June 28--Last year BET tagged its annual awards spectacle as "Too big to miss" -- a phrase the network should have held for this year.
Sure, the historically unpredictable ceremony will feature dazzling performances -- Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey are among the acts on the bill -- and dole out trophies to musicians, actors, athletes and philanthropists.
But the awards are just a footnote of what BET has in store. This year the Black Entertainment Television network has transformed the show into a three-day destination festival in Los Angeles that kicks off Friday.
The BET Experience will take over the L.A. Live complex downtown with an impressive lineup that will attract more than 100,000 people to the city, according to the network.
BET's inaugural festival will feature concerts by headliners Beyonce, Snoop Dogg, J. Cole, Miguel and R. Kelly as well as wellness seminars, celebrity panels, a film festival and, yes, an awards show telecast on Sunday.
More than two years in the making, the festival is a way for the network to expand its highly rated awards show and make L.A. a destination for urban music fans in search of a big-ticket event, and it will be difficult to find a bigger ticket in Southern California this year.
"The BET Awards are like the Super Bowl of black entertainment," said Debra Lee, the network's chairman and chief executive. "It's the biggest thing out there, so we always asked ourselves how we make it bigger and better. [Creating the festival] allowed us to touch many more people than are able to come to the awards."
On Friday, Beyonce will launch her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour at Staples Center, which will also host Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, J. Cole, Miguel and Schoolboy Q on Saturday, and R. Kelly, New Edition and the Jacksons immediately after the BET Awards on Sunday.
The smaller Club Nokia will host comedians Mike Epps, Cedric the Entertainer and a Kirk Franklin-led gospel showcase during the day, and Erykah Badu, the Roots featuring MC Lyte and Too Short will have late-night sets.
Those wanting to experience the festival without shelling out any cash -- the big shows at Staples Center were bundled for $199 to $399, and VIP packages (that include entry to the awards show and tons of other goodies) went upward of $3,995 -- are in luck as the network has curated a breadth of free music across three stages.
BET's video countdown show, "106 & Park," will take over L.A. Live's courtyard and feature performances from Mindless Behavior, Janelle Monae and Jason Derulo on Friday and Wiz Khalifa, Sean Kingston and Tyga on Saturday.
Across the street at the massive "fan fest" expo in the surface lots surrounding the complex, the Music Matters stage will host emerging artists such as K. Michelle, PJ Morton, BJ the Chicago Kid, Mateo, Ab-Soul, Bridget Kelly and Austin Brown over the weekend, while the Centric Pavilion will feature classic soul and R&B acts like Earth, Wind And Fire, Brian McKnight and Bell Biv Devoe.
The network also packed an array of non-music events into the festival, including "Genius Talks" with Pharrell Williams and Nick Cannon, wellness and empowerment seminars including a panel on eliminating gun violence led by Snoop and T.I. (both are slated to perform on Sunday's telecast), a celebrity basketball game, a film festival at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live and an exhibit at the Grammy Museum.
Stay tuned to Pop & Hiss during the weekend for our coverage of the BET Experience.
For more, including ticket info, a schedule and how to register for free events, visit the BET Experience site.
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