BET Launches Festival: Should Essence Be Worried?

Black Entertainment Television recently announced its inaugural BET Experience in Los Angeles—a three-day “music, entertainment and Black culture” festival nearly identical to the Essence Festival.

The idea that BET would be expanding into the festival business doesn’t really raise eyebrows! Some wonder why they hadn’t tried their hand at it a long time ago. What is troubling – at least I’m sure to the executives at Essence – is BET’s decision to launch their festival in tandem with their annual BET Awards Weekend, which is literally just one week before the Essence Festival in New Orleans over Independence Day Weekend.

To make matters worse, both the BET Experience and the Essence Festival have overlapping headliners in Beyonce and New Edition. BET announced the one-named diva’s “Mrs. Carter Show” joining the BET Experience immediately following her stellar Super Bowl halftime show, while Essence just added her to their festival lineup this week.


The Essence Festival—previously called the Essence Music Festival up until this year—is in its 19th year and has had nearly sold-out audiences every year in New Orleans.

This year, their lineup of main stage performers include the previously mentioned Beyonce and New Edition; as well as Jill Scott, Maxwell, Trey Songz, Charlie Wilson, LL Cool J, Keyshia Cole, Brandy and Solange. No disrespect to Solange, but her main stage booking had to be a package deal with her sister, as she doesn’t have the music catalog or the consumer audience to warrant a slot on the big stage.

Housed at the Louisiana Superdome, the nightly concerts also feature super lounge performances by artists like Faith Evans, Tamia, Rachelle Ferrell, Mali Music, Anthony David, Big Daddy Kane, Bridget Kelly, Blackstreet, F. Stokes, Jody Watley, Kourtney Heart, Les Nubians, Leela James, Mia Borders and Mint Condition.

New Edition

During the day, there are informative empowerment seminars where folks like Iyanla Vanzant and Steve Harvey appear; a gospel celebration that will honor Donnie McClurkin and Tramaine Hawkins this year; an expo hall with vendor booths and celebrity appearances, and endless activities in the Big Easy.

Essence’s audience is a mostly sophisticated, mature crowd of Black professionals and working class people who can afford a rather pricey Independence Day Weekend in New Orleans.

The BET Experience will include a comedy show by Mike Epps before Beyonce performs, with an after show that same night by Erykah Badu.

The weekend also includes performances by Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Miguel, Schoolboy Q, The Roots, R. Kelly, New Edition and The Jacksons – as in the late Michael Jackson’s brothers.

There’s also a Sunday morning gospel show with Kirk Franklin, tapings of BET’s “106 & Park,” a film festival, a Grammy partnership and several other aspects.

Mary J. Blige

Though it appears that BET has duplicated Essence’s format to a great degree, clearly they’re reaching two different demographics.

BET’s audience skews more hip-hop, aggressively urban and doesn’t always possess the cultural depth that the Essence consumer embodies. Additionally, it’s uncertain if BET’s younger demographic has the disposable income to afford a West Coast Weekend and pricey festival package.

If there is any doubt internally at Essence about the threat that the BET Experience poses for the Essence Festival, there’s one sure thing they could do to cap off their weekend – bring back Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.

Frankie Beverly

For fifteen years, the iconic R&B and soul band closed out the Essence Music Festival weekend in New Orleans – and that one year in Houston – and concertgoers dressed in white would dance in the aisles until nearly 3am while Beverly crooned the band’s endless hits.

Unfortunately, someone had the bright idea to end the Maze featuring Frankie Beverly era and didn’t invite the band to the 2010 festival.

They attempted to have Mary J. Blige take over as the one who closed out the festival, but that didn’t go over so well. Blige ultimately decided to perform before Earth, Wind & Fire that year – so much for her closing the weekend out.

If the folks at Essence are honest with themselves, they have to realize that nixing Maze is one of the worst decisions they’ve made regarding their festival! Now, I believe, bringing the band back is the very thing that could ensure their success moving forward.

Well, unless BET calls them too!

Kirk Franklin

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