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Mary J Blige unveils Strength of a Woman Festival

Mary J Blige and Pepsi have partnered with Live Nation Urban to launch the Strength of a Woman Festival and Summit in the US.

The inaugural edition will take place in Atlanta, Georgia from 6-8 May, with three days dedicated to music, comedy, and community building. The all-female bill includes performances from the likes of Blige, Chaka Khan, City Girls, Ella Mai, Queen Naija and Kiana Ledé.

Intentionally staged over Mother’s Day weekend, the “multi-touchpoint” event is curated for and by women, with a focus on music, wellness, tech, beauty, and financial literacy.

“The idea for the festival came to us after early listening sessions of my latest album with my family and friends and women in the industry,” says Blige. “Each time, the people in the room would share a story, oftentimes of heartbreak or pain, but they always ended with joy and love and how their girlfriends or mom or sister helped them find their voice and strength. We felt like after two years of being inside and having to endure so much, that this was the type of experience that people, especially women, deserved.

“I’m so grateful to all of the performers, vendors, and participants for committing themselves to our inaugural event and I am so excited to do this in a city that has been rocking with me since the very beginning of my career. I am proud to create this with my sisters and I look forward to an undeniably beautiful and special experience.”

The event is the brainchild of Blige and her partners Nicole Jackson, VP of MJB Inc, and  Ashaunna Ayars of The Ayars Agency, who have assembled a team of women to lead every arm of the festival, from production to communications.

Kicking off the weekend on 6 May is a concert at Tabernacle Atlanta, curated to highlight youth culture and emerging hip-hop and R&B acts such as Kiana Ledé, Emotional Oranges, Inayah, MK XYZ and Omerettá the Great.

“Being able to bring an experience like this to fruition, especially with a dynamic team of Black women at the helm, is a dream come true”

The Strength of a Woman Summit, which will feature workshops and panel discussions, will be held on 7 May at The Gathering Spot ATL, followed by the second concert night at State Farm Arena, hosted by Kenny Burns, with performances by Mary J. Blige and special guests Chaka Khan, City Girls, Ella Mai, and Queen Naija, among others.

The event will culminate with the ticketed Mother’s Day Gospel Brunch at the City Winery on 8 May, which will feature Gospel music artists including Kierra Sheard and Le’Andria Johnson.

“This festival and summit were created for our friends, mothers, sisters, and the countless women who walk unapologetically in their truth and strength,” says Ayars. “Being able to bring an experience like this to fruition, especially with a dynamic team of Black women at the helm, is a dream come true.

“I’ve lived in Atlanta for several years and am thrilled that we’ll be able to give back to a city that has nurtured, supported, and amplified to the global stage so many Black artists and entrepreneurs. We are so grateful for Pepsi’s support in celebrating and honouring women, but also with their commitment via grants for the larger Atlanta creative & entrepreneurial community.”

The festival is the billed as the first of its kind to have women not only as the performing acts, but also as the decision-makers behind the scenes.

“I’m thrilled to present a powerful line-up of all-female talent headlined by, and in partnership with, Mary J Blige for the Inaugural Strength of a Woman Weekend in Atlanta,” says Mari Davies, VP of booking and talent at Live Nation Urban. “Mary’s story and career are so inspirational, relatable, and triumphant. The weekend will showcase and celebrate strong talented women across generations and I’m proud to be a part of such a special weekend! This is for us and by us.”

The festival is also partnering with dozens of local, minority, and female-owned businesses and vendors.


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New Orleans’ Essence draws ‘record’ 4bn impressions

Essence Festival – an annual celebration of African-American music at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (76,468-cap.) in New Orleans – welcomed more than 470,000 attendees to its 24th edition last week, increasing attendance by 25,000 and garnering what organisers call a “record-breaking” four billion impressions on social media.

Complementing a night-time concert series (headliners were Diana Ross, John Legend, Chance the Rapper and Mary J. Blige), the festival once again featured “entertainment, empowerment and cultural experiences” targeted at black Americans, with actress Halle Berry, film director Ava DuVernay, civil-rights campaigner Al Sharpton and spiritual leader Iyanla Vanzant among the more than 100 speakers.

In addition to increasing attendance by ~6%, organisers say posts tagged with the #EssenceFest hashtag drew 4bn+ impressions on social media, with the festival also trending daily on Twitter.

This, say promoters, is a new record – although it should be noted iHeartRadio claimed its 2015 festival generated more than 6.5bn impressions. (New record or not, 4bn social engagements with an arguably fairly niche festival is undeniably impressive.)

