Having always heard about a certain house in New Orleans called The Rising Sun, in which a country boy who could play a guitar just like a ringing a bell, about the people on the river happy to give, about the music and love throughout the streets and all that “jazz” happening on a daily basis down in Nawlins’ – aka New Orleans, Louisiana.
So when the opportunity to experience the tales and sensations described for decades via music, books, cinema, and way too many spring break specials on E!; how could this writer say ‘no’? And so, after seven lucky years attending all kinds of music related events, the ritual for my first international festival in a foreign country began.
As soon as you step into the Voodoo Music Experience (note the language and the avoidance of calling this a festival in favor of an experience), which resides in the territory within NOLA’s expansive City Park, the immediate sensation this being in a festival like no other is immediately perceived. From the moment you catch the sight of people wearing elaborated costumes, along with the friendliness of the volunteers guiding you through the main entrance, the last notes during the final sound check, the sweet smell of the NOLA cuisine and suddenly – just like that – you are inside, surrounded by trees; then, bam!, the view of a small lake, nature and a bright blue sky embracing five stages. The music quickly begins to clings onto your 5 senses, like saying: welcome to the ritual, we have been expecting you!
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band acted as the first ingredient to this unique musical 3 day long adventure. It all took off on the shoulders of Luke Winslow King along with Esther Rose, Ben Polcer and Cassidy Holden, whom reinforced the idea of the hall itself: to pass the torch of the traditional ways of the music that gave New Orleans its title as a musical city throughout generations and wide distances. And this band did so, by playing original and traditional tunes, wrapped up on the old ways of musical performance, with a little bit of electric and eclectic slide guitar distortion from time to time.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out
Meanwhile, Le Carnival opened up with the help of hip-hop artist Money Mitch’s energetic performance; the WWOZ Stage did so with Andy Suzuki & The Method, a New York based band whom had barely got off the plane and went straight into their set and blasted an ear-candy pop rock full of soul for the lucky early birds; the daytime party at Le Plur set off with the help from NOLA’s own Force Feed Radio and Y LUV came out during the afternoon at the big brother of all stages, Le Ritual. Ideally stories from all the stages and musicians of the weekend could be written about; all the beautiful moments lived-thorugh and witnessed at every stage, but the beauty of Voodoo is that there are too many of these moments throughout the weekend.
The first time this author saw brass based performances, it was in good hands: the heart-full music put on by the TBC, Mainline, Treme and the Soul Rebels Brass Band as well as the connection they had with their respective audiences – no matter how big or small they were – showed the essence long talked about NOLA musicians, and NOLA music fans. They are not just mere brass musicians: these people are actively keeping alive the tradition and vintage sound of their town, they were all wonderful, eye-opening, artists.
A modern take on bluegrass, blues, country, folk, funk and Americana through the instruments held by the wonderful Coyotes, Big History, the amazing voices composing Delta Rae, the colorful show and tribute to Big Chief Bo Dollis by 101 Runners, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s young look-and-passion-alike Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, Infantree, Feufollet, The Revivalists, soul-rock meets James-Brown-possesed-MC5 Vintage Trouble; just to mention a few, proved that these genres are in great, capable and talented hands. Be sure to listen to all those artists – especially Coyotes and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, which abnormally became great favorites at first listen – they will all be opening for greater acts soon and become great themselves in no time.
Still, the old guard is far from retirement. The shaking legs and howling provoking fingers of Little Freddie King and his band; the double-drumming rock by CC Adcock & The Lafayette Marquis; George Porter Jr. & His Runnin’ Pardners’ dancing-feet inducer music; the teenage energy honoring Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Muscle Theory name while performing; Toots & The Maytals heartwarming reggae rhythms; Leo Jackson & The Melody Clouds’ gospel rock anthems; NOLA born Dash Dip Rock’s extra-quick rock & roll (along with their rendition of the standard Baby Please Don’t Go alongside special guest Squezee’s Glenn Tilbrook) wildness; the flesh wrapped all-star perfection that is Lil’ Band O’ Gold; local legend Big Al’s enviable voice along with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band; also, the way a brand new band carrying the spirit of yesterday but with less than a decade on-stage, JD & The Straight Shot, put the WWOZ Stage to rest with a wonderful marriage between blues and rock and roll on Sunday night. All of these little events are the living and non-stopping evidence that truthful music is the path to immortality and never-ending youth. These artists continue to set the bar high enough for honest music to come out of the best young blood.
Kaskade’s Are You Listening
On the other hand, the bar barely rising from the floor was represented at Le Plur, a stage merely designed for the eternal party held for-and-by the hands of electronic music. Kaskade, Etienne de Crécy, Justice, Modestep, Borgore and Skrillex were in charge of keeping energy at its fullest at the farthest removed stage of all. It was also the stage with the youngest, (a little bit too much it seemed at times) craziest, trouble making, drunk, fun and delivering audience. Craziness was present on-stage too.
