The 2007 Essence Music Festival
July Fourth Weekend At The Big Easy
Except when I was in my room at the Hilton Riverside I was surrounded by the sistahs and brothers from the time I boarded Jet Blue airlines in New York en route to New Orleans to the time I walked off Jet Blue flight 118 into the terminal at JFK airport Sunday afternoon. It was a good feeling. No, it was a great feeling.
The two hundred thousand African Americans who poured into New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival hiked up that floundering city’s economy by many millions of dollars. Remember that Louisiana is a racist state, although it is difficult to find evidence of that in the tourist sections of New Orleans. The welcome mat was out! Big time. And why not? Two out of every five sistahs, regardless of age, carried a symbol of money: a handbag engineered by Gucci, Chanel, Fendi, or Louis Vuiton; diamond rings, earrings and necklaces; expensive high-fashion shoes; Smart hair styles; and fashionable clothes (although, from the way things looked, there seemed to be a great shortage of material with which to make tanks and other tops; flesh was the order of the day). Seeing so many prosperous sistahs and brothers gave me a warm feeling. The invasion made Mayor Ray Nagin happy too; at least, that’s what he said.
I didn’t visit the Ninth Ward, mainly because there wasn’t time, but also because I dislike being miserable. Apart from that area, where African Americans concentrated and which sustained the damage we see on television, New Orleans looks as if Katrina never visited. Almost!! Careful scrutiny shows potholes in certain other streets, refuse that should be carted away, and so on, but not in the area most frequented by tourists, or in the areas of expensive and high-rise buildings.
Senators Clinton and Obama paid a visit to the Festival, and made serious overtures to the Festival attendees. Both were well received, and both had an important message.
I didn’t go to New Orleans for the music, but in response to an invitation to sign books at the author’s pavilion and because I think the food is still the best in the country. It was also an opportunity to visit with two dear friends.
In the Morial Convention Center, which sheltered thousands of hungry, sick and dying African Americans in the wake of Katrina, no evidence remained of that sorrowful time in American history. It was there at the author’s pavilion (and later for the African American Book Stop) that I signed copies of GETTING SOME OF HER OWN, my August 2007 release, and several others, including When You Dance With The Devil and Whatever It Takes.
At the author’s pavilion, operated by the Community Book Center, Lissa Woodson (aka Naleighna Kai) showed us how to promote up to half a dozen authors simultaneously and to do it fairly, not giving any one author preference, not even the super stars. And she did it hour after hour for three days with grand style. Lissa, you have my admiration and my sincere thanks.
I’ve often wondered why Essence combines books with music. I don’t have the answer, but I know it’s a wonderful, laudable idea, and the Community Book Center serves it admirably year after year. By the way, apparently many, if not most of the jazz musicians returned to the city, because that wonderful music could be heard everywhere, beginning with the moment I walked off the plane and into the terminal of Louis Armstrong Stadium. As I said, being in New Orleans was a great feeling, heat and humidity not withstanding.