The Essence Festival drew to a close Sunday night (July 3) — or more specifically, Monday morning — after drawing a reported 450,000 attendees to New Orleans over four days, but not before the event had what might have been its most raucous night yet.
After a day of gospel celebrations, the Superdome turned into the weekend’s biggest party thanks mostly to Puff Daddy and the Bad Boy Family’s nothing-but-the-hits setlist, though there was plenty of enthusiasm for performances by Kendrick Lamar and Ciara as well.
Read on for highlights from the 2016 Essence Festival’s final day.
12:30 p.m.: The Knowles family — and its tributaries, the Knowles-Lawsons and the Knowles-Carters — has been an undeniable force in music for close to two decades now, so it was only fitting that Essence honor the clan’s matriarch Tina Knowles with the Inspiring Leadership Award. “I’ve been coming to Essence since it started,” said the elder Knowles, who was joined by her daughter Solange and “other daughter” Kelly Rowland to accept the honor after being introduced by a video narrated by none other than Beyonce herself.
1:30 p.m.: Doug E. Fresh, who gamely appeared at just about every corner of the festival that was even slightly in need of turn up service, showed off his double dutch skills as part of a presentation by Play Like A Girl. Unsurprisingly, the jack-of-all-trades held his own.
1:45 p.m.: Local band Seratones gathered a small crowd at the convention singer as frontwoman A.J. Haynes screeched and shredded with equal finesse — their bluesy rock a little bit of much-needed grit to the generally smooth sound of the festival.
7:35 p.m.: Though slightly limited by its early time slot, the festival’s Prince tribute wound up being incredibly evocative, mostly thanks to its conclusion: festival organizers brought what amounted to one of New Orleans’s renowned Second Line parades to the Superdome (their origins lie in funerary processions). Brass bands of all ages took to the stadium floor, playing the classic “I’ll Fly Away” as Mardi Gras Indians and social club members — clad in purple, of course — danced up to the stage.
8:09 p.m.: “It’s all women up here — I wanted to do it that way,” said hip-hop upstart Dej Loaf of her all-female band and DJ, whose success in that hypermasculine world is empowering in itself. Her set was far more about the music itself than the message — hazy rap-singing that was nevertheless incredibly polished.
9:15 p.m.: Ciara was aiming to please with her playful (and heavily choreographed) set, and judging by the screams in the Superdome, she did. Between a mashup of her hit “Ride” and Ginuwine’s “Pony” (complete with the former video’s notorious choreography) and including a snippet of Prince’s “Adore” in the middle of “Promise” as a tribute, the audience was kept on their toes — but still, nothing could match the extended breakdown on “Body Party.” Even that, though, she made about the fans: “I couldn’t have a body party without you guys.”
10:45 p.m.: “Like Bob Marley said, we gonna be alright!” Kendrick Lamar said to introduce the song that helped fuel a movement, and wound up concluding his energetic set. He turned the song’s refrain into a gospel affirmation, reciting it loud, then soft, then loud again for a version that wound up lasting about 10 minutes. The audience, though, never tired of the celebration, as Lamar brought 60,000 people to their feet.
12:02 p.m.: “She gave me goosebumps!” an audience member said aghast as Faith Evans sang — as in she was sanging — “All This Love,” performing vocal acrobatics with a healthy dose of soul. When Puff Daddy, aka Diddy, aka Sean Combs returned to the stage, gleeful at the crowd’s overwhelming enthusiasm, the pair shared a hug and a few memories (“He thought I was too pale, made me go to the tanning salon every other day,” said Faith, laughing). If the Superdome audience was any indication, there’s more than enough nostalgia for ’90s New York hip-hop to fuel the 25-date reunion tour that kicks off Aug. 25.