The first storm was created by local Star & Dagger’s straight and raw head banging tunes, coming and going between blues and hard rock while passing through heavy metal madness; along came Thomas Dolby’s own version of a musicalized and technological show, crafted to its most minimal detail by the fusion of technology and sound (awesome costumes included); at Le Ritual, Gary Clark Jr. simply exploded and brought the groove at the main stage as the light began to fade away, forcing his way inside everyone’s brains with Don’t Owe You A Thing and through barely an hour of his material; Supagroup took over and flew all over the place, with the most perfect mix between AC/DC and Van Halen that this writer has ever seen. They deliver a hard rock show a hundred times better, with a hundred times more authentic energy, on a stage much smaller than bands with a hundred times more of a budget and established career (so, they officially quality as a must-see, if you are ever in NOLA); a clash of cultures came on a Saturday morning with Debauche’s wonderful happiness and carefree anthems, songs that infected a non-Russian speaking audience and gave them a bad case (or perhaps a wonderful one) of joy, with lots of cheers and sing-a-longs at the birth of a beautiful second day at Voodoo; something pretty similar happened with the Latin based music of Chicano Batman, who managed to put the sort of flavor and audio experimentation the line-up almost missed to print in this year’s edition.
Going back to feasts at the festival, this writer was dragged into a visual one, with Fleur De Tease turning the audience into a Tex Avery cartoon, using great music as a soundtrack for the sexiest moment at the festival (strange enough, at daytime) with beautiful women dancing along with the beats of some of funk and rock’s most beloved tunes. Another artist who managed to own that same stage was Dave Stewart, whom, with his wonderful set of musicians and colored antics, dragged everyone to another world for many amazing songs. Royal Teeth then decided to take stage-owning to another level: into the public. With their singer Gary Larsen taking the music and a floor tom-tom in the middle of the audience and inciting them into singing along as the rest of the band (Mrs. Patterson, Wells, Hefner, Billeaud and Poe) was giving one of the most memorable performances of their enviable two year long career.
It wasn’t all about music, though. In between the sets, while making your way from one stage to another, a lot of wonderful things would appeared. There was giant interactive art made by contemporary sculptors such as Christian Ristow, Delaney McGuiness, Johnston Burkhardt and Christina Sporrong, among others. The crafts, clothes and displayed talent of local stores at the Art Market; the live painting and visual rock and war themed delights by Sean Dietrich and the bizarre wildlife and worlds from the mind of Chuck U.
The Avett Brothers’ Die Die Die
If you walked just a little further, you would step (if you were lucky enough) into the rolling party held all around the grounds by the Noisician Coalition or you could find yourself in one of the most delicious endeavors of your life. For a hungry food-loving writer who had ran all over City Park, and who was used to surviving on expensive popcorn, cold hot-dogs, warm water and a week old hamburger patty at nearly every other concert and festival of his life, this was gourmet heaven on earth. Po-Boys, gumbo, jambalaya, free hushpuppies from a beautiful girl (just, as she said to me, for the sake of being cute), alligator, crawfish, étouffée, life-changing scents, and mind-blowing flavors. They mixed cultures in the forms of dishes of all kinds of sizes and flavors; all of them cooked with the sincere love by the nicest people I’ve had the chance to be fed by. Where has all these people and cuisine been my whole life?!?
Back to the music; some performances blew my ears and others landed deep in my heart. Stephie & The Whitesox’s punk set (commanded by a front woman with an intensely palpable confidence) challenged every other band at the festival with their raw and straight forward performance. This stage was straight up owned, all the way through the set, by Stephie. Soon after, at another stage, the smallest band and probably the one who traveled furthest from home set it all on fire; Black Box Revelation, a duo from Belgium, whom played one of the loudest and most memorable (unbeknown to most of the attendances at Voodoo) dark hard blues rock of the weekend. In an even darker turn of events, the super group Tomahawk played a wondrously hard and heavy set, which ended up gathering one of the most packed audiences at Le Carnival all weekend long.
Straight from Tennessee, an old favorite act of mine, The Features, performed a surreal set at the WWOZ Stage. If this writer became a fan a couple years ago when they performed throughout México opening for Kings Of Leon, their show at NOLA surely reassured that faith on them and gained them a few more dozens of fans who, little by little, came closer to witness one of the most underrated and talented bands around; a great band willing to break a string or two just to let the passion flow freely on-stage.
Metallica’s Master Of Puppets
But really, the main aspect of the true flavor of Voodoo occurred at the main stage, Le Ritual. The biggest stage inside City Park was the setting for some of Awolnation’s, Silversun Pickups’ and Coheed & Cambria’s most impressive performances of their respective careers. They all performed flawlessly and won over three different audiences who were there to be delighted by some of the biggest (and soon to be) names in music history. Folk rock juggernauts, The Avett Brothers displayed a down to earth show, full of musicianship among Scott and Sett Avett, Bob Crawford, the great Joe Kwon, and the rest of their band. It was full of the beauty that can be displayed through playing the simplest genre in music through the hands and souls of honest and talented musicians. Sometimes calm, sometimes in feet shaking joy, sometimes playing tunes worthy of a packed stadium, and sometimes playing so intimate to the point where the audience was feeling like they were peeking into an intimate closed-doors rehearsal. The Avett Brothers’ music can take one to many special places, regardless of what you are expecting when the show starts.
