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Capturing the Essence of New Orleans festival

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Listening to the electrifying vocals of legendary singer Prince. Rubbing elbows backstage with celebrities. Exchanging words with Reverend Al Sharpton. Those were just some of the highlights from the Essence Music Festival 2014.

Bermudian photographer Nigel Richardson was given a press pass to the recent event, which meant unfettered access to some of today's hottest stars.

It was his first time at the extravagant three-day festival and he wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but after hearing about the artists in this year's entertainment line-up he jumped at the chance to experience it.

Essence Music Festival is an annual music festival celebrating African-American culture and music in the US.

It started in 1995 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Essence Magazine, however, has grown to become one the most noteworthy events on the New Orleans calendar.

Mr Richardson said one of the main reasons he wanted to go was to see singer Prince perform live.

“I've been listening to Prince since the movie Purple Rain,” the local photographer said.

“His style of music was so different than everyone else growing up in the 1980s. From hits like When Doves Cry to Raspberry Beret to The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, his music was electrifying.

“I had heard about ten months ago that Prince was going to be the headliner for Essence 2014, and it was a no-brainer for me.”

He had many friends who had experienced and shared about all the excitement they had at the festival in past years.

But he figured it would be similar to other concerts he had been to overseas in the past.

“But, boy was I wrong,” Mr Richardson said. “The Essence Festival is one well put together event over a three-day weekend. It was 200 times better than what I had anticipated.

“It was truly amazing. From the morning sessions with guests speakers at the convention centre to the artists new and old performing at the stadium, it is something that everyone should do at least once in their life.”

Thanks to his press pass, Mr Richardson was allowed to go backstage at the different events and get up close and personal with the artists and other special guests.

One day while in the press area of the convention centre, he got to meet civil rights activist and television talk show host Rev Al Sharpton, when he came out for a photo op and book signing.

“There were literally hundreds of people in line to see him. I was able to utter a few words to him, so he glanced over and smiled,” Mr Richardson said.

“I was also able to meet every performer from Thursday to Sunday, there were too many to name. It was especially nice to meet [singer] Tamar Braxton and her husband Vince.”

Mr Richardson said he was pleasantly surprised by the calibre of speakers participating in the event as well.

At one of the workshops he was able to listen to the reality show cast of Preachers of LA, which follows the lives of six boldly different and world renowned mega-pastors in Southern California. He said their message was empowering and “probably one of that would stick with me”.

There was also the opportunity to catch Grammy-award winning artist Alicia Keys speak on AIDS awareness and prevention, but he missed her by ten minutes or so.

Mr Richardson wasn't the only Bermudian who got to experience the action at this year's Essence Music Festival. He bumped into at least 20 fellow Island residents during his time in Louisiana. He said: “It never ceases to amaze me when I bump into Bermudians in my travels.

“We were in the convention centre when I heard my name called. In typical Bermudian fashion I was like ‘Who knows me out here?', but when I heard my name called the second time, instantly I knew it was one of my fellow Bermudians.”

All in all he said the festival was like nothing he has ever witnessed before.

There were half a million people walking the streets over the three-day weekend and he got to be part of 60,000 screaming fans at some of the concerts.

“It just cant be described in words,” Mr Richardson explained. “Even though it is put on by Essence, there is something there for everyone, males and females of all races.”

He is already contemplating whether he will go again next year — but is waiting to see the line-up of artists before he decides.

Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
Singer Trey Songz entertains the crowd at the Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
The cast of 'Preachers of LA' speak at the Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
Erykah Badu performs at the Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
Mary J Blige takes the stage at the Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
Headliner Prince wows the crowd with songs like 'Purple Rain' and 'Kiss' at the Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
Rev Al Sharpton signs copies of his book and meets with fans at the Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
Singer Tamar Braxton shows off her vocal range at the Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
Mary J Blige at the Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
Singer Trey Songz entertains the crowd at the Essence Music Festival 2014 (Photo by Nigel Richardson)
<p>Getting the most out of your trip</p>

If you’re looking to attend next year’s Essence Music Festival 2015, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your trip.

1. Book early. Bermudian photographer Nigel Richardson recommends that you book airline and concert tickets as early as possible to avoid disappointment. He purchased his flights, and ordered his event tickets from TicketMaster, almost nine months before so there was no last-minute stress.

2. Avoid hotels downtown. Mr Richardson suggests that people avoid staying right downtown where they will pay premium prices for a hotel. Instead he recommends that you look for accommodation a little bit away from the hustle and bustle of the festival. “There are plenty of very nice hotels ten minutes away at a fraction of the cost,” he said. The great news is that if you plan ahead it can end up being a very reasonable trip in terms of expenses for hotel, car rental, food and shopping.

3. Be prepared for the weather. He encourages people to pack accordingly for the “very very hot days and nights”.

4. Be adventurous. Mr Richardson said it’s important to explore the city and cuisine of New Orleans while you’re there. The area has lots to offer for people visiting for the first time, so come prepared to soak up all the exciting sights and sounds during your visit, he said.

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Published July 22, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated July 21, 2014 at 9:57 pm)

Capturing the Essence of New Orleans festival

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