Record-Breaking Attendance at the Essence Music Festival

The festival is a significant contributor to the magazine’s bottom line and shows how more news publications are turning to events to boost their visibility.  

Common performs at the 2014 Essence Music Festival. 
Common performs at the 2014 Essence Music Festival.  Lee Celano/Getty Images

Event Boosts Magazine, Raises Millions for New Orleans

The 20th annual ESSENCE Festival attracted a record-breaking 550,000 attendees from around the world to New Orleans this Fourth of July weekend, earning the distinction of being the largest gathering in the event’s history,” Essence Communications announced on Monday.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Friday that the festival “may be the most important event the people of this city are involved in,” Maya Rhodan reported for Time magazine.

“What started off as a small music festival,” Landrieu told Time, “has now turned into a huge economic engine for this city over a weekend that otherwise wouldn’t have filled up the city.”

Last year, the event brought more than a half-million people to the city, generating about $200 million, and organizers said the turnout this year exceeded that.

Though Essence won’t disclose a figure, the event is a significant contributor to Essence Communications’ bottom line. More publications are turning to events to boost their financial fortunes and, some say, to add luster to their journalistic product.

Essence Communications president Michelle Ebanks told Keith Spera of and the New Orleans Times-Picayune last month that the festival’s link to the magazine “is absolutely everything. The Essence brand, and what it stands for, is the triumph of everyday women, women from assistants to CEOs. Essence magazine has chronicled and represented those triumphs and achievements for 44 years. Artists, community leaders, celebrities, authors, elected officials — they recognize that heritage. They want to be a part of this brand.”

Essence executives, including editor-in-chief Vanessa K. Bush, are involved in the festival planning. They “consider how acts might complement one another and make for logical progressions on the main stage. They inquire about who might be interested, available and affordable, and extend invitations,” Spera wrote.

The Essence announcement also said, “Touted as one of the country’s biggest live events, the ESSENCE Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary July 3-6 with 20 stages of programming. The annual 4-day event features entertainment, empowerment, and cultural experiences during the day and the world’s best performers each night. More than 80 performing artists — including some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry such as Prince, Mary J. Blige, and Lionel Richie — performed at the event’s nighttime concerts and over 150 speakers — including Robin Roberts, Alicia Keys, Steve Harvey and Rev. Al Sharpton — participated as part of the Festival’s daytime experience. . . .”

Chevel Johnson of the Associated Press reported Sunday on the headliner’s appearance Friday night: