City Park in New Orleans, LA was the site for the 11th annual Voodoo Music Festival. This year’s lineup featured over 120 bands and DJ’s on six stages. Among the headliners were such industry staples as Kiss, Lenny Kravitz, Jane’s Addiction, Widespread Panic, The Flaming Lips, Parliament Funkadelic and Robert Randolph and the Family Band as well as the only US show in 2009 by Eminem. There was a great supporting cast of acts around these bands and the festival did not disappoint.
This was my fourth year of going to Voodoo and each year seems to bring an awareness of some other aspect of music for me. This year, it was bands that bring a visual spectacle and a well thought out show along with their music. This seemed especially poignant considering that the Saturday of the festival fell on Halloween. The first up in this genre was Friday’s performance of the Oregon band, March Fourth Marching Band (M4), in the enormous circus tent known as the Bingo! Parlour. M4 is anchored by an electric bass which is surrounded by a drum/percussion corps and a ton of brass. They have stilt walkers and Vaudeville dancers and circus performers weaving in and out of the band during the set, which was an extremely high energy mix of New Orleans styled brass band meets funky college marching band. Each member was wearing an individually customized uniform that kept your head swinging for the whole show.
Next was the first of two sets by the New Orleans Bingo! Show. This is another act that brings to mind a bawdy Vaudeville show complete with an appearance by FLEUR dE TEASE burlesque Revue. The Bingo! Show is driven by the mastermind creative force of Preservation Hall saxophonist, Clint Maedgen. Maegden creates a sort of living Rocky Horror Picture Show with dripping sweet/sad songs drawing on society’s outcasts.
Moving to the main stage versions of these types of acts, Gogol Bordello and the Flaming Lips both put on extraordinary sets. Gogol Bordello, the never ending globetrotting champions of Gypsy punk, were in great form on their second ever Voodoo appearance. It was easy to hear the polish and tightness that only a band with their kind of tour schedule could produce. They hit the stage with fury and rarely relented for their hour and a half set. This is a don’t miss act.
This was my first time seeing the Flaming Lips and all the friends that told me not to miss them were proved out. This was spectacle on a grand scale. From Wayne Coyne’s opening act of walking across the audience in an inflated, ten foot diameter, clear plastic gerbil ball, to the tons of confetti shot through two, side of stage cannons while Coyne fired hand held cannons of streamers, resulting in no lack of visual explosions. There were scores of four foot green, orange, red and yellow balls thrown out into the crowd that continually bounced all over. There was an enormous video screen in the shape of a semi circle stretching across the back of the stage that was ringed by strobe lights, which showed all manner of video across it. All the while, Coyne stood grinning like a Cheshire cat, seeming as thrilled by the spectacle as the audience.
Voodoo Fest, however, is more than these type of large spectacle acts and big name rock acts. Time and care is taken to represent the diversity of the city that hosts the festival. Great local funk acts like Papa Grows Funk, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and Walter Wolfman Washington and the Roadmasters were booked and turned in some of my favorite musical moments of the weekend. Some of the city’s best jazz performers were also on display such as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Irvin Mayfield, both of whom played outstanding sets. Grammy winning veterans of Cajun music, Beausoleil played a wonderful set in the Preservation Hall Tent and the New Orleans tradition of brass bands was represented by the TCB Brass Band and long time staples, the Rebirth Brass Band.
I thought the food vendors were very good and affordable, providing a nice sample of New Orleans fare. There were many great craft vendors as well as booths set up for causes such as wetlands restoration. Coming to Voodoo Fest affords another advantage, the night life of New Orleans. All the city’s clubs were ready with a full lineup of bands for the thousands of music loving people that visit the city for this festival. All in all, Voodoo fest offered a great opportunity to catch dozens of top quality acts in one weekend while being in a city that knows better than any other in the country how to throw a party.