Last year, with a lineup including Usher, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and Mariah Carey—the BET Awards drew in five times more viewers than Sunday Night Baseball.
This year, it’s set to take place at LA Live’s Nokia Theatre on June 30th, and BET is stepping up its game.
Fans of the annual celebration of African American artists, athletes, and actors will have an entire weekend dedicated to its community and fans in an eclectic three-day festival: the BET Experience.
“There’s something for everybody there,” says Gwen Priestly, a publicity consultant for the BET Experience at AEG. “It will truly be an experience for anyone who comes around.”
Associate produced by Martin Ludlow’s consulting firm Bridge Street, the BET Experience is set to feature a interactive exhibits with the Grammy Museum, seminars on entertainment, money, and love, drive in movies, health classes, even a celebrity sport court.
A close rival of the Essence Festival, Priestly says the Experience offers enough unique, free, and celebrity-studded content to set it apart from the others.
“We have the BET awards—and it’s a televised show. Essence doesn’t have that. We have a dialogue, we have the awards, we have the atmosphere.”
With tickets to Beyonce’s concert selling for a thousand dollars, fans who might be tightening their purse strings will be relieved to find that the FanFest—featuring drive-in movies, gourmet food, beauty and relaxation lounges, basketball games and meet and greets with BET hosts—is free.
“There’s seminars, free food, lots of free events.” Priestly says.
BET even prepared a substitute for church-goers with BET’s Sunday Best, hosted by Kirk Franklin, a concert and worship hybrid with such gospel legends as Kirk Franklin and Donnie McClurkin. Donnie is set to give a sermon, and gospel singers Karen Clark-Sheard and Kiera Sheard of BET’s “The Sheards” will perform.
Another important event to cushion the Experience’s exciting itinerary is The Taste of Soul festival, featuring master chefs and scores of vendors.
"We wanted to be able to showcase African American foods during the BET Experience," said Tom Reynolds, BET's Vice President of Business Development & Strategy. “This is not only a treat for those locally, but also for those who are coming in from all over the country who want to try regional twists on dishes.”
Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., Founder of the Taste of Soul and President and CEO of Bakewell Media, thinks it will be good for black businesses in particular.
"I believe that as African American businesses we need to collaborate as often as possible with each other. The partnership of Taste of Soul and the Taste Of Soul Nation alongside BET and its worldwide fan base is a win-win for everyone.”
He insists the Experience itself is a landmark for black companies.
“This will probably be one of the largest gatherings of Black businesses and economic empowerment for Black businesses in Los Angeles. This will certainly be the largest gathering of Black businesses in downtown Los Angeles in the history of this city.”
BET is furthering its positive effects by offering educational seminars particularly directed at young people looking to pursue a career in the music industry. Their Youth Program offers classes and seminars from music industry pros. Forty teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18 will be chosen to participate, and will then be given a guided tour of the Grammy Museum.
“It’s a very community friendly environment. It’s music, it’s television, it’s the awards, it’s food, it’s dancing, it’s the philanthropic side. It’s a family environment,” Priestly says.
Guests of the event will also find themselves milling amongst BET’s finest, with confirmed attendance of Mike Epps, Cedric the Performer, R Kelly, The Jacksons, Snoop Dog, Erykah Badu, and Beyonce’s anticipated concert-tour kickoff at the Staples Center.
"Who wouldn’t want a chance to hobnob with the stars while sipping champagne on the red carpet in sunny Los Angeles?” says Sean Dee, AEG’s President, Global Branding AEG Live. “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”
“There’s something for everybody at the BET experience,” Priestly says.
The festivities begin on June 28th and culminate with the BET Awards on Sunday, June 30th.