Here, I'll say it: Music festivals are overrated. The crowds, the weather, the lines, the exorbitant ticket costs. There is an exception, though, and that's Essence Festival. Now in its 24th year, the event draws annual crowds larger than Coachella from all corners of the world for the ultimate "party with a purpose" in New Orleans, Louisiana. And with last year's release of Girls Trip, Essence Fest 2018 was the biggest one yet — more than half a million attendees showed up.
Back in 1995, the event was originally conceptualized as a one-time weekend fête to honor Essence Magazine's 25th anniversary. When 142,000 people RSVPd, the organizers knew they were on to something greater than they anticipated. Since then, Essence Fest has evolved from big-name concert headliners to include workshops, panel discussions, and keynote speeches about politics, technology, health, style, beauty, and cooking.
"It’s a family reunion," Gabrielle Union told us at AT&T's Dream in Black Luncheon. "You see people you haven’t seen in years, and it just feels like a safe space to exist. And also a great place to build, to rally support, and to connect. It feels like a celebration of us."
It's a celebration of Black beauty, too. This year, there was no shortage of popping twist-outs, fluffy 'fros, bright wigs, perfectly blended sew-ins, gorgeous locs, and intricate braids. But unlike other festivals, these attendees didn't have to go overboard with their glam to get noticed. Women of all shapes, ages, styles, and skin tones rocked what was comfortable to them. Check them out in all their glory, ahead.