Your Guide to 2023 ESSENCE Festival
Over the years, the ESSENCE Festival had evolved into one of the largest celebrations in the country, and New Orleans is proud to host it again this year when ESSENSE celebrates its 29th year. If you plan on attending, here’s our guide on how to navigate the festival, where to eat, shop and stay, and generally how to make your visit an unforgettable one.
When and Where Is ESSENCE?
Traditionally, ESSENCE takes place over the Independence Day weekend. This year, the dates fall on June 29 – July 3, 2023. Over the four days, the event will be held mostly at the two New Orleans venues: the Caesars Superdome for the evening performances and the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for the daytime activities.
Music Lineup Headliners and Highlights
As usual, the festival features a star-studded lineup of some of the country’s biggest names in hip-hop & R&B. This year, the focus is on hip-hop, which celebrates its 50 years of existence. Here’s the rundown of the main musical events at the festival.
Headliners include Lauryn Hill, who will give a special performance of the five-time Grammy-winning album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in recognition of its 25th anniversary, and three-time Grammy Award-winning artist Megan Thee Stallion. Doug E. Fresh will curate a spec performance of hip-hop pioneers, and in honor of So So Def’s 30th anniversary, Grammy award-winning super producer and label founder Jermaine Dupri will deliver a special performance with some of the biggest names in hip-hop.
The Sunday Gospel Celebration at the Convention Center will feature the greatest gospel hits, and admission is free.
ESSENCE After Dark is a series of late-night jam sessions, comedy shows, underground performances, live podcast recordings, and more.
In addition, a slew of exciting conferences, exhibitions, roundtables, and other experiences is scheduled this year, plus beauty, fashion and food events, a marketplace, a family day, an economic forum, keynote speakers, and more.
Where to Get Your Tickets
You can get your tickets, either a la carte (evening concerts, ESSENCE After Dark) or in the bundled day and VIP packages, online. All the events held at the Convention Center during the day are free and open to all (registration is required). The headliners sell out fast, so don’t wait till the last minute!
What to Pack
Bring comfortable shoes, an umbrella or rain jacket (as summer in New Orleans can bring unpredictable weather and those frequent afternoon showers), and a lot of patience.
The Convention Center in particular is massive, so there will be a lot of walking, and lines could be long. Both the Superdome and the Convention Center have AC, of course, but staying Instagram-ready in the hot and humid New Orleans summer could be tricky.
So dress light, but also be prepared for the much chillier temps inside. It might be a good idea to bring a portable mobile device charger with you so you won’t have to look for an available power outlet in a crowded venue.
Where to Eat
Check out ESSENCE Eats while you’re attending the festival for dozens of vendors and special food demos to get recipe inspiration, find a new dish you like, or revisit an old favorite.
The ESSENCE Eats series includes live podcasts and demonstrations for everything from remaking Sunday dinner classics to kid-friendly recipes and date-night dishes. There’s also an ESSENCE Eats food court with vendors from all over the South offering a wide range of classic New Orleans food, world cuisine, vegan and vegetarian fare, desserts, and beyond.
For dining out on the town (and in the French Quarter in particular) see our guides, below.
Where to Shop
Look for the festival marketplace near the ESSENCE Eats food court, with dozens of vendors selling artwork, crafts, music, clothing, jewelry, etc. You can easily get your souvenir shopping done there, too, from the local vendors.
The festival also has its own store inside the Convention Center, with the festival merch, books, magazines, and so on. The festival’s Fashion House series of events includes runway shows and curated truck shows, where you’ll be able to load up on clothing and accessories.
There are also plenty of shopping options in the area. You could spend a whole day browsing the three levels of The Shops at Canal Place. It has a soaring atrium and food options ranging from casual to upscale. Canal Place houses a slew of upscale national chains like Saks Fifth Avenue, Brooks Brothers, and Louis Vuitton, but also local boutiques.
The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, located by the Mississippi River, is a sprawling discount outlet mall with all the popular labels like Gap, Under Armour, and Guess.
Further down, venturing into the French Quarter, check out H&M and Sephora, plus all the lovely, unique boutiques that pepper Chartres St.
For more shopping suggestions please see our guides, below.
