Did you make it to his year’s Essence Music Festival? If you did, you helped add to the incredible revenue the annual festival generates for New Orleans. It is so much that New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently said that the Essence Music Festival “may be the most important event the people of this city are involved in.”
“What started off as a small music festival,” Landrieu told TIME, “has now turned into a huge economic engine for this city over a weekend that otherwise wouldn’t have filled up the city.”
The three-day Essence Music Festival generated around $241 million in 2013.
Celebrating its 20th year, the fest has attracted the likes of Beyoncé, Prince, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the “party with a purpose.” In fact, it is now the largest African-American music festival in the U.S.
Landrieu said the financial impact of the event is “in some instances, incalculable,” he said at a press conference. In 2013, the event was attended by a half-million people and generated about $200 million during a weekend that had previously been “dead,” says National Urban League president Marc Morial, who was the city’s mayor when the event first debuted in New Orleans.
“Essence not only gave us something over the Fourth of July weekend, but it gave us something every year,” Morial says. “There’s a lot of local businesses that take advantage of the opportunity to enhance their sales by way of Essence.”
Following Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of New Orleans, Essence moved the festival to Houston for the 2005 event. The event’s absence was more than noticed.
“When Essence wasn’t here there was nobody working,” says Murphy Christina, the general manager of Mulate’s Restaurant, a family-owned Cajun restaurant near the festival’s headquarters. The town was so empty that Fourth of July weekend that Christina closed the restaurant. But today, it’s open for business — and business is booming.
“Today, everybody is working,” Christina says. “We’ve got a full house three days in a row.”
Essence just released word that the event had 550,000 attendees this year, it’s 20th year. There were also 80 musical acts and 150 speakers.
All sectors of tourism benefit from the event. According to Joe Blancheck, general manager of the Marriott hotel across the street from where the event is held. “All of our hotels sell out pretty far in advance,” Blancheck says. “We have a lot of repeat customers every year.”