The Voodoo Music Experience, or just plain Voodoo for the recurring attendees and locals alike, is something much more than a regular music festival, it is truly an experience. The annual festival takes place over the spooky Halloween weekend and organizers adjust the festival to rise to the high expectations that have become standard for the thousands of fans who come out to New Orleans to partake in the festivities each year. In its eleventh year, Voodoo still upheld the same feelings and characteristics of a normal Voodoo weekend while still undergoing some major changes that delivered a more intimate experience.
The festival layout was very approachable. As you walked in there was the main electronic stage known as Le Plur to your left hand side. Last year this stage featured these interesting arcs that went across the audience, like a tent that had a few slice cut out. This year, there was no such structure. These arcs previously provided a tent like atmosphere that allowed for the supplemented lights to be more effective as well as capture some of the sound to seem bigger. The absence of the arcs this year is a slight downgrade, but the importance of this stage has solidified to being one of the main attractions for the festival given the surge of electronic music over the past few years.
On the other side were the three smallest stages located very close to each other. The Preservation Hall stage featured mostly jazz or funk type bands that can be found locally or in New Orleans while directly next to it stood the Bud Light stage. And just next to that stage was Le Carnival featuring other acts not fit for the larger stages. These three stages were very close to each other and unless you were directly in front, was difficult to avoid bleeding sounds from the adjacent stages.
Soundgarden’s Spoon Man
The first major difference from Voodoo as compared to the most recent years was the absence of a second main stage. Usually, on opposite ends of a massive field in City Park are two main stages. This year, the festival organizers only had one main stage where the second one was replaced with different amenities: carnival rides. Where Voodoo regulars are used to having a main stage, nostalgic attractions such as a multi-colored Ferris wheel, rotating swing chairs, and a Gravitron (which was guised under a different name) were available as yet another vehicle for attendees’ enjoyment.
The elimination of the second main stage proved to have other strategic advantages as well, as bleeds from the primary main stage were minimal. By creating this sort of play zone at the far end of the main stage, this eliminated the barrier that was normally created to the rest of the festival in recent years. This created fluidity between traveling for the attendees from stage to stage or any other destination within the festival grounds.
In past years, the festival grounds were huge, sometimes confusing to navigate through – but – this year the downsizing of the festival grounds and the convenient locations for the vendors and food stands proved to be much more successful. In fact, it took no time at all to meet with friends or get from place to place with any difficulty at all. This characteristic of a festival experience can be crucial in order to not only optimize the amount of music you can see, but also for being able to get a grasp on a temporary place that becomes your adapted home for the time that you are there.
Adding to the eerie vibe already instilled by the Halloween weekend, the Noisician Coalition helped harbor these ill-gotten feelings. A group of around fifty members of the red and black army slowly crept around the grounds of the festival with unique instruments making all sort of strange and unique sounds. Working together to create one soundscape, each member of the coalition would play in dissonance with other members of the group in an odd symphony that worked in a weird way.
In contrast to this traveling act was a group of make shift shopping carts turned boombox dance parties of the likes of animals that have become standard for Voodoo fest and other New Orleans party festivities. The synced up machines play the same music controlled by the men walking the contraptions, bringing music and dance to wherever they roll. Sometimes there would even be fire erupting from the music-bot. Between these walking installations there was the perfect juxtaposition of space and sound.
The food vendors at Voodoo had a huge arc proclaiming that in this section you will find NOLA foods. This is one of the best elements to Voodoo because you get to get a taste of local restaurants and dishes of New Orleans like gumbo and different varieties of Po Boys. The festival also featured a number of normal festival fare as well as some healthier options like Falafel. It is always disheartening when at a festival where the only thing that one can eat is fried or cheap foods instead of more substantial and healthy meals.
Another great addition to the Voodoo experience was the implementation of numerous live art exhibits and larger-than-life interactive sculptures sprawled across the grounds. With sixteen different exhibitions located throughout Voodoo, these additions proved to be something that was not only part of the festival, but hopefully something that is worth keeping and improving upon in years to come. One of these fantastic structures was a giant steel bird that when a man was to step inside, he could pedal the mechanical wings to spread. Another bird like structure would at times have its wings set on fire creating a surreal image that would be memorable to all.
