ESSENCE Festival: scenes from a yearly tradition

Caroline Wilburn, a veteran ESSENCE Festival attendee.
Caroline Wilburn, a veteran ESSENCE Festival attendee.

With all of the spirit and sense of community that the ESSENCE Festival offers, the veteran festival-goers outnumber the new attendees. The food, music, art, and fitness are a piece of what attracts hundreds of thousands of Americans to New Orleans every July.

“I’ve been coming [to ESSENCE Festival] for 15 years…I got to,” said Caroline Wilburn from Tennessee, ”ESSENCE is true to our culture. It brings out the sisters who can let down their hair and love each other.”


Denise Warren, the founder of Body By Denise, flew over 100 of her students from Queens, New York for a morning workout session at Center stage on Saturday, July 6. She started the program 26 years ago and has 200-400 students in her fitness class every night. Some 200 men and women have lost between 100-300 pounds with her help.

When asked what her secret is to helping her students shed their weight she said, “clean eating”. ”Limit processed foods and live in fitness everyday,” she added.

Warren in action:


Brass-a-Holics, a local band from New Orleans, played a 2-hour set on Saturday, July 6.

“I wasn’t planning on dancing but the music got so good,” said Ben Walker from Baton Rouge.

You can see him grooving in the video below with a baseball hat on:

Art from the ESSENCE Festival Marketplace:

ESSENCE Festival Marketplace featured original work from over 40 artists. The marketplace included fine arts, fashion, arts and crafts, New Orleans cultural traditions, and live art demonstrations.

“This is a good festival for us,” said Lydell Martin, an Atlanta-based artist.

“There are lots of art collectors in New Orleans who come to get my pieces.”

Martin is a graphic designer by trade who uses mixed media to create multidimensional portraits. ”No one thing is the same and I love faces,” he explained. In February, 2012, The National Association of Black Mayors presented President Obama with Martin’s original piece, “Who’s Stressing?”

Stuart McClean was another distinct artist who’s been attending the ESSENCE Festival since its first year. It wasn’t until several years later that, he too, set-up a booth to showcase his paintings.

“It feels good to see beautiful people come together,” he said about the festival.


The ESSENCE Festival Food Zone invited over a dozen local restaurants to setup shop and sell their finest creole, Cajun, or soul food dishes.

Douglass New Orleans’ claim to fame dish is their red beans and rice. With over 14 years in the business, the owner’s sister, Patricia Douglass, assures you that their food is “soulfood – the kind your grandma used to make.”

photo (20)


What were your favorite moments from the festival? Follow us on Twitter @msnbc and let us know by using #msnbcESSENCE.

ESSENCE Festival

ESSENCE Festival: scenes from a yearly tradition