Saturday, said Kelly Schulz, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. She said Essence brought 413,000 people to New Orleans last year and generated an economic impact of more than $100 million.
Ebanks said the 19th annual festival is “shaping up to be one of the biggest we’ve ever had.”
“The numbers aren’t in but the level of talent on tap is an extraordinary testament to Essence and what it means to its community,” she said.
Besides Beyonce, Essence’s nightly concerts held in the Superdome will include performances by Maxwell, Jill Scott, Charlie Wilson, LL Cool J, New Edition, Emile Sande, Trey Songz, Janelle Monae and several others.
Gospel artist Kirk Franklin said both events are “very distinct so that they can stand on their own but both are important to our culture.”
“What it shows is, it shows growth,” he continued.
“It shows that there’s a lot of musical and creative growth in the urban community and that makes me very proud.”