‘Girls Trip’ sparks new interest in Essence Fest

Photo by JR Thomason

At least once a week, after I’ve had a long hard day of doing laundry, washing dishes, and running errands, I watch my favorite movie Girl’s Trip for a good pick-me-up.

It’s funny, sassy, and well-written with beautiful actresses like Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and break-out star Tiffany Haddish, enjoying life in New Orleans at the Essence Music Festival.

Everybody in my house knows not to bother me when I’m sitting in front of the television wearing Mardi Gras beads, sipping on a margarita and laughing hysterically when Haddish’s character Dina teaches her girls how to “grapefruit” their significant other.

But this week, probably because I ran out of Tequila when I watched the movie, I got a little nostalgic.

New Orleans and the Essence Festival hold a special place in my heart. You see, before the husband, the four kids, and the elderly father-in-law, I attended the festival 10 years straight. And I ALWAYS had a great time.

First let me say, you can’t beat the food there. In the French Quarter, where the famous Mardi Gras parades roll, there are dozens of local dives serving delicious one-of-a-kind Cajun cuisine. Ain’t no “chain” restaurants, just true authentic Louisiana dishes you can’t find anywhere else in the world… served up by locals who have been cooking spicy jambalaya, shrimp gumbo, and saucy etouffee since they were knee-high to a duck.

Photo by JR Thomason

The folks down there know how to treat you, too. Hotel staff greets you at the front desk by saying “Welcome home, baby.” The cleaning ladies routinely call you “honey” or “sugar” like an elderly auntie who reaches into her pocketbook to give you a few dollars to “buy you something nice…”

And then you put three days of concerts by all your favorite artists on top of that good food and hospitality? That’s a winning recipe!

Watching the movie made me miss New Orleans. Miss Essence Festival. Miss all the fun I had with the tens of thousands of sisters who made the annual pilgrimage to party with a purpose and have grown folk type fun.

But when I went to pick up the phone and call to book a hotel room and get a flight to head south for the annual Fourth of July extravaganza, things didn’t go as planned.

I got my face cracked when every property told me there was no room in the inn and the airlines had limited availability. What happened? The Essence Music Festival is more than four months away and the only place I can find to lay my head is on Bourbon Street, LITERALLY.

That got me to thinking: Did the movie Girls Trip spark a renewed interest?

(l-r) Tiffany Haddish, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith starred in Girls Trip — one of the biggest movies of 2017. Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The answer: Hell, yeah!

Marie Thrash, a Burnsville resident who attended the festival several times in the 1990s, said watching the movie prompted her to make travel plans. “It definitely brought back memories and made me want to attend this year. I look forward to seeing the entertainers, the marketplace, and the food.”

Thrash says the best part of being there was the Black cultural experience: “I loved seeing all of my brothers and sisters having a good time — good clean fun.”

That good, clean fun is what helped New Orleans rebuild after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city. The hospitality industry brings millions of dollars to the local economy each year.

Kristian Sonnier, vice president of communications for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that that’s what makes the city unique. “Our hospitality industry is battle tested. We host Mardi Gras every year. That’s the largest free show on earth. For Mardi Gras, about one-million visitors flood into our city and test the limits of hospitality annually.

“Additionally, New Orleans hosts about 140 festivals a year…that’s roughly a festival every three days. Beyond the frequency of events our city hosts, the men and women who make up the hospitality industry here take tremendous pride in making our guests feel special while here. There is nothing our hospitality professionals haven’t seen and nothing they wouldn’t do to make your next visit unforgettable.”

This year, the event boasts three days of empowerment seminars, a marketplace, and nightly concerts featuring stars like Mary J. Blige and Janet Jackson.

(l-r) Nicole Norfleet and mother Stephanie Norfleet Courtesy of Nicole Norfleet

That star power is what attracted Star Tribune writer and first-time festivalgoer Nicole Norfleet of St. Paul. “I’m going with my mother,” said Norfleet. “It has always been a dream to go to the Essence Festival with my mom, which I have always envisioned as some sort of Black girl magic mecca.

I’m a big Janet Jackson fan and since I missed her headlining a few years back, I think this would be my last chance to see her there while she can still dance.”

Norfleet said she plans to stay a day after the festival is over to explore the city; she and her mother will be going on a plantation tour.

Sonnier said Norfleet and her mom have the right idea. He stressed that taking time to go beyond the beaten path is exactly how first-time visitors can truly experience the city.

“Explore New Orleans’ neighborhoods by bike,” said Sonnier. “Start in the French Quarter but go down the Lafitte Greenway to City Park [and] ride out to the Lakefront. Get a feel for the city beyond the cab. There is no better way to take it all in. You will hear it and smell it versus just seeing it go by your window on the way to your next stop.”

Maison Dupuy Hotel in New Orleans Courtesy of Maison Dupuy Hotel

Craig J. Sanders, director of Sales and Marketing at the Maison Dupuy Hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter said hospitality is the heartbeat of the city. “Our true southern charm and friendliness make New Orleans a special place to live, work and visit.

“Like no other city I know, our hospitality community has but one focus and that’s to work together to make sure our city above any other city in America is welcoming, authentic, captivating, historic and just downright different than any other place you will visit in the U.S.”

And Sanders should know. He’s spent the last 42 years working in the city’s hotel and restaurant industry.

The Essence Music Festival 2018 takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana July 5 through July 8 features daily empowerment seminars and nightly comedy and music concerts.

Some of the artists performing at this year’s event include Mary J Blige, Jill Scott, Janet Jackson, Fantasia, The Roots and Erykah Badu.

For more information, log onto Essence.com and www.neworleans.com.


Sheletta Brundidge welcomes reader responses to shelettab@gmail.com.