Throughout the weekend live artists would paint what became a living mural, ever-changing each day. Featuring a number of local street artists as well as some guests from as far as Holland and Australia, there were seldom moments when a crowd would not be gazing enamored by the live illustrations. At night, with the aid of blacklights and special glow-in-the-dark paint, this very same wall would glow in an eerie way that can only be associated with the Voodoo experience.
The Funky Meters’ People Say
With all these additions and improvements within the festival there still were some issues to be addressed: some inexcusable and others understandable. Bathrooms, inexcusable. With the expectation and capacity of over 10,000 people to attend there was an inappropriate amount of bathrooms available. With only two main stations featuring around thirty port-a-potties, the lines to use these facilities were daunting and embarrassing. When people are dancing and drinking for twelve hours of the day at your facility, the idea of having to wait 45 minutes each time someone has to use the restroom is simply inexcusable.
What may have been even more frustrating was the abundance of unused toilets for vendors and other employees. Near the preservation hall stage, which hosted thousands of visitors throughout the weekend, there were three toilets yet for the bar staff at one of the vendors there were two toilets for maybe a dozen employees. Only until Sunday did the festival compensate for the insufficient amount of toilets by adding more throughout the site, but by then it the damage had been done. One out of three days is simply not good enough. It may seem like an insignificant gripe for what was an amazing weekend, but the time and energy that had to be displaced form the festival solely committed to going to the bathroom for a few short minutes is good for nobody.
The line-up. Understandable. Given the downsizing of the festival itself, on paper, the Voodoo experience did a good job in recruiting big name acts as well as up-and-coming bands. However, the headliners from this year were simply not as enticing as in recent years. From a production standpoint, it is understandable to get big name nostalgia acts such as Soundgarden and Blink 182, but to say that the music was as profound and current as the Raconteurs is a stretch. Where the main stage is usually packed with thousands of people it was hard not to notice that this year it was simply just not as filled. There are many factors that can attribute to this but with the amount of large festivals around the country with stellar line-ups of all different ranges, over-the-hump nostalgia bands just do not have the same draw that the bigger bands today can attract.
Ticket price. Inexcusable. New Orleans is home to many music festivals like the French Quarter Music festival, which is free, and the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival, which is only fifty dollars a day (a big increase in price from previous years). But the Voodoo Music Experience had a daunting daily ticket price of 90 dollars for those who decided to enter the festival the day of and sought to purchase tickets at the door. With the downsizing of the festival and the abundance of music always seen in this city, this price tag just does not fit the bill. Many locals supported this notion with the common argument that “if Jazzfest is not that much, how could this be?” Making the ticket price more reasonable would not only translate into more ticket sales and attendees but also eliminate stress for those budgeting to attend the amazing Voodoo Experience.
The sound. Inexcusable, yet understandable. As the aforementioned absence of the arcs in the Le Plur stage affected the sound, each stage simply did not have the power and concise sound that should be expected from a festival with this size of production. The best sound was ironically on the smallest stage that the fewest people visited during the course of the weekend. Maybe it was the tent that aided in this fact or relative power of the speakers compared to the size of the dance area, but with bleeding sounds from stage to stage and windy days, sound became an issue for many of the acts.
With three action packed days of music sometimes spanning over twelve hours there was much to cover and experience. Here are a few highlights and noteworthy acts from the weekend.
Friday started and ended cold and windy, conditions that are unusual conditions for this festival in this city at this time of year. Major Lazer delivered a fun set but unsatisfying to anyone who saw Diplo perform at DeLuna music festival. Where his set was a breath of fresh air a few weeks ago, this writer could not help but notice that it was nearly the identical set that was played a few weeks ago. To the attendees, it was received really well by a giant dance party, however to those music enthusiasts, especially in the electronic genre, to have a DJ play the same tracks in the same cadence is just a bit deflating. With so much music out there that could fit the scene, to not be selective and innovative with track listing is unfortunate.
Mike Relm may have been the set of the day, showcasing his expert DJ and turntable skills. At one point he even mixed Peanuts from Charlie Brown with an exhibition of scratching and sounds effects. Just across the field was Soundgarden delivering their heavy hitting hard rock performance that left many singing along, even if they were bundled up avoiding the shivers from the humid cold New Orleans night.