Night one at this stage was crowned by the power of the Godfather of Grunge himself, the great Neil Young & Crazy Horse. With the non-apologetic style of stretching their songs into destructive, and both raw and powerful finales, the band transformed a set of thirteen songs into a challenge for self-called tough artists. The roots of crude guitar distortion, straight from the heart feed backed solos, Neil’s beloved acoustic talent and legendary instrument torture were all there: done by the masters for the world and upcoming talents to watch, listen, and learn.
Night two at this stage featured the raw strength of “The Big Four”, who put a little hard-rock into the coldest length of Voodoo. Metallica came as an emergency exit for the organizers, since the original Saturday headliner, Greenday, had to (thankfully for the fans!) cancel close to the last minute. These four masters of trash puppeteered everyone into madness through eighteen songs, many of them now considered classics spanned that span over more than three decades. They even found humor in the situation, jamming a bit of Green Days’ American Idiot prior to turning a few people deaf with Creeping Death, as giant black balls rained on the crowed during the most sung-along encore at Voodoo.
The final and slightly heartbreaking last evening at Voodoo featured the now contemporary legend Jack White wearing his finest clothes to end this year’s experience. Bathed in a blue light along with his band, White played gorgeous revisited versions of his fifteen year old career with his bands The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, as well as close-to-be-classics songs from his first solo album. The way he managed to prove his versatility through the varied music styles of his choice and the apparent self tributes to his previous work, was impressive. He often turned rock songs into country, folksy and orchestrated twins of themselves that did nothing but to add more accolades to his already storied reputation. The doubts about him being the final gap between this year’s Voodoo and the upcoming 15th anniversary edition dissipated, as tributes to NOLA’s own James Booker and legendary Dick Dale appeared among his set, ending with the worldwide loved Seven Nation Army.
But some of the finest moment for this writer came earlier than then. Two performances that made me fall in love with the city and the NOLA music heritage were some of the most simple and honest. The New Leviathan Oriental Fox-Trot Orchestra, with wonderful musicians from all ages working together and doing precisely what the Preservation Hall was made for: keeping New Orleans music alive for the world to enjoy, putting (musically and skill speaking) most of the rest of the line-up to shame. They are a New Orleans must-see for anyone curious enough to pour himself into the best music from the crescent city’s finest composers. And the opportunity to witness the Soul Queen of New Orleans performing live has become one of this writer’s most memorable moments of his live show attendance record. That marvelous voice, accompanied by The New Orleans Nightingales is one of the finest combos this author has ever heard. It felt like being in the presence of true musical royalty.
In conclusion; the only thing that could be asked of the Voodoo Music Experience (or life)¸ would be the ability to split oneself into seven different people who are each capable of sharing their musical emotions with one another. Five of them able to stay at each stage inside City Park to witness all the bands gathered in the same place (for I’m sure I missed the chance of watching other great artists); a sixth one, who could wander around the NOLA Food Experience and the park, to be able to taste all the wonderfulness of Louisiana’s cuisine and meet its great people; and a seventh one, able to get to know the city and its many faces, those faces that tattooed it into music, books, cinema and my heart. Let’s just hope the 15th anniversary can keep up to the challenge of this year’s unforgettable odyssey.
Dear NOLA – the ritual worked: You are now going to be forever loved!
Written by Jorge A. López Mendicuti
OurVinyl | Senior Writer
P.S.: I would like to say thanks to Aaron Feterl, my editor Sean Brna and the whole OurVinyl team for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to attend such an event; to my fellow writers Collin Breaux and Kate Russell for their kindness, guidance and chances to experience and learning many things in a mere 3 day period; to Luke Winslow-King for sharing some of his time to talk about music and career choices; to Joe Kwon, Scott and Seth Avett for the chatting as you got lost backstage, the photos and the promise of a near visit to Latin America; to Matthew Pelham, Roger Dabbs, Rollum Haas, Mark Bond and their incredible manager for the albums that are now treasures at home and for taking the time to chat about your experiences down the road and your future plans (and obviously for the ass-kicking show) with me; to Chuck and Sam Ungemach for the art, the talk and their instant friendship; to the gorgeous Rachelle Drygalla, the beautiful Amanda Moyer and the pearl smiled Elly Monk for making my stays at Le Plur bearable and providing such a joyful and great looking company. And to anyone else I might have forgotten at those unholy hours of the night: I’m really looking forward to meeting you all again next year! There is just a few more hundred days to go.