After a rain-soaked 2015, Voodoo bounced back in a big way this year with a stellar lineup, flawless logistics, and more local flavors than ever before (not to mention picture-perfect weather all three days). The festival was run by C3 Entertainment for the first time this year, and the shift to a veteran of the festival scene was felt from the moment you stepped onto the grounds. The sound bleed issues of years past were virtually nonexistent thanks to repositioning the biggest stages and ensuring smaller stages didn’t have to compete with the massive Altar Stage or deafening Le Plur stage. For the first time, the festival brought in some of the best eats from around town, including Boucherie and Blue Oak Barbecue. And last but not least, the porta potties ACTUALLY FLUSHED. Take note, Jazz Fest.
We saw a ton of great music this weekend that included everything from West Coast hip-hop to Swedish death metal to South African psycho rap. Despite the diverse lineup, no band felt out of a place and contributed in their own unique way to the celebratory atmosphere of Halloween weekend in New Orleans. Read on for some of the highlights of our weekend.
Seratones hit the stage early Friday afternoon for a blistering set of garage rock that set the bar high for every band that followed. Hailing from Shreveport, the four piece band is led by charismatic singer/guitarist AJ Haynes, a one-woman rock and roll hurricane who holds down a day job as a high school English teacher. The band pummeled through their excellent debut album, Get Gone, with the ferocity and hunger of a young band out to prove their chops. Haynes was clearly having a great time, with big smiles and hugs for fans in the front row as she wailed like a gospel singer who saw the light at a Ramones show. The band is back in town on New Year’s Eve with the Revivalists – don’t sleep on catching Louisiana’s best new band before they take over the world.
Soul-funk revivalist Mayer Hawthorne hit the stage Friday afternoon for a set that sounded far different from the hard rock and electronic rave-ups that dominated the Voodoo lineup. Dressed to the nines and ready to serenade the crowd, Hawthorne breezed through standout tracks from his excellent new album Man About Town as well as choice covers of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Walk This Way.” Hawthorne’s ace band matched his dapper attire and played like a classic soul outfit, complete with backup singers and funky bass solos. Hopefully we’ll see these guys at Jazz Fest this year, where their timeless sound would fit in perfectly amongst New Orleans’ greatest musical legends.
Nashville’s Bully played a raucous set of classic grunge rock that managed to feel both familiar and wholly unique. Bully is one of a few female-fronted rock bands (see also Hop Along, Speedy Ortiz) who are leading a 90s-rock renaissance with their howling vocals and propulsive power chords. No strangers to the stage, the band played Gasa Gasa on Friday night before whipping the crowd into a frenzy at Voodoo on Saturday afternoon. With catchy hooks and irresistible dynamics, Bully makes it sound like the 90s never ended.
The hands down set of the weekend belonged to indie rock heroes Arcade Fire, who treated the crowd to a greatest hits show that featured the band at their most epic. Voodoo marked one of the band’s only shows of 2016 and they made sure to make it count. The opening run of “Ready to Start,” “The Suburbs,” “Sprawl II,” and “Reflektor” was a breathless dash through the band’s most sonically dense and danceable material. The typically somber Win Butler appeared ecstatic to play such a big show in his recently adopted home, showing love for the city’s unique culture and sprinkling the set with spirited banter (“BP didn’t pay this state a tenth of what they’re owed!”).
The twelve piece band nailed every intense crescendo and the perfectly-mixed sound system ensured every instrument came out clear and precise. After leading the crowd through a singalong that may appear on their next album, the band tore through “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” from their classic debut album Funeral. “Rebellion (Lies)” featured an extended riff on the Ghostbusters theme with Win’s brother, Will, flailing around the stage pretending to play the saxophone. The festive atmosphere continued when a gang of dancers with oversized papier-mache heads crowded the stage for the island groove of “Here Comes the Night Time” before a confetti shower of epic proportions rained down on the crowd. Twenty minutes after their scheduled end time, the band kicked into the unmistakable opening chords of “Wake Up” and made a solid case for best rock band in the world. We’re lucky to have them.