November 19, 2015 The Voodoo Music + Arts Experience Casts Spell New Orleans, LA 10-30-15
New Orleans is a mystical and, in many ways, mythical place. The city, also known as “The Birthplace of Jazz,” is definitely a place of spiritual mystery, awe, and fascination. That is the mystical portion. As far as its mythology, the city fits all into all of the accepted descriptions, definitions and delineations of the word–it is fabled, fabulous, folkloric, fantastical, storied and idealized. In short, it is a legendary place. Its musical traditions have been at the forefront of virtually all American musical genres, including Jazz, Blues, Rock-n-Roll, Funk, Hip hop, Emo, EDM, Dance, Pop, Bounce and even Heavy Metal. It has been said that all American music can either be traced back to New Orleans or has taken a road through the city.
Halloween is also known as All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Eve. Historically, in the Christian faith, All Hallows’ Eve is dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and all of the faithful departed. Most Americans know it a yearly celebration where people play dress-up as they party the night away. Children wear costumes and go trick-or-treating throughout their neighborhoods. Neighborhoods and municipalities have many different events, including costume parties, contests for carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, bonfires, apple bobbing contests and haunted house attractions. Horror and occult themes abound.
Voodoo is a religion practiced chiefly in Caribbean countries that unites Roman Catholic ritualistic elements with magic as performed by the descendants of West African slaves. In the voodoo religion, a supreme god rules a large pantheon of local and tutelary deities, deified ancestors, and saints, all who communicate with believers in dreams, trances, and ritual possessions. A voodoo can also be a charm, fetish, spell, or curse holding magic power for adherents of the religion. However, to many, voodoo is an event, a celebration that only New Orleans can host.
Each year, the city of New Orleans melds its mythology, mysticism, religious practices and musical history with the traditions of Halloween when it hosts The Voodoo Music and Arts Experience. The three-day festival, formerly known as The Voodoo Music Experience and most often referred to as Voodoo or Voodoo Fest, is held in New Orleans’ City Park. Over the past sixteen years, the festival has hosted over two thousand artists and more than a million fans and has always been scheduled on the weekend closest to Halloween. This year, Voodoo Fest actually landed on the holiday. It was scheduled to begin on Friday, October 30th and continue through Sunday, November 1st. Sadly, Mother Nature had other ideas. A tornado watch, one that lasted a good portion of the day on Saturday, ended late in the afternoon and encompassed New Orleans as well as surrounding areas of southeast Louisiana. The rains started sporadically early on Saturday, ramping up with a late afternoon thunderstorm of stunning proportions, forcing many fans to seek shelter and miss some of the headliners, while others who braved the elements became mud people as City Park became inundated. Sunday was a complete wash-out as the heavy rainstorm lingered, forcing festival organizer, Live Nation, to cancel the festivities citing unsafe conditions.
Because of its diverse artist roster (the musical lineup always features performers from almost every genre of music imaginable), Voodoo is clearly the best yearly concert experience in New Orleans. While the festival’s motto is “Worship the Music,” it is more than just a musical celebration. It also features world class food, art and interactive opportunities scattered throughout the City Park festival grounds.
Since its 1999 debut, The Voodoo Music and Arts Experience has called City Park in New Orleans its home. The festival has played host to local and international music superstars including: Pearl Jam, The Cure, KISS, R.E.M., Metallica, The Pixies, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, AWOLNATION, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Death Cab For Cutie, Panic At The Disco, 50 Cent, Ozzy Osbourne, Weezer, Skrillex, Stone Temple Pilots, Cypress Hill, Chrissie Hynde, Blues Traveler, Marilyn Manson, Soundgarden, Snoop Dog, My Chemical Romance, Cheap Trick, Fishbone, Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys, Slayer, 30 Seconds to Mars, Lauryn Hill, Manchester Orchestra, Kid Rock, Paramore, Twenty One Pilots and dozens more, many for repeat performances over the years.
