Essence Festival is in full swing with hundreds of thousands in town

Essence Festival is in full swing with hundreds of thousands in town

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The annual Essence Festival was in full swing Friday, and tourism leaders say because of it, hotels and restaurants will be filled this holiday weekend.

Tens of thousands moved through the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for daytime events which included empowerment seminars, impromptu dancing, and a huge marketplace.

And that did not include what will take place in the Mercedes Benz Superdome.  Big name entertainers are on the schedule including Usher, Charlie Wilson, and after a years-long hiatus from the festival, Frankie Beverly and Maze return.

It's a celebration of music and culture that continues to have global appeal.

"I just love the experience, I love music, I love how friendly everyone is here.  I bring my daughter every year," said Alicia Menoken of Philadelphia.

"This is my first time coming, so far it's great," said Noreen Banks-Ware.

She and her sister were eager for Friday night's concerts.  They purchased floor seats to be close to the star-studded talent.

August Martin came from Austin, Texas to expose his children to the festival.

"I picked this to be a daddy's weekend with the kids on purpose so we're just going to soak all of this in," said Martin.

Unique merchandise filled the Essence Marketplace which dominates a huge part of the convention center.

"It's always great, sales are always good, I always bring something original," said merchant Aakofii, who does not use a last name.

As part of the festival on Friday was the McDonald's 365Black Awards.  Honorees included filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who directed the big screen blockbuster, Selma.

"We are in a constant state of striving to be present and to be powerful and to claim our space and Essence is a beautiful example of that," DuVernay stated.

And while under the glow of camera lights and fame, many of the celebrities spoke of the tragic church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina and the need for continued healing and racial reconciliation in America.

"Keep that conversation going, make sure that is pushed up under the carpet but that we as individuals be serious about affecting real change," said Marvin Sapp, a gospel music recording artist.

Also among the 365 Black Awards honorees was  former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial.

"You probably recall the pre Essence 4th of July weekend, it was the dog days of summer, and I'm proud to have been a part of this festival over 20 years ago," said Morial.

Also at the Essence Festival attendees say they never know who they will run into.  Some people here have found family members they did not know existed.

"You get to come here you get to meet different people, I even met a family member that I didn't even though I had, just got to talking," said Eric Lewis of Kentucky.

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