Set List Bonus: Essence Music Festival 2013

  • Michelle Williams
    Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images
  • Jody Watley
    Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images
  • Big Daddy Kane
    Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images
  • Avery Sunshine
    Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images
  • Bridget Kelly
    Photo: Johnny Nunez/WireImage.com
  • Faith Evans
    Photo: Johnny Nunez/WireImage.com
  • Luke James
    Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images
  • Mia Borders
    Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images
  • Tamia
    Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Will Dawson
New Orleans

When I attended the Essence Music Festival in 2012, I had no idea what to expect. This year, I knew I had to have a plan.

That's what I told myself as I touched down in New Orleans on July 2, determined to use last year's festival experience as a lesson for this year. In 2012 I arrived at the massive music celebration for the first time, in awe of the bright lights and multiple stages. I wandered warily through the cavernous Mercedes-Benz Superdome, learning the layout on the fly, catching performances as best I could.

That didn't happen this year as my plan was firm and simple: to see as many performances by GRAMMY-winning artists as possible. That was it, and I was ready.

Or at least I thought I was.

The first part was easy, as the festival lineup included a multitude of past GRAMMY winners. The headliners for the main stage included a GRAMMY who's who, including Beyoncé, Maxwell, Jill Scott, and 55th GRAMMY Awards telecast host LL Cool J. Seeing all of these talented artists perform throughout four days was enough to make this year's trip better than last year's. I was focused and prepared to sit back and enjoy the show.

But that's when things got tricky, and also what makes the Essence Music Festival stand out from almost any other annual festival. The annual summit — which took over downtown New Orleans from July 4–7 and stretched all the way to the famous French Quarter with sponsored day parties, pop-up shops and empowerment panels — boasts enough entertainment to satisfy even the most discriminating musical palette. In fact, if you're not inclined to see any of the aforementioned headliners, there are four smaller stages — or super lounges — designed to satiate both new-school and old-school tastes.

Appearing on the more intimate stages this year — and making it more difficult to decide who to see — were GRAMMY winners Big Daddy Kane, Blackstreet, Faith Evans, and Jody Watley; GRAMMY-nominated artists Anthony David, Luke James and Tamia; and newcomers Alice Smith, Avery Sunshine, Mia Borders, and Bridget Kelly.

A highlight of the festival was the All-Star Gospel Tribute, an event during which the best of the genre gathered to celebrate their own. This year's tribute honored GRAMMY winners and gospel legends Tramaine Hawkins and Donnie McClurkin, and took place at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as part of the festival's annual Day of Praise & Inspiration on July 7.

It's easy to underestimate the effect gospel has on people these days, most likely because it's not celebrated as often as it should be, with its tributes being held as specialty events throughout the year. The Essence Music Festival did it right, trotting out a lineup that included GRAMMY winners Yolanda Adams and former Destiny's Child member Michelle Williams, and GRAMMY nominee Kim Burrell. The trio was joined by Isaac Carree, Kurt Carr, Tyronne Foster & the Arc Singers, Bishop Lester Love, and Bishop Noel Jones.

With so much entertainment wrapped into one incredible four-day package, the 2013 installment of the Essence Music Festival was a daunting yet rewarding experience. And while I was able to accomplish more than I did in 2012, there was still so much more to do.

I guess that means I'll have to come back in 2014 … you know, just to make sure I've covered it all.

(A journalist for the past 20 years, New York native Will Dawson serves as the GRAMMY.com Gospel Community Blogger. Now a resident of Los Angeles, Dawson hopes this new life chapter will open up even more opportunities to explore and cover what he loves most: music. You can follow Will on Twitter and at www.dawsonink.com.)

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