By Jenny Peters
New Orleans is known for its music, and there’s no better way to experience the harder edge of that musical town than to visit over Halloween weekend and take in the legendary Voodoo Experience. Three full days of musical madness held in the center of City Park, this year’s fest was a combo of heavy metal madness, returning rapper, and the coolest Swampland band ever. It all began on Friday, October 30, 2009, when a slightly overcast warm day went south as the party started, just after Janelle Monae took to the Voodoo Stage and the Black Keys started up across the meadow at the Playstation/Billboard.com Stage.
As a big storm blew in and soaked everyone on hand for the 11th annual “ritual” in City Park, no one seemed to worry about the rain one bit and the party kept right on going. Voodoo offers up three big stages and two small tents, so there was plenty of music for everyone (and the crowds did form inside the tents, as the temperature dropped. But outside in the elements on the protected stages (New Orleans is used to rain being a part of their party scene) Silversun Pickups played a lively set, then it was on to The Knux, Justice, and finally Eminem, who hit the stage and played his first gig in five years. Reunited with D12, his skeleton-costumed band, the rapper played his biggest hits to thousands of soggy fans who stuck it out to the bitter end.
“Hey New Orleans, I’m back y’all. Did you miss me?” he shouted to the crowd.
As Halloween dawned Saturday with a bit of drizzle, Voodoo Day Two started early (10 a.m.) and ended late (11 p.m.). Festgoers got all costumed up – Santa Claus, Jesus and Elvis, of course – and navigated mud puddles to check out bands like Fatter than Albert, As Tall as Lions and New Orleans native Andrew Duhon and the Lonesome Crows. Big Sam’s Funky Nation and Walter “Wolfman” Washington got people doing a sun dance as the weather cleared; then, as costumed crowds poured into the gates just past the New Orleans Museum of Art, the big shows began.
Gogol Bordello’s gypsy-ska-punk-reggae tunes led into Aussie favorites Wolfmother, who started the hard rock/heavy metal vibe that went straight into the night. The soggy field in front of the Playstation/Billboard.com Stage was jammed for the reunion of Jane’s Addiction, as Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins, and Eric Avery offered up their biggest tunes, accompanied by a duo of mostly naked Asian dancing girls.
Navarro went shirtless as always, but Farrell, wearing a spangly green space invader/superhero get-up, was well into the spirit of the night. He slurped from a bottle of wine, contorted with the geisha twins, and screamed into the mike, “This is the perfect place to spend Halloween, wouldn’t you say so? Let’s celebrate death!”
Perfect for a Halloween howling at the almost-full more were KISS, who closed out Day Two of Voodoo in full costume, from their signature makeup and amazing black-leather get-ups. They turned up the volume and sent heavy-metal shrieks into the night, along with fireworks, exploding sets, and giant cannons filled with paper confetti. As Gene Simmons happily yelled, obviously taking a dig at the currently on-tour and always politically correct band U2, “If you are looking for a rock band to preach about the environment and global awareness, we are not that band! Those problems will be here tomorrow, so we’re here to party tonight!” They definitely killed a ton of trees in the process to make all that confetti.
After Voodoo ended, the Halloween madness continued from the French Quarter to the Marigny, as NOLA proved to both locals and visitors that despite the setbacks of Katrina, this is a town that really knows how to have fun. And the party kept right on going in the park on Day Three of Voodoo. A gorgeous sunny day, this was the perfect day to wander the food booths, mini art galleries, and shops that lined the walkways to the stages, and enjoying a day filled with more music. Widespread Panic, the Pogues, Shooter Jennings and Squirrel Nut Zippers enlivened the daytime scene, while the Flaming Lips and finally Lenny Kravitz closed out the main stages under a full moon with to huge – and very happy – audiences.
The best set of the fabulous three-day event was the homegrown “gumbo” created by Cajun blues guitar man Tab Benoit. His “Swampland Jam” brought together Cyril Neville, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Johnny Sansone and Wayne Thibodeaux for a truly wonderful 90 minutes of NOLA blues, funk, and rock that shook the Preservation Hall Tent.
As Tab, whose dedication to saving the Louisiana Mississippi Delta wetlands seems to really be making a difference, reminded his audience, “I know you all love it here in New Orleans, we love it here, too. That’s why we have to make sure it is here forever, by protecting our environment. Everyone has to do their part.”
VOODOO PHOTO GALLERY
All photos by Christina Radish unless otherwise noted.