Essence Festival is produced by Essence Festivals LLC, a division of Essence Communications (the publisher of the eponymous magazine), and New Orleans-based Solomon Group. Sponsors in 2017 included AT&T, Ford, McDonald’s, Walmart and naming partner Coca-Cola.


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Festival Focus: Bluesfest, Bestival, First Fifty

Peter Noble’s Byron Bay Bluesfest has added six new acts to its 2017 bill, building on its initial line-up announcement late last month.

Mary J. Blige, Corinne Bailey Rae, Michael Kiwanuka, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Gallant and The Suffers will all perform at the 28th event at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm in Byron Bay, New South Wales, next Easter.

Noble says: “We have had some truly amazing artists play Bluesfest, and to continue in that vein, we proudly announce Mary J. Blige as the headliner of our R&B/soul-flavoured second announcement. With over 50 million albums and 25 million singles sold, and 32 Grammy nominations with nine wins, the greatest female soul singer of our time is coming. To say I am chuffed she is coming to Bluesfest is an absolute understatement.”

The festival says ticket sales have been “through the roof” since the first line-up announcement. (Michael Kiwanuka photo by Rene Passet.)

Michael Kiwanuka, Into the Great Wide Open 2011, Rene Passet

In urban Australia, meanwhile, Tame Impala, Camp Hope, Nick Murphy (the man formerly known as Chet Faker), Jagwar Ma, Tourist and ETEP queen Aurora will play multi-city event St Jerome’s Laneway in January and February.

The festival will visit Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth, as well as Auckland and (minus Tame Impala) Singapore, from 26 January. (Jagwar Ma photo by Olivier Bourgi.)

Jagwar Ma, Dour Festival 2014, Olivier Bourgi

The first wave of acts have been announced for the third edition of ski/snowboard-themed event Rise Festival, which will take place at the Les 2 Alpes ski resort in the French Alps from 10 to 17 December.

Headlining the 3,000-capacity festival, from promoters Running Wild and Wasteland Ski, will be Kano (pictured) and Seth Troxler, with other newly confirmed artists including Metrik, Artful Dodger, MidlandArtworkJackmasterFred V and Monki.


Voodoo Music and Arts Experience, which takes place on Hallowe’en weekend (28 to 30 October) at City Park in New Orleans, have announced its 2016 line-up.

Tool, The Weeknd and Arcade Fire (fresh from European headline slots at NOS Alive and Bilbao BBK Live) will headline, with Foals, Die Antwoord, Cage the Elephant, The Chainsmokers and Band of Horses also on the bill.

Here’s a poster:

Voodoo Music and Arts Experience 2016 line-up

Bestival will return next year, promoter Rob da Bank has confirmed, dispelling speculation that the 2016 festival could have been the last after ticket sales fell to 40,000 for the 55,000-capacity Isle of Wight event.

“Bestival was obviously a slightly different beast this year,” says a Facebook statement penned by ‘Robby and all at Bestival HQ’. “Festival land has changed a lot, [there is] more competition, a wobbly economy, etc., and for whatever reason many festivals have not sold as well. We did 40,000, which resulted in a more compact, boutique vibe and back to our roots, but by my own high standards sound and tent spec was not always what we would have wanted it to be – we can assure anyone coming back in 2017 that this will be rectified.

“As far as the festival market goes we can’t dictate what will happen but we can promise that Bestival will be back to its very high standards next year and we will continue to listen to you and use that feedback to improve every year.”

Bestival’s 2016 line-up, with headliners The Cure, Major Lazer and Hot Chip, was criticised by some as being underwhelming compared to previous years. (Bestival 2016 courtesy of the festival.)

Bestival 2016

Emerging music festival The Great Escape (TGE) will preview its 2017 line-up with a live launch in London in November.

First Fifty will take place across five east London venues – Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, The Old Blue Last, Kamio, Zigfrid von Underbelly and The Courtyard Theatre – from 22 to 24 November and will provide a “look at acts destined to take TGE 2017 and next year’s festival season by storm”.

Poté, LA Salami, Ray BLK, Cabbage and Shitkid are among those performing.

“Over the last 11 years The Great Escape has been providing the soundtrack to our future, with over 3,750 artists showcasing in Brighton,” says Rory Bett, CEO of promoter Mama Festivals, “and today’s announcement of the First Fifty previews the next wave of artists set to go down in TGE history. No other festival out there launches in this way, with 10 live gigs, and the best thing is that this is just the start: we’ve still got another 400+ bands to announce in the new year.”


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