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Essence Festival

Essence Festival Of all the concerts, galas, and festivals held each year in New Orleans, the Essence Music Festival might be the premiere "party with a purpose". Organized over Fourth of July weekend, Essence Fest, as it is often referred to by fair-goers, commemorates African American music and culture with live musical performances, lifestyle panel discussions, fine art displays, and more.

The brain-child of George Wein, creator of the celebrated Newport Jazz and Folk Festival, Essence Fest was brought to life in 1995 by the publishers of Essence Magazine, a publication devoted to highlighting the many facets of today's African-American woman. Originally heralded as a one-time event to celebrate the magazine's 25th anniversary, Essence Fest drew nearly 140,000 attendees in its inaugural year, and has been celebrated annually in New Orleans ever since, with the exception of 2006, when festivities were moved to Houston to allow Louisiana's most unique port city to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Since that time, Essence Fest has grown to attract more than 400,000 people over the course of three days. Visitors from across the country are drawn to the vibrant city of New Orleans to celebrate its rich musical heritage, whose roots in jazz and rhythm and blues blend nicely with the festival's contemporary musical scene. R&B performers included in the event's lineup since its inception have included Mary J. Blige, Patti LaBelle, Erykah Badu, The Isley Brothers, Smokey Robinson, LL Cool J, Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Gladys Knight, Alicia Keys, and Chaka Khan.

Visitors interested in catching the event's headliners can head to the Louisiana Superdome for both main stage and Superlounge performances. In between sets, the streets surrounding the Superdome transform into a giant open-air market featuring local craftsman and culinary artists. The nearby Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center also turns into a marketplace for all manner of fine arts, crafts, collectibles, and cuisine.

The Center also hosts a variety of non-profit and community outreach organizations offering inspirational seminars and workshops on a variety of lifestyle topics all designed to empower African American men, women, and families. It is offering this reflection on life in the midst of life changing music that puts the "purpose" into this party.

Although catering to a very specific audience of African American women, Essence Fest has arguably become the largest such venue to celebrate African American culture in the United States, welcoming a diverse audience from across the nation. Dates are set well in advance of the next year's festival to aid in planning, while guidebooks highlighting a variety of accommodations, eateries, and must-see sites are readily available.