The Festive Sacred

A Preview of Voodoo Fest 2012

by Kate Russell

12 September 2012

Diversity is what makes Voodoo Fest an anthropological jackpot for studying the various ways that festival-goers worship music and the people who play it.

Voodoo Experience

26 Oct 2012: City Park — New Orleans

In my undergraduate studies, discussions of sacred tourism used examples from ancient Incan and Celtic civilizations—but the ancients weren’t the only ones who engaged in the “festive sacred,” as it is called by anthropologist Deborah A. Kapuchan. It occurs here in the United States, with no religious affiliation whatsoever and is called the music festival circuit. In future centuries, anthropologists studying our ancient society may consider music festivals our pilgrimages to rock gods.

The Voodoo Experience (Voodoo Fest) has always embraced the idea of a music festival as a ritual, even using the slogan “Worship the Music” and tying in ritualistic themes throughout the festival. Underneath the world’s largest collection of live oaks, worshippers (you might call them ticket-holders or festival attendees) congregate to celebrate music in New Orleans, October 26-29. Meanwhile, I’ll conduct an exciting new anthropological venture: a study of the music gods and their worshippers at the Voodoo Fest.

Formed in 1999 by Stephen Rehage, Voodoo Fest has always emphasized a diverse line-up. While attracting big-name headliners, it also makes room for local New Orleans talent and lesser-known indie bands. The festival is divided into several distinct stage areas that cater to a specific kind of music: “Le Ritual” features headliners, “Le Plur” features electronic/dance, “Le Flambeau” features New Orleans-style music, and “Le Carnival” features indie bands, burlesque, and circus acts. An exciting development this year is the new camping option, which will allow this anthropologist to observe the natives around the clock in their natural environment, as well as a new stage area with carnival rides.

This diversity makes Voodoo Fest an anthropological jackpot for studying the various ways that festival-goers worship music and the people who play it. I’ll dive into the experience this October, approaching the coverage like an ethnologist studying a tribe. My observations and interviews with the natives will be published in PopMatters, accompanied by detailed, vivid witness accounts and reviews of the most remarkable performances. Interviews and reviews of the worshippers’ deities, which range from mysterious, lesser-known New Orleans musicians to much more widely worshipped gods like Jack White, Skrillex, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Nas, and Green Day.

Will previous Voodoo gods Green Day still deliver the same spiritual experience to the crowds, or will they disappoint (particularly after Billie Joe Armstrong’s recent hospitalization)? Will Jack White continue to impress on his critically appraised tour or will that have been a summer fling? Will Skrillex’s whomping audience win the prize for most enthusiastic worshippers?

The answers will be recorded by this anthropologist’s detailed observations in the field. Meanwhile, I will search for the “festive sacred” happening in this contemporary music festival, by studying the rituals of those familiar yet mysterious creatures—American music lovers and the music they worship at Voodoo 2012.

Green Day
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Jack White
The Avett Brothers
Coheed & Cambria
Silversun Pickups
Dave Stewart
Gary Clark Jr.
Bootsy Collins
Etienne Ce Crecy
Jfk Of Mstrkrft
Thomas Dolby
Say Anything
Die Antwoord
Toots And The Maytals
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
The Gaslamp Killer
The New Orleans Bingo! Show
The Features
Delta Rae
Soul Rebels
George Porter Jr. & Running Pardeners
Dj Qbuert
Jim-e Stack
Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds
Lil Band O’gold
C.c. Adcock
The Revivialists
Marcia Ball
The Vettes
Johnny Vidacovich
James Singleton
Henry Butler
Ingrid Lucia
Irma Thomas
Anders Osborne
101 Runners
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux
Treme Brass Band
Force Feed Radio
Lee Bains Iii & The Glore Fires
Paul Canchez
Little Freddie King
Andy Suzik And The Method
Alvin Youngblood Hart
Beverly Skillz
Pimps Of Joytime
Star & Dagger
Tbc Brass Band
Big Al Carlson
Stephie & The Whitesox
Noisician Coalition
Luke Winslow King
Dash Rip Rock
Lost Bayou Ramblers
Leo Jackson Melody Chorus
Royal Teeth
Carmin P. Filthy
Unicorn Fukr
Big History
Christoph Andersson
Fleur De Tease
Chicano Batman
St. Cecilia’s Asylum Chorus
Mainline Brass Band
Christoper Joesph
Money Mitch
Black Box Revelation
Chicano Batman
Kid Koala
Jd & The Straight Shot
Casa Samba With Special Guest Africabrass
New Orleans Bounce Azztravaganza
New Leviathan Oriental Fox-trot Orchestra
New Rebel Family
Red Bull Soundstage Winner

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