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New Orleans celebrates with Essence Fest

on July 06, 2013 11:00 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Actor and comedian Steve Harvey hosted a barbecue contest where he “ribbed” contestants before an audience, while on a nearby stage dance party hit-maker Cupid had hundreds on their feet as he sang “Do Ya Thang” and “Cupid Shuffle.”

It was all part of the opening day of the Essence Festival, which embraced the July Fourth holiday with free live music and family-style barbecue on the bank of the Mississippi River.

It was the first time the festival hosted an outdoor event geared for families with stages set up along the riverfront and free performances by Doug E. Fresh, Biz Markie, the Stooges Brass Band and others.

Essence is one of the premier music festivals celebrating black culture and music. It’s been held every Independence Day weekend since its inception in 1995, when it marked the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine.

The festival runs through Sunday with a lineup of nearly 50 acts, including Beyonc←, Jill Scott, Maxwell, New Edition, Charlie Wilson, Keyshia Cole, LL Cool J and Brandy.

Through Sunday, concerts will be held at the Superdome while empowerment seminars on health, beauty, careers, education and relationships are held at the nearby convention center.

Music fans came ready to party.

With the music kicking off before noon, many arrived early, sporting hats and sunglasses and wielding folding chairs.

Avery*Sunshine (her real name is Denise White), 38, whose soulful voice is often compared to Scott’s and other neo-soul standouts, said she’s bringing her whole family to New Orleans to see her performance today in the Superdome.

That includes her 13-year-old daughter, 11-year-old son, her 75-year-old mother and a van-load of other relatives and friends.

“This is a big deal,” said the artist, whose release “Ugly Side of Me” from her self-titled 2010 debut album has gained a strong following and heavy radio play.

“For me, this kind of invitation to perform means someone is paying attention to what I’m doing. For me, I’m honored to have this opportunity.”

PHOTO: Tinika Raasheeda wore patriotic glasses Thursday as she sang along with Lee England, Jr. at the Essence Festival's Family reunion day at Woldenberg Park. The Essence Festival embraced the Fourth of July holiday with free live music and family-style barbecue on the bank of the Mississippi River. It was the first time the festival hosted an outdoor event geared for families with stages set up along the riverfront and free performances. (AP Photo/The Advocate, John McCusker)

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