The following two days were picturesque for a festival setting. Sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and cool 75 degrees made the perfect setting for grooving and walking between art and tunes. Fort Knox Five played a funky set of tunes that had everyone chilling by the water or dancing casually amongst friends. It was a nice break from the intense sounds coming from the heavy electronic or rock heard throughout the festival prior to their set.
The New Orleans Bounce Azztravaganza is a difficult scene to report because only experiencing it does proper justice to the unique genre and dance style that has become identified with New Orleans and it’s gay scene. With Sissy bounce legends such as Katey Red leading the front, there were tons of hands on the floor and booties moving in almost unnatural but captivating motions.
The Ranconteurs’ Level
Snoop Dog and Kreayshawn lead the hip-hop of the afternoon but did not have the greatest performances. For example, there would be times during Snoops set where not only was he not performing his songs, but he was not even singing! He had numerous guests on stage and it seemed more of a social gathering than an actual performance. Kreayshawn was an intriguing act being that she is so young however her performance was clearly aided by an abundance of lip syncing or better yet screaming along to her tracks. The party was fun nonetheless but the music was just not inspiring to most.
Blink 182, given the biggest stage on the biggest night, was embarrassing at moments, saying penis and fart jokes on stage to the thousands. At their age and point in their careers, it was a bit unsettling to see this immaturity on stage, especially since it did not enhance their performance one bit. They played every song expected, but their showmanship was disappointing.
Saturday was far and away the best day of music, potent from the very start with many memorable acts. It began with Odd Future, a group of emerging rappers that is bringing rap out of the dark ages to a relevant and admirable place. Their showmanship was stellar, engaging the crowd with tons of energy even with some controversial actions. Lead by Tyler, The Creator, this group plays tracks with raw and meaningful vocals with smooth and catchy beats. In the past decade rap has entered a bad place losing much of its integrity relying mostly on flash where as Odd Future delivers the type of music that relate back to its founding roots.
Next, TV On the Radio delivered a poised set featuring some new tracks and some favored old tunes. After the passing of their bassist earlier this year, they have not missed a step in keeping the band in tact creating stellar tunes and sharp performances. The Original Meters, funk legends and New Orleans heroes, were not granted the main stage. This did not take away from their set which had devout fans and hopeful funk enthusiasts shaking to the seldom performance from this iconic group that leaves a lasting impression on the evolution of music.
Without question, the Raconteurs played the best set of the weekend. Jack White is a true rock star, one like we have not seen in quite a while. The professionalism of this group is astounding, as the sound seemed bigger than a group of musicians are capable of. This was one of those performances that had everyone captivated and in awe of just how powerful they were able to convey their tracks. White, who plays keys, sings, and rips the guitar, has the chops and proved it.
The most memorable moment of the festival came when the music seemingly ended on the Sunday night. There was small stage tucked away in the corner of the festival behind the attractions and rides, hidden in the corner of the schedule, not to be noticed in the same light as the main stages, featuring DJs from the Verboten group out of New York. This stage never had many people watching no matter how reputable the artist was that was performing due to these reasons but that did not compromise the integrity of the music.
Featured in the official late night acts, the DeJa Voodoo stage had DJs like Wolf + Lamb and Lee Burridge facilitating the party with fresh dance music and Nudisco influences, a movement that has been budding in New York and finding its ways across the country. At 8:30, when all the other music seemingly stopped, Soul Clap was just getting warmed up as their set reached their peak. The loud sounds had all those fluttering away from the main stages migrating towards the beat to what erupted into a euphoric half hour dance party that was packed with smiling faces. This moment was the perfect ending to an already excellent weekend.
The Voodoo Music Experience is just that, an experience that will last a lifetime and an viable excuse to make the trek to New Orleans to take advantage of the epic Halloween weekend that happens every year in the Big Easy. Each year, the festival takes on a different look, making slight adjustments to enhance the experience and keep people coming back, which they do. With a more intimate setting, an more art-forward approach to the festival, and the continuation of drawing an eclectic group of relevant and coveting acts, this weekend will continue to improve and remain a identifying fixture of this already vibrant city. See you next year, Voodoo, the year long wait begins yet again.
Written by Danny Goodman