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When culture is always of the Essence

David Goodson | 7/13/2017, 10:05 a.m.

What is it about the July 4 weekend that has people planning for it in mid-July the year prior, to congregate in the Crescent City, New Orleans, La.? If you’ve never attended, you won’t quite understand the power of the Essence Festival. This year for instance, the 2017 Essence Festival, presented by Coca-Cola, attracted more than 470,000 attendees for its annual cultural celebration featuring more than 200 performing artists and speakers, which included first-time appearances by the likes of Halle Berry, Diana Ross, Chance the Rapper and many more. In addition to being one of the country’s largest live events, the 2017 Essence Festival extended its reach worldwide by generating a record-breaking 4 billion social media impressions. Impressive numbers and facts, however, don’t provide an inkling of how it feels. Several perspectives were shared to bring the experience to life.

The Essence brand is rooted as a platform that spoke for, spoke to, entertained, stimulated, educated and celebrated Black/African-American women. For decades those tenets hadn’t wavered. Model/actress Eva Marcille grew up with this inspiration and shares what they meant to her throughout her career.

“Growing up, Essence magazine was the only place that I could go to see anybody that looked like me,” said Marcille. “That made me feel beautiful and made me realize what I had counted.”

She continued, “In 2006, that same magazine had me on the cover, the first major magazine to do so, of the July issue. That issue was all over the festival and now in 2017, I’m still here.”

Her appearance at this year’s festival found her camped in her booth inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in a new capacity, as she adds businessperson to her resume with the recent launch of her sunglass line, First Ave Eyewear.

“This is my first time here as an entrepreneur and business owner, and to see the participants here in my eyewear, excited to support my business, means the world to me,” Marcille said in parting.

Rebecca Brown, vice president of marketing at Palmer’s, expounded the interacting point further, stating, “Essence Festival 2017 was amazing for Palmer’s. We were able to reach thousands of consumers—physically! Collaborating with Essence on the Beauty & Style Expo was an incredible opportunity for us. It is crucial for the brand to make one-on-one connections with this enthusiastic audience. And to allow these influential women to get an in-depth look at our latest innovations in an interactive setting. Consumers were able to touch and experience our brand in a 360-degree environment. The love was palpable—women attending Essence Festival truly feel empowered and engaged. Speaking directly with these women…it’s hard to overstate how important this is. This was a big investment for Palmer’s, and we believe it will pay off tenfold.”

The main attraction of course was the three days of nonstop top-flight music. While icons, future greats and phenomes (Diana Ross, Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, John Legend, Chance) dominated the marquee with their Main Stage performances at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the smaller superlounges painted a different picture. More intimate in setting, the super-lounge performances allow you to see the honesty in the love of a song by both the artist and the audience. One song, “Who Can I Run To?” affected two separated audiences the exact same way, serving as a thread between generations. To see and hear Shirley Jones take ownership of the song she and her sisters Brenda and Valorie, The Jones Girls, bought to the fore was a sight. The airtight band that managed to replicate and at times enhance the funk of the original groove heightened the vocals as well as the response. Two nights later, same song, same love. Truth be told, more love was extended. Not because the actual performance was better, but because the group turned out to be the talk of the weekend. The culprits were Kandi, Tameka, Latosha and Tamika, collectively known as Xscape. The ladies were scheduled to perform at the Essence Superlounge at roughly 9 p.m., and by 7:40, capacity was reached. The line, however, didn’t subside. To the contrary, it begun to swell. New Orleans Police Captain Ernest Demma, a veteran of 20 prior Essence Festivals, said this crowd was bigger than any he had ever seen outside of a superlounge.