By Matt Starlight and Rande Archer
Voodoo Experience 2015 is a fine representation of an event that finally seems to be coming into its own, carving out a unique, niche identity in a nation that’s oversaturated with EDM and folk music festivals.
The headliners announcement for 2015 was met with excitement and anticipation; femme goddess Florence + the Machine, the powerful Ozzy Osbourne and EDM king Deadmau5 comprise an impressive, if not sensational set of acts, all rounded out by supporters in the infamous Modest Mouse, Jack Ü, Chance the Rapper and more.
The lineup choices for this most haunted of music venues is quite diverse, yet complimentary as one of NOLA’s famous Bloody Marys. While it may be slowly establishing itself as an electronic dance music destination rivaling big names like Electric Forest and TomorrowWorld, Voodoo isn’t afraid to allow its identity to shift and shape to what their fan base may enjoy as they bring in alternative heavy hitters like Florence, Modest Mouse, Jane’s Addiction, Slightly Stoopid and more.
Day 1 saw a culmination of excitement that’s been building since the announcement months ago. Fans poured in through the gates, ready to lose themselves to a venue as exotic and strange as the city in which it’s held. Early on was a prime opportunity to indulge in the other areas where Voodoo excels. The selection of NOLA art and food allows the festival to stand out as a cultural experience rather than just a musical one.
Drago’s Charbroiled Oysters, Cartozzo’s famous Crawfish Bread, and Roman Candy’s timeless taffy were all available to the public, as well as craft selections, carnival rides and colossal art pieces like TaranTula, Face Forward, and Fledging, the massive mechanical bird.
Flow Tribe kicked off activity at The Altar, the headliner stage, at 2:30 p.m. with a typically funky and upbeat set. The gang, dressed in festive, colorful suits, danced and strut to the beat of their locally sourced hits “Walk Like an Animal,” “Fire on Esplanade,” and others from their strangely hidden self-titled album. Apart from the mysterious absence of their debut record from online venues and streaming services, Flow Tribe is hitting all the right notes in their quest for New Orleans funk stardom.
Modest Mouse opened up for Florence + the Machine at The Altar with the energy and tenacity of a band 15 years younger. They’ve been jamming classics “Float On” and “The World at Large” off Good News for People who Love Bad News for over a decade now, yet haven’t allowed it to feel stale for even a moment. What’s even better is the obvious enjoyment they find playing hits off their 2015 record Strangers to Ourselves. While a cryptic, meta title in itself, Strangers is chock full of potential hits that highlight seasoned talent and self-awareness like “Lampshades on Fire” and “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box.” This mega-wall of fuzz rock brought their A game.
Finally, Florence took center stage at The Alter, scantily clad in a hot pink, 3-piece satin power suit. Nothing less regal would have sufficed as she canvassed every inch of her domain, sprinting back and forth, and successfully imploring audience participation. Their mammoth sound finds no better venue than an outdoor festival. She wails her global hits “Dog Days are Over,” “Ship to Wreck,” “Mother,” and more, nearly fighting the crowd itself for control of the airwaves. To say that she commands a crowd’s attention would be the understatement of the festival as her and the machine simply dominant the world around their stage with big, brawny, femme power anthem after power anthem.
The second day was a mixture of rock, mud and rain that cultivated a miserable start, but ended in an electrified finale for the last day of this year’s festival. With good weather in the morning, it had a hopeful start. The occasional drizzle lasting mere minutes pestered the opening hours, with heartfelt sighs and the occasional “Come on!” from festival goers. However, this was just a fragment of what was to come later.
Filling the air with some fresh rock and roll to stir up spirits as the first act of the day at the Flambeau stage was Nashville native The Wans, fitting in comfortably for the day’s main theme: rock. Following them on the Carnival stage was the unique, energetic and upbeat Veridia, pumping up festival goers in advance of the main stage takers.
Opening up the main stage on Altar was the Gulf Coast Soul ensemble of The Suffers. The Houston-based band fit right in with the New Orleans festival, as the sun shined on for the band as they jammed out to the rare appearance of the sun for the day. This mildly pleasant weather waned quickly though as the clouds grew darker and the air grew colder.
A cold front had pushed the much-feared rain that was set to hit much later during the evening up to an uncomfortable early downpour during the opening song of Clutch’s set on the main stage as though the rain was rigged on cue. Despite this lead singer Neil Fallon sang on, cursed the weather, and joked about the circumstances.
But fans for the final event of the day stayed. They held out through the weather and were blessed with back to back rock performances for the evening. Opening for the legendary rock front man Ozzy Osborne and the all-star cast for the night was Janes Addiction, setting the rock vibe for the stage. What followed them is what could be described as pure rock heaven.
Assembled like a superhero league, the final act on Altar was a delicious and mind blowing mix plate of rock talent. With the main man Ozzy belting out classics and at one point pointing a hose towards the rain riddled audience, the stage was packed with fellow Black Sabbath alum Geezer Butler, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, and Guns ‘n Roses’ famed Slash. Playing interchangingly for different songs, the all-star band played some of Sabbath’s classics such as Iron Man and N.I.B. as well as some of Ozzy’s songs like Bark at the Moon. The guitars all came together though for a final encore of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, shredding away the worries of the water-logged fans below them.
While Day 3 was unfortunately canceled due to inclement weather, despite the event being described online as “rain or shine,” Days 1 and 2 more than made up for it. Voodoo may be over 15 years old, but it finally seems to be bringing in the nationwide recognition as more than “the New Orleans one that isn’t Jazzfest” that it so deserves.