The festival features numerous large and small stages. The largest, The Altar, is the main stage. Most of the EDM acts play the Le Plur Stage. The Carnival Stage hosts a mélange of older and upcoming acts that fit into numerous different genres, and The Flambeau Stage is home to many of the hot up-and-comers as well as established Rock, Pop, Blues, Country and Jazz acts with large followings. Lastly, the Toyota Music Den is a small tent that houses acoustic and intimate performances by acts who have played one of the main stages earlier in the day. Each stage features fantastic performances that leave the audience deliriously happy.
The real key to the Voodoo Experience is its proximity to just about everywhere. While New Orleans may be in the southern part of the U.S., it is in the middle of the country–making it easily accessible to everyone. Fans from around the country and the world flocked to “The City That Care Forgot” to be a part of this year’s experience. With all that said, the 2015 edition kicked off on Friday, October 30th with musical performances that were filled with plenty of highlights.
It is only fitting that a local group be the first act to grace the festival’s main stage. Appearing on the Altar Stage on Friday at precisely 2:25pm, the members of Flow Tribe were dressed as pimps wearing bright neon pastel colored suits, announcing itself with a simple, “What’s up Voodoo Fest? Are you all ready to party New Orleans?” The crowd cheered and the funk was flowing.
The six piece Funk/Rock band offered a wonderful, high energy musical gumbo of Funk, Jazz, Reggae, Rock, Latin, Hip hop and Blues to a much larger than expected audience. For the locals in the crowd, it was party time from the get-go with many audience members not only bopping and dancing to the grooves, but singing along with K.C. O’Rorke (vocals, trumpet), Chad Penot (bass, vocals), John Michael Early (harmonica, vocals, keyboard, washboard), Bryan Santos (guitar, timbales), Mario Palmisano (guitar) and Russel Olschner (drums). When their groove-based funky beats wafted across the festival grounds, new fans and friends were instantly made as the faithful were joined by other festival revelers who quickly joined in the celebration.
The highlights of the eclectic set included “Hungry For You,” “Good Time Girl,” and “Walk Like An Animal,” as well as a number of fan favorites from albums Painkiller (2014), Alligator White (2014), and At Capacity (2013).
The Joy Formidable
This Welsh band knows how to have fun. Appearing on the main stage fairly early on the first day of a festival is usually a difficult slot. In many cases, lots of folks have not arrived yet, and those who have are milling about trying to get food or find friends. None of that deterred The Joy Formidable. In a set full of pure energy, the trio blasted off and demanded to be noticed by reeling off searing guitar solos with heavy bass and thumping drums–in short, they rocked loud and fast. Playing to its strengths, the band focused on some of their more rowdy songs and it worked. The crowd noticed and slowly but surely made its way to see vocalist Ritzy Bryan on guitar, bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matthew James Thomas kick some ass.
The set was highlighted by “The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade,” “This Ladder is Ours,” “Maw Maw Song,” and “Whirring” with its explosive chorus and alternative arena rock sound, along with the new tune “Passerby” which Bryan announced was “something that is not actually on the fucking album, but its good for a laugh.” The song owes a lot of its DNA to a Queens Of The Stone Age influence and is sure to be a hit if it ever does get released as a single. Keep an eye on these guys, with the right bounces and a little luck, they will be huge.
Jessica Hernandez and The Deltas
Appearing on the Carnival stage at about 4:30pm, Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas played a rocking set of Soul and R&B that had its audience happily engaged. Hernandez and her band brought their A game and produced a very high energy set of fun, Detroit-influenced Soul-Pop. Highlights included the cover of Barry Mann’s “Who Put The Bomp,” “Sorry I Stole Your Man” and “Cry Cry Cry” which Hernandez slyly introduced with what was probably the funniest line of the day–“Do you mind if we play a slow one? After all, nothing’s spookier than a love song.”
