Essence Festival’s executive director, live events & experiential, Candace Montgomery on the challenges and successes of the festival.

This year is the anniversary of Essence magazine, a legacy brand that celebrates 50 years, with its first festival in 1995.

The challenges putting on the festival have been varied. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, we moved our festival to Houston as the city infrastructure was simply not there. But we felt a responsibility to bring the festival back, for its economic impact and jobs. The city needed that, and they’re also our partner. 

Now the festival has evolved further, and we measure economic impact, and a lot of people use us as a benchmark. Competition creates better performance, and we try and deliver a top-notch experience. 

We work closely with city and state officials and carefully look at the creative displays, and how people will interact with ticketing, registration, that sort of thing. As soon as one festival is over, we work a year ahead.

We were very much anchored in music at the start, but it was also always a ‘party with a purpose’. It’s not just music, we try and make our festival into an ecosystem to feed back into the community.