Essence Festival of Culture Will Return to New Orleans in 2021, Organizers Say.

Less than 24 hours after New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell questioned whether the city should host any large gatherings in 2020 as it and the rest of the nation works to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Essence Festival of Culture has announced that it is cancelling its 2020 and looking forward to 2021.

Essence officials issued a statement today (Wednesday, April 15) calling the Mayor’s recommendation brave and adding that Essence “fully” supports that decision.  

In late March, Essence initially announced that it would postpone the annual event to a date closer in the fall as New Orleans began to see a spike in COVID-19 cases and the state ordered shutdown measures to the slow the spread. But after Mayor Cantrell’s expressed concerns that opening the city up to large numbers of visitors from near and far could reverse the progress made at reducing the spread of coronavirus and result in a new surge of cases during her daily press briefing yesterday (Tuesday, April 14), Essence organizers agreed that the fall would be too soon.

“After continued monitoring of the evolving developments in the COVID-19 global pandemic and remaining in close contact and collaboration with our partners in the City of New Orleans and State of Louisiana, we are confirming today that we will no longer move forward with the 2020 ESSENCE Festival of Culture live experience – and look forward to returning to New Orleans in 2021,” according to the statement.

The annual music, culture and empowerment festival held in New Orleans during the 4th of July weekend typically attracts over 500,000 visitors to the city and has an economic impact of nearly $300 million. The only other time the event, which celebrated its 25th year in 2019, has not taken place in New Orleans since its inception was in 2006, when organizers moved it Houston as the city of New Orleans continued to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

The statement continued:

“From the beginning, we have shared that the health, safety and well-being of our festival goers, local citizens and others who contribute to making the Festival such a unique experience were our top concerns and would be the foremost considerations in our decision-making.  While we initially hoped that a reschedule from our July 2020 dates to later in the fall would be feasible, current information and projections by public health officials and agencies have made it increasingly clear that any large-scale events this year could potentially and unnecessarily put attendees and surrounding communities at risk.  So, what would have typically been a very difficult decision for us was not because people come first, and we will continue to do everything that we can to serve our community during this time.”  

Essence will honor all tickets sold in 2020 at the 2021 event and will offer full refunds to those that want them.  Ticket holders should visit for further information.

Essence Festival of Culture also announced its ‘ESSENCE Benefit Series to Fight COVID-19’ to  raise money and provide support for businesses and organizations in Black communities across the country. Its first-ever ESSENCE Festival of Culture: The Virtual Edition taking place over July 4th weekend will be included in this effort as a multi-day experience and benefit celebration.  This Festival will be hosted on the new ESSENCE Studios streaming platform, which will extend the experience to communities everywhere providing unfettered access to the power, purpose and party that has made the ESSENCE Festival the largest cultural, entertainment and empowerment experience in the world.  

Essence has also created the ESSENCE of the Matter: COVID-19’s Impact on Black America digital platform to provide Black women and communities with the tools, information, resources, solutions, inspiration and empowerment needed to address the multitude of issues arising from this pandemic. And Essence Studios will deliver these live virtual experiences and produce the content our community needs as we continue to navigate this unprecedented time together and beyond.  

Both Mayor Cantrell and Gov. John Bel Edwards are encouraged by Essence’s decision to cancel this year’s event and commit to returning in 2021.

“Essence and the city of New Orleans have a partnership that thrives in good times and is made even stronger in challenging times,” said Mayor Cantrell.  ‘We share an uncompromised commitment to the best interest of our local community and our tourist community, and the priorities right now are providing support to those who have been affected by the disproportionate impact of the pandemic here in New Orleans and ensuring a safe and healthy environment for all.  We look forward to welcoming everyone back to our great city in 2021 for the return of the Essence Festival of Culture and to once again helping to create such an unmatched and magical experience.”

Gov. Edwards said, “We greatly appreciate the Essence family for working with the City of New Orleans and Louisiana as we face this ongoing public health crisis.  We have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the Essence family and look forward to continuing the celebration in 2021.”

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