Voodoo Redux

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Out of town visitors to the Voodoo Music Experience got another kind of New Orleans experience at about 5:30 in the evening on Friday, the festival’s opening day. Just as Alejandro Escovedo was finishing a scorching set that featured his rock band set up, no cello or violin like his last show in New Orleans at the Jazz Fest, a cold front that every local knew was coming began blowing through. A day that began with summer-like temperature and humidity turned cold, windy and wet within an hour’s time.

Armed with umbrellas, rain coats and sweatshirts, my crew headed quickly to the nearest shelter just after Escovedo closed his set with a killer version of David Bowie’s, “All the Young Dudes.” Luckily that shelter was the Preservation Hall Tent and the namesake band was on stage getting ready to go. As if on cue, and perhaps it was planned, the March Fourth Marching Band, a huge ensemble that had arrived in New Orleans with a high praise buzz, invaded the tent along with others seeking to get out of the rain. They were a hoot and they hung around after playing to soak up the venerable vibe of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

The Preservation Hall band is now an intergenerational unit with young musicians such as Ben Jaffe on tuba, William Smith on trumpet and the Bingo! Show’s impresario Clint Maedgen on saxophone, joining traditional jazz icons like Maynard Chatters on trombone and Joe Lastie on drums. The lack of similar lifetimes didn’t matter one bit. They sounded great. Smith and Maedgen took vocal turns, as did Chatters. They brought out the powerhouse vocalist Thais Clark for a number and she brought down the house. Curiously, they ended their set with “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Perhaps the tourists, most of whom were unprepared for the drastic change in weather that greeted them when they exited the tent, were also unaware that a request for “The Saints” at the band’s headquarters on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter requires a significantly larger donation than any other song in the band’s vast repertoire.

Since I had a big party to throw on Saturday night, I spent a few hours wandering the Voodoo Music Experience on the middle day, but didn’t really hear any music. It was a fine way to spend a significantly cooler Saturday afternoon. I really liked the layout and though it seemed huge on Friday night, the distances between the stages seemed more manageable once I had the layout down. There were huge numbers of people in costume and the vibe was as inclusive as any festival I have ever attended. A trek into the main stage area, which I avoided Friday night, demonstrated the inherent logic of Voodoo. As one band ends, the stage at the other end of the field cranks up almost immediately. I was struck though by the sparse crowds considering that Jane’s Addiction was about to kick off and KISS’s headlining set was only a couple of hours away.

Arriving at the festival on Sunday afternoon, the party went until 4 AM, the first sounds we heard were the indigenous brass band music of New Orleans. The band sounded tight, I wondered who it was and as we got closer to the Vooboo stage, ostensibly the kid’s area, it turned out there were kids on stage playing the music. It was the Baby Boyz Brass Band. I have heard them several times before in the parade setting, but this was my first time hearing them on stage with all the instruments miked. Look out world- these kids are the next big thing coming out of the traditional New Orleans brass band scene.

I actually followed the Squirrel Nut Zippers around the South during their 1990s heyday, seeing them in Birmingham, Alabama and as far away as Live Oak, Florida. So needless to say, I was psyched for their reunion show. Unfortunately, I may have been the only one. The Bingo! Parlor was packed with listless folks who didn’t know the tunes and acted as if they didn’t care. It didn’t matter. The band was on fire with a crack horn section that turned on a dime. The co-front musicians, guitarist and singer Jimbo Mathus and singer/percussionist Kathleen Whalen, were positively ebullient. They played their hearts out despite the lackluster crowd response.

I had only seen the Flaming Lips once before and it was at Voodoo in 2006. I loved it then and I was anticipating the same psychedelic show and they didn’t disappoint. Wayne rolled into the crowd in his giant plastic ball; the sides of the stage were lined with dancers in strange costumes (we couldn’t decide what they were supposed to be), giant balls bounced on and off the stage and confetti cannons blasted the stuff for most of the set. With a full moon rising, the confetti was lit in moon glow and seemed to stay in the air forever, gently floating down on one of the most joyous crowds I have ever been smack in the middle of. Man do they love this band! After seeing the Flaming Lips twice, I love them too. I also loved the whole Voodoo Music Experience. The vibe was exquisite all over the grounds and despite the rain and the mud; the crowd was a loving as Wayne Coyne.

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