Where to Stay
If you plan on attending ESSENCE Festival, why not choose a historic hotel for a unique experience? You’ll still stay close to all of the action and excitement but you’ll also be creating memories steeped in history and charm.
Here are our suggestions: All these hotels are historic properties located in the French Quarter (three of those — Hotel St. Marie, French Market Inn and Place D’Armes — have charming saltwater pools in their lush courtyards).
Book your New Orleans stay with the help of our Recommended New Orleans Hotels.
What’s Going on in New Orleans That Week?
There’s Independence Day, of course. New Orleans celebrates July 4th like anywhere else in America, but also with a flavor all her own. There will be fireworks over the Mississippi River and plenty of music and partying. Head to the Riverfront for the display, or see if you can score a French Quarter balcony as a viewing (and party) spot. Many Bourbon Street bars with balconies allow access for a cover fee or if you’re just buying drinks.
What Else You Need to Know
- The ESSENCE Festival requires all guests 18 and over to register for entry into Essence Festival’s Conferences and Expos.
- Since the Convention Center events are for all ages, if you want to buy a drink at the ESSENCE Eats food court prepare to be carded.
- You can re-enter the Convention Center multiple times but not the Superdome.
- No outside food or drink will be allowed at the Convention Center and the Superdome; all bags will be searched.
- Take note of the Superdome’s clear-bag policy: “Any bag, purse, or briefcase that is larger than 12” x 6” x 12” will not be allowed into the Superdome. All bags that enter must be clear with the exception of medical bags which may be subject to inspection and small clutch bags. The maximum size for a clutch bag is 4.5”x 6.5”.”
- Look for the festival sponsor booths (like Coca-Cola) to score some samples and giveaways and to enter contests. Sponsor booths also host celebrity meet-and-greets, so this might be your chance to meet your favorite star when they’re not performing.
New Orleans and French Quarter Guides
Make the most of your stay in New Orleans while you enjoy ESSENCE Fest with our comprehensive guides to the New Orleans dining, sightseeing, shopping, nightlife, and much more:
New Orleans Guides
Eating and Drinking
- Local French Quarter Favorites
- Diet Another Day: New Orleans Must Eats in the French Quarter
- Best Food on Bourbon Street
- Best Kept Secrets for Eating Cheap and Eating Well in the Quarter
- Late Night Dining: Where to Turn in the Quarter When the Midnight Hungries Hit Hard
- Vegetarian Destinations in the French Quarter
- Best Pizza in the French Quarter
- French Quarter Dining Alfresco
Classic New Orleans and Southern Dishes
- Try the Best Jambalaya in the French Quarter
- 10 Best Places to Get Gumbo in the French Quarter
- Where to Score the Best Crawfish in New Orleans
- Best Muffulettas in the French Quarter and Nearby
- New Orleans’ Po-Boy Is A Rich Food Tradition
- New Orleans’ Legendary Fried Chicken Joints
- The Best Barbecue in New Orleans
- Bananas Foster in the French Quarter
- Proof Is in the Bread Pudding
- The Best Happy Hours in the French Quarter
- Classic Cocktails and Modern Thirsts in the French Quarter
- French Quarter Shopping: One-of-a-Kind Stores
- Vintage Shopping in the French Quarter
- Hat Shopping in the French Quarter and Nearby
- Shopping for Discovery and Surprise
- First-Timer’s Guide to the French Quarter
- Must-See French Quarter Museums
- Must-See Mardi Gras Museums
- Photo Ideas for Your Next French Quarter Vacation
- What to Do on a Rainy Day in the French Quarter
- Fun New Orleans Sightseeing With the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
- Famous New Orleans Ghosts
- New Orleans’ Haunted History
- Neighborhoods Near the French Quarter
- Bourbon Street: The Complete Block-by-Block Guide
- Bourbon Street Bucket List
- Decatur Street: Block-by-Block
- Royal Street, a Block-by-Block Guide
- Famous Streets of the French Quarter: North Rampart Street
- Famous Streets of the French Quarter: Chartres Street
- The Ultimate Guide for Women Traveling Solo in the French Quarter
- What to Do in the French Quarter When You’re Under 21
- Exploring the French Quarter With Kids