Calling all music lovers: The 18th Annual Essence Music Festival starts in New Orleans next week. This year, Essence is celebrating the "Power of Our Voice" with some of the nation's most influential artists, authors and educators on hand in the Big Easy.  As the nation's largest annual gathering of African-American music and culture, the festival attracts more than 400,000 people each year.

The music starts playing on July 5th with the first ever youth empowerment concert on the “New & Next” stage at the Superdome. The Music Festival will continue on July 6th-8th with an eclectic but soulful line-up. Musical and celebrity guests will include the legendary Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige and Charlie Wilson, along with younger artists like Trey Songz and Ledisi. Comedians Kevin Hart and Steve Harvey will be on hand, as will gospel crooners Yolanda Adams, Kim Burrell and Marvin Winans.

With that the star-studded line-up and all of the all night parties you may attend, you get a little hungry. Here are my recommendations on enjoying the best of what New Orleans has to offer.

All That Jazz

If you’re looking for a chance to experience and dance to traditional second line music, visit Maple Leaf Bar at 8316 Oak Street, they play live music nightly. You won’t be disappointed.

In town on Thursday night? If so, visit Vaughan’s Lounge located at 4229 Dauphine Street. It is a short taxi ride from the French Quarter. The legendary Kermit Ruffin plays and barbecues there on Thursday. This venue is small and gets hot and crowded fast. If you are looking for an authentic New Orleans experience you just found it. 

For over 30 years, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro has been one of New Orleans's premier destinations for jazz and regional cuisine. Located just outside of the French Quarters at 262 Frenchmen Street,
New Orleans

New Orleans Eats

No trip to New Orleans is complete without enjoying the traditional French style doughnut known as Beignet. The Original Cafe Du Monde , at 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans, is the only place to get this fried powered goodness. Established in 1862, Cafe Du Monde is open 24 hours a day. The modest menu features dark roasted Coffee and Chicory, Beignets, White and Chocolate Milk, and fresh squeezed Orange Juice.

La Bayou Restaurant , 208 Bourbon Street, is the perfect spot for self proclaimed “True New Orleans Cookin’” The menu offers a rich selection of local favorites and a cajun glossary for newcomers to navigate their way through this tasty menu. The Shrimp and Grits Napoleon is one of the many signature dishes you should try while there. These crispy fried green tomatoes stacked on creamy southern grits surrounded by gulf shrimp drizzled with a Bourbon St. Cream sauce, are great anytime of the day. 

Deanie’s Seafood. The Chifici Family is celebrating their 30 years of running one of the city’s favorite seafood restaurants. Located in the French Quarter at 841 Iberville St. (one block off Canal and Bourbon streets). Known for their huge portions and quality Louisiana seafood, it is no wonder a line forms outside on this New Orleans treasure everyday. They serve everything from crabs, crawfish, shrimp, oysters, fresh fish, gumbo to jambalaya. When ordering don’t be intimidated and order way too much: half an order can feed 2-3 people, so come hungry and bring a friend. 

In need of some late night eats? Visit The Trolley Stop, located at 1923 St. Charles Ave. Open 24 hours Thursday through Saturday, this cafe first opened in 1995 during Mardi Gras Season and helped kick start the revitalization of St. Charles Ave.The Trolley Shop serves its entire menu from breakfast to po’boys all day and night.

Enjoy The Fest!