Gerard Way and The Hormones
Gerard Way’s forty minute set was devoted almost entirely to his 2014 CD, Hesitant Alien. It was the last performance of the former My Chemical Romance frontman’s 2015 tour. Opening with “The Bureau,” Way and his band sounded great. He was a bit weary and it showed, but he was also talkative, speaking between songs to audience members and offering encouraging words of wisdom to those who actually listened to his between song banter.
Highlights included: “Zero Zero,” “Drugstore Perfume,” “Brother” “Maya The Psychic,””Juarez” and “Millions,” which Way introduced by stating, “I was here four years ago with My Chemical Romance. I’ve been looking forward to this show for so long…”
Way, who was dressed in a black pants, black jacket, black shirt and a bright red tie, did not play a single My Chemical Romance song. even though fans near the stage repeatedly peppered him with requests. Instead, he offered a cover of Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Snakedriver.” It was a nice cover that was done well, but it only served to leave the audience wanting something that they did not get.
Metric and their frontwoman, Emily Haines, delivered a set of catchy Synth-Pop hits that was both high energy and gimmicky. Always ones to become part of the spirit of an event, band members appeared wearing animal head masks while Haines was dressed as a very flashy and chic peacock.
Highlights of Metric’s set included “Lie Lie Lie” and “Help I’m Alive,” the opening track from Fantasies (2009), along with the high energy “Cascades” and “Youth Without Youth” from 2012’s Synthetica. For a band that has been on the scene for almost twenty years, Metric seems to never get tired of what it does. The band’s fans seem to feel the same way. The performance left them wanting more but in the best possible way. They loved the show. Metric’s new album Pagans in Vegas is out now and will continue to tour in support of the record through March of 2016.
Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls cancelled at the last minute due to numerous members of the band contracting food poisoning. Nashville-based Amanfu took the slot, confusing the crowd that was milling about the Flambeau Stage. There was no announcement when Amanfu and her band did not appear on the Flambeau Stage at 4:00pm and there was not one when she appeared on the same stage in Turner’s 5:30pm slot. Those lucky enough to catch her set were given a pre-Halloween treat. Her smoldering R&B set featuring tales of bad love affairs and heartbreak. Her set was highlighted by a sultry cover of Kanye West’s “Streetlights” from her 2015 CD Standing Still, “Love Out Loud,” “Bluff” and two slightly more out of the ordinary covers: Memphis Minnie’s “When My Man Comes Home” and “I Wonder,” originally released by Detroit singer-songwriter Rodriguez.
Country rocker Ryan Bingham showed that there was a lot Rock in the new country. His electric performance was punctuated by his opening comment of, “Do you feel like clapping your hands and stomping your feet a little bit? Let’s get down to it!” Get down to it he did, opening with “Dollar A Day” and “Top Shelf Drug” as Bingham showed off his considerable chops. Bingham traded in the acoustic guitar for a mandolin as the performance provided a glimpse into the real future of Country music. Because music is not a static thing, but rather a flowing, breathing and growing form of expression, it was nice to hear modern Country featuring a touch of Psychedelia intermingled within traditional instrumentation and song structure. This is an exciting artist who will only grow in stature.
On Friday, the festival was owned by Jason Isbell’s Flambeau stage performance. With each member of The Alabama Bat Boys dressed as Batman and the Batman logos projected on the back of the stage, one might have thought that Isbell was playing in Gotham rather than New Orleans.
With a grab-the-listener-by-the-ears set that opened with “Palmetto Rose” and included “24 Frames,” “Stockholm,” “Speed Trap Town,” “Cover Me Up,” “The Life You Choose,” “Something More Than Free” and two Drive By Truckers songs “Decoration Day” and “Never Gonna Change,” Isbell had the crowd eating out of his hands. While switching back and forth from electric to acoustic guitar, Isbell mixed songs from his most recent album, Something More Than Free (2015), with nuggets and hits from his extensive catalog. Clearly having fun, Isbell referred to himself as “the opposite of Morrissey” after noting that he smelled meat and that, in his contract, it says that if he cannot smell meat, he will not perform.
