Highlights from the Voodoo Experience: 30.Oct-1.Nov.09 – New Orleans

It has been two weeks since the Voodoo Experience and I finally feel that my life is back in order. As New Orleans’ premiere fall music festival, it’s geared to worship music and showcase New Orleans all while embracing the Halloween spirit. In its 11th year the festival welcomed a plethora of musical greats including, but not limited to: Ween, the Flaming Lips, Parliament Funkadelic, the Black Keys, KISS, Jane’s Addictions and more.

The Voodoo Experience: Day 1

The festival kicked off on a beautiful, sunny 85-degree day, a radical departure from Chicago. My traveling companions and I spent a majority of the day discovering New Orleans, and did not venture to the festival grounds at City Park until the late afternoon. By the time we arrived the beautiful clear skies slowly turned bitter bluish-gray, and temperatures began to drop. About an hour later it began drizzling, which lead to a steady stream of rain, which finally gave way to complete down pour.

I was expecting the set-up to be similar to Lollapalooza in Chicago: an open urban park in the heart of the city, including multiple stages with overwhelming walks in between them. But the Voodoo Experience was not as expansive, nor dehydrating, and stages did not feel miles apart—diminishing schedule conflicts from hiking between stages.

The festival offered carnival-like attractions and relentless people-watching. Some performance artists imitated statues while others just embodied the spirit of Halloween by impersonating themes of terror and insanity. Attendees pranced around in costumes masked by ponchos and plastic bags, vendors lined every turn, and sounds from every which way often collided in the air under a cacophony of music.

Eventually the rain let up, leaving ample mud pits and a cold chill in its place. Luckily no shows were canceled due to the weather, though most were delayed. My main mission that first evening was to see the multifarious Ween, who were scheduled to close opposite Eminem.

I had an hour to kill before Ween, so I migrated to their stage early to guarantee a good spot near the front. During that time local New Orleans “garage-hop” duo The Knux were supposed to play. Naturally the rain set their performance back a bit. Spectators grew impatient and began to scream and chant messages to get on with it; I soon learned that it was rowdy Ween fans provoking the chants.

The Knux

After on-stage stalling undermined by fan’s impatience to hear some music, any music, The Knux took stage. Their set-up featured brothers Krispy Kream and Rah Almillio (formerly Kentrell and Alvin Lindsey), plus a bonus MC, DJ, bass, and guitar. The Knux summoned wandering spectators to their stage, hyping the crowd by combining hip-hop beats and prose with the fury and riffs of rock.

At the outset The Knux seemed to work themselves up more than the crowd. Approximately fifteen minutes into it the MCs asked all the females in the audience to flash them—provoking zero response. Later when the band suited up for “Fire,” and Krispy tried to summon girls onto the stage, he was quickly shot down by a sheriff’s deputy standing guard. Infuriated, Krispy tried to shake hands with the officer to put differences aside. His gesture was denied, prompting Krispy to start a chant of “Fuck the police!” Naturally the crowd loved, and fully embraced, his banter.

The Knux – Krispy Kream

Attempting to shift the mood from one of subversion to one of peace, they got everyone to form a peace sign and hold it in the air while chanting “peace.” The deputy, still not buying their antics, became increasingly annoyed at every attempt to undermine his authority, and the “fuck the police” reprisal, finally pulled the plug on the band’s sound. The Knux kept the chant going as the now enraged MC chucked his mic into the crowd. And that was the end of the Knux.

Ween crowd

Gene Ween

Between the rain and The Knux’s outburst, Ween’s set was delayed even more. Eventually Ween came out in a cloud of colorful smoke as lead vocalist Gene Ween claimed that his band stopped the rain and brought forth a rainbow. With that established they jumped into the Irish-flavored ballad “She Wanted to Leave,” an unconventional start for the group.

There were a few moments when the band had to tweak their sound. Technical difficulties or not, Ween still played an excellent, energized, and potent set. They played several of their live standards, including “Spinal Meningitis,” “Bananas and Blow,” “Take Me Away,” “