A Sweet Essence
LL Cool J, Patti Labelle, Keyshia Cole, Rihanna, Kanye West, Mary J. Blige and dozens of other fabulously famous musicians and performers will flock to the city and take the main stage at the annual Essence Festival, July 4-6. Essence Festival will also host a variety of dynamic speakers at its Empowerment Seminars. Familiar faces, including those of Bill Cosby, Rev. Al Sharpton and Soledad O’Brien are among those scheduled to appear at the seminars (which are free).      
Comedian Chris Rock will  crowds and on the Superlounge stage, local musicians, including Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Kermit Ruffins Band and Terrence Blanchard, will perform. All activities will be taking place at the Ernest N. Morial Convention center.
Information, www.essence.com/emf, www.ticketmaster.com.
Tales with Happy Endings
Irish poet, novelist and playwright Brendan Behan once remarked, “I only take a drink on two occasions; when I’m thirsty and when I’m not.” Many a New Orleanian must feel the same way, especially during the hot summer months when it often seems like the only thing open is a bar.

Fortunately, there’s Tales of the Cocktail, the annual summer celebration that involves – you guessed it – plenty of drinks to keep you cool. For five days (July 16-20), mixologists, cocktails and cuisine will be plentiful throughout the French Quarter for the fête. Dinner pairings, cocktail demos and tastings, seminars, competitions, booksignings and more will abound. The event, in its sixth year, is expected to draw thousands of visitors, locals, connoisseurs and amateurs who wish to experience cocktail culture in New Orleans and around the world.
Information, (888) 299-0404, www.talesofthecocktail.com. Marquee

Stars, Stripes and Celebrations
“Go 4th on the River” gives us a chance to celebrate our country and more importantly, our city. With music, fireworks and food, down by the river is the place to be on Independence Day this year. At Riverwalk Marketplace, festivities start in the early afternoon with performances by MoJEAUX, Kayla Woodson & Louisiana Lightning, The Topcats and Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. & The Zydeco Twisters.

Across the river in Algiers, partygoers can catch some tunes at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World; musicians in attendance will be  DJ 4 U and the Bone Tone Brass Band. The Bone Tone Brass Band will eventually lead a second-line parade to the levee, just in time for the fireworks show to start from the “Dueling Barges” on the river. Kid-friendly and fun, Go 4th on the River is exciting for all ages.
Information, 522-1555, www.go4thontheriver.com. Marquee

Shakespeare in the Summer
The Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, now in its 15th season of professional theater, will be taking a colorful look at the battle of the sexes this summer.

As You Like It, which will be performed through July 12, takes place in a magical forest of Arden, where Rosalind must become a man in order to make a man of Orlando. Directed by Sean Patterson, the play jumps forward a few centuries and is set in the 1930s in an urban park. Starring Trina Beck, James Bartelle and Lara Grice, the performance will take place at Tulane University’s Lupin Theatre. Then, from July 23-26, Twelfth Night will feature a performance by actors and actresses taking part in a high school training program. This comedy of confusion is sure to be a popular one with audiences.

Finally, the Shakespeare Festival will present two new performances on its Lagniappe Stage: Mad Wenches, and Wondrous Froward Women (through July 16), which is a series of new plays by female playwrights who explore the world of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I; What, Has This Thing Appeared Again Tonight, which runs from July 25-Aug. 2 is a joint production with the NOLA Project Theatre Company and is written by local and acclaimed playwright Jim Fitzmorris.
Information, 865-5105, www.neworleansshakespeare.com.