If Jason Isbell was not considered by some to be the “owner” of Friday’s festival, then the distinction had to be given to Modest Mouse. The eccentric band from Washington state appeared on The Altar stage at 7:45pm as night began to truly fall. The smoked-filled, blue-lighted stage was augmented by a loud buzzing that immediately got the attention of even the most exhausted Voodoo attendee, but it was the music that kept them enraptured and engaged.
With rain in the forecast for the next two days, prankster Isaac Brock had a sly smirk on his face and a devilish gleam in his eyes when he addressed the crowd with, “It’s nice to be here. I wish it was raining on you–because I’m a dick.” Thankfully, Brock did not get his wish – at least on Friday.
The band’s set was a high octane, hit after hit performance that satisfied even the most hardcore Modest Mouse fans. Nothing was left out. Brock and his cohorts jammed, grooved and rocked out from the opening notes of “The World at Large” through to “Float On,” “Missed the Boat,” “Lampshades On Fire” from 2015’s Strangers To Ourselves, “King Rat,” “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box,” “Bury Me With It,” “Dashboard” and more.
The audience loved the loose, eccentric, engaging and extremely fun performance, staying at the main stage and dancing themselves into exhaustion. The performance was so strong it left many wondering why Modest Mouse was not chosen headline Friday’s festivities. Though they were the penultimate act, a performance such as this would have been appropriate and served quite well had they been chosen to close out the evening.
Jack Ü was formed in 2013 as an American DJ duo, a side group and collaborative project for both Mad Decent founder Diplo and OWSLA founder Skrillex. The duo closed the first evening’s Le Plur Stage with a performance that will not soon be forgotten. With pumpkins and skeletons dancing on the screen projected behind them, the set included remixes of everything from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to Beyoncé’s “7/11” to Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” to the theme from The Lion King to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Not only did the two DJs get their fans on their feet to dance, they also implored the audience to scream and asked for help from the crowd to “raise the dead.” Towards the end of the set, Diplo was splayed out on the stage as Skrillex announced that he thought the audience “killed Diplo with voodoo.” He then asked the crowd to clap, telling them that if they did it just right, they could resurrect Diplo. The audience followed Skrillex’s lead and clapped, building up speed until Diplo, wearing a black and orange Jack Ü blanket, jumped to his feet. The crowd lost its collective mind. Skrillex then said, “Thank you for saving Diplo!”
At the end of the show, Skrillex, who had announced that he had spray painted the blanket especially for the show, decided to give it to a lucky audience member. Diplo agreed, saying, “Give it to the guy in the camo hat. He was so sad all night long. Cheer that guy up!” They did and it must have worked because when last seen, the fan was beaming.
Florence + The Machine
As she did during her last Voodoo Experience performance in 2010, Florence Welch danced her way through her first night closing set. Though the performance leaned heavily on her most recent release, 2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Welch kept the crowd on the edge of their blankets as she belted out old and new fan favorites.
Welch arrived on stage in full Halloween regalia–dressed for the occasion and brandishing frightening, grisly and horrifying makeup. Eventually, the spirit of the warm New Orleans evening got the better of her and she stripped down to her skivvies and ran barefoot into the crowd.
Highlights of Florence + The Machine’s set included the opener “What the Water Gave Me,” “Ship To Wreck,” “Dog Days Are Over” and the encores “Drumming Song” and a compelling, powerful, fervent version of “What Kind of Man.” Ever the theatrical performer, the show ended with Welch crawling her way across the stage.
With plenty of diversity during the opening day of Voodoo Festival, attendees were completely enthralled in the festivities and ready for what day two had in store for them. Unfortunately, Friday really was the quiet before the storm. It was a nice prelude to the insanity of the tornado watches and storms that made Saturday a less than comfortable affair and completely washed out Sunday. Nonetheless, it was about the music and listeners were eager and ready.