A cheer goes up that one would expect to hear for a rock star when Rev. Al Sharpton enters the open MSNBC studio at the Essence Festival. “I love Al Sharpton,” one onlooker says as the activist and pundit takes his place in the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
In the middle of huge exhibits and interactive displays, the MSNBC host of his show Politics Nation talks Trayvon Martin and matters of policy with fellow network show host Alex Wagner for a segment on her program, Now.
It’s a thrill for the thick throng. Gathered in the electric atmosphere of the Essence Festival convention center expo, thousands will take in the many interactive showcases here, where spectators can interact with big brands, huge stars and impressive thought leaders.
Essence Festival: More than just music
The Essence Festival is not just about the music. Yes, the incredible concerts, featuring marquee names such as Brandy and Beyonce this year, are amazing. But, the gigantic, free convention center experience — the complementary arm of the Essence Festival concerts — is nothing short of extraordinary.
“This is very exciting for us,” Fred Jackson, promotions director for Essence and the Essence Festival, told theGrio. “To gather what will probably be more than 400,000 people for this weekend to celebrate urban culture, music, and just celebrate us, is an amazing thing.”
You have to see the convention hall for yourself to get an idea of the extravaganza event organizers have created. Coca-Cola has crafted a dance floor, flanked with a three-story-high wall emblazoned with its iconic colors of red and white. McDonald’s has a store and stage, complete with an exterior facade suitable for a city street. Inside, hundreds line up for free food.
“You can win a car from our partners at Ford. I can’t even name all the things that the partners are going to do, because I’ll leave somebody out, and I’ll be in trouble,” Jackson joked.