For us here in New Orleans, The Essence has always been what’s up. Yes, yes, we may not have loved when they changed up what we felt like was our Locals Night on Sunday nights, but Essence has always been one of the most magical times of year in our city.
Even though in 2020, the Essence Festival will turn 25, it still very much felt like our own “huge little secret”. But with the mammoth success of the blockbuster “Girls Trip,” which is often referred to as a commercial for the Essence Festival, this year’s Festival is on track to be the largest ever, according to Essence Entertainment Director Cori Murray.
Murray shared with Very Local just what we can expect from Essence Festival this year and where she thinks the Festival will be held in the coming years.
Expect more local acts, including the Queen Diva herself– Big Freedia.
“It’s always been our goal to have local acts from New Orleans… We can’t come to your city,” and not celebrate your local musicians,” Murray said. This year, local acts include the Queen Diva herself, Big Freedia, DJ Jubilee, Denisia, Pell, Mykia Jovan, MeloMania, Gary O’Berry, and DJ Kristi Sugarcookie, and possibly others. Instagram superstars DaRealBBJudy and Wuzzam Supa will also host a session during the Essence daytime events.
When it comes to celebrating and spotlighting Big Freedia, who will perform at the Festival for the first time this year, it was always about her music and performance, Murray said.
“I think it started first with just her, and who she is. It was an afterthought that she’s a trans woman … (who is) welcomed in this space.”
There will be a surprise guest you don’t want to miss.
Here’s what Murray was able to tell us about this secret performer:
She is a she.
She will be performing at the night concerts.
She will be making a guest appearance with another performer in the lineup.
She is a legend, and her “music is still timeless.”
She has been at the Essence before.
It’s unlikely that ESSENCE Fest will be leaving New Orleans any time soon.
Essence’s contract to keep the Festival in New Orleans expires this year, but Murray described why we may be able to breathe easy about the Festival not going anywhere else. She explained that New Orleans offers so many assets that other cities cannot and makes it a perfect fit for Essence Festival. In New Orleans, “everything is accessible… It’s the birthplace of jazz. There’s a subculture here with krewes, Mardi Gras Indians, and there are so many different things unique to the Quarter. It’s hot as hell, but we wanna be here in this heat, sweating together. I can’t imagine Essence Festival in Charlotte or in Atlanta.”
The way Essence organizers determine each year’s performers may not happen the way you’d think.
First, there’s a lot of email exchanges about who they can get to meet their budget. They try to be objective and consider who has not been a part of Essence Festival in a while. They consider who is truly a performer, who can command the Main Stage versus who can command a Superlounge.
“If you can’t perform,” you won’t be able to make it on any of the stages at Essence Fest… We want to be entertained, and we try to stay authentic to who we are,” Murray explained. “Ultimately we are music lovers– R&B music lovers– and we’re not ashamed of that.
Xscape is back again this year, but on the Main Stage after filling their Superlounge to capacity in 2017.
Last year, the Superlounge where Xscape performed was packed to capacity before the ladies of the beloved 90s r&b group even got on the stage. The excitement about the group’s reunion grew steadily in the months since it was announced they would be performing at Essence, and it eventually hit a fever pitch. Hundreds of fans were left disappointed outside the Superlounge entrance, and even those inside could hardly see the ladies except through the sea of phone cameras.
Murray said Xscape “came into the field a little late” and the Essence organizers were surprised by the massive size of the crowd they drew. To “correct” the issues from last year, and give devoted fans another chance to see one of their favorite groups perform those songs that take us all back, organizers decided to bring the ladies back… to the Main Stage this time.
The real question is: Do you want to miss your chance seeing Daniel Caesar to catch Xscape on the Main Stage? I wouldn’t risk it.