Lil’ Wayne might sound small, but over more than two decades, he’s become one of our city’s largest ambassadors.
I remember his Katrina-inspired 2009 GRAMMYs performance of “Tie My Hands,” a song that captured the feeling of a city, alternating between anger (“They talk that freedom matters, and didn’t even leave a ladder…”) and hope (“If you come from under the water, there’s fresh air, just breathe baby…”).
When Wayne’s “Carter III” won Best Rap Album of the Year a little later that night — beating out giants like Jay-Z and his “American Gangster” — I remember his acceptance speech and not just because it might be the shortest in GRAMMY history.
He bounded onto the stage and jumped into the air, clicking his feet together.
“I just want to say thank God, thank New Orleans.” Then, gesturing to the group he waved on stage, “Thank these people you see right here, and thank you!”
Lil’ Wayne’s speech reminded me of something that appeared to be a trend I had noticed with New Orleanians: we seemed to be more fun than everyone else, and we seemed to really like New Orleans.
For example, I had a choice between an internship in Wilmington, Delaware and New Orleans, Louisiana. I chose NOLA (duh). Not because of Lil’ Wayne, necessarily, but in part because of that spirit, pride and hope he and so many others wear so well and so consistently.
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This weekend is his 5th annual Lil’ Weezyana Fest — an event born from that pride. There’ll be music, of course, but this year, you can expect a lot more, as well.
“In its fifth year, Lil’ Weezyana Fest has become a New Orleans tradition,” says Brandon Pankey, vice president of business development & operations of event organizer, Live Nation Urban.
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The festival first launched in 2015, to celebrate 10 years of recovery since Hurricane Katrina. For four years the event took place on or around Aug. 29th — the anniversary of the storm — and filled up Champions Square.
But last year’s fest was even a step up. Celebrating a decade since the release of that award-winning “Carter III” album, Wayne was joined on stage by friends, family and surprise superstar guests like Nicki Minaj and Bryan “Birdman” Williams.
Now it looks like organizers want to grow Lil’ Weezy’s party into one of the top rap festivals in the world.
“It’s such a big milestone in Wayne’s hometown,” explains Cortez Bryan, of Young Money Entertainment, speaking of the city’s post-storm recovery, “It’s only right that we make it bigger and better.”
This year’s festival, which takes place this Saturday, Sept. 7th, is a little later than usual (possibly to accommodate Lil’ Wayne’s schedule as he co-headlines a tour with Blink 182). But the venue — on the grounds of UNO’s Lakefront Arena — will allow for nearly twice the crowd as was at Champions Square, as well as more music and a lot more fun.
This Lil’ Weezyana Fest will feature two stages — something not possible at Champions Square. And that means a lot more music. The gates open at 2 p.m. and the tunes kick-off shortly thereafter.
Who’s on the line-up? More stars than ever before!
Lil’ Wayne will likely have some surprise guests ready to dazzle during his set, but the headliners don’t stop with Lil’ Weezy.
Grammy-nominated rapper Travis Scott will be a major draw. His songs “New Slaves” and “Sicko Mode,” as well as his most recent album, “Astroworld,” have helped him sell out huge venues across the country.
Meek Mill’s most recent album, “Championships,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and its lead single, “Going Bad,” features superstar, Drake (also a past surprise guest at Lil’ Weezyana Fest!).
In addition to this trio of headliners, the fest will feature other talented and popular young artists like Trey Songz, Megan Thee Stallion, Kash Doll, Saweetie, Melil, Leven Kali and more.
It’s a party!
As if the music wasn’t enough, the new venue ensures there’ll be room for much more. Organizers seem determined to provide a carnival atmosphere. There’ll be games, as well as rides like flying swings and a giant Ferris wheel.
Attendees can race on the VerveScooters scooter track, buy some swag in the airbrushing tent, or admire multiple art installations. There’s a signature festival cocktail, plenty of other beverages and — of course — a line-up of food trucks and vendors that is basically a requirement of any real New Orleans festival.
What are you going to eat? There’ll be no shortage of choices with a food list that includes Bonafried, Frencheeze, Burgers Ya Heard, Dirty Dishes, We Dat’s Chicken and Shrimp, Diva Dawg, Afrodisiac Nola, Cocoa & Cream and Grilling & Shilling.
The earlier you get there, the more time (and space in your stomach) you’ll have for eating!
Getting there and back
Tickets are available at Ticketmaster for $72 (plus fees), with 50 cents of every ticket going toward initiatives supporting young New Orleanians.
Parking costs $20, but there are several RTA bus lines that can get you to the festival for $1.25. The #57 (Franklin Street) bus and the #60 (Hayne Street) bus bring you right to the event (though the #60 stop running before the fest ends), while the #55 (Elysian Fields Avenue) bus gets you just a short walk away.
You can go to the RTA website to check routes and times, but of course Uber and Lyft are always options, as well.
And if Lil’ Weezyana leaves you wanting more, Larry Morrow Events is hosting an afterparty downtown at Republic NOLA, featuring Meek Mill and many others. Tickets start from $25 to $40, the doors open at 11 p.m. and the party will last “Forever,” or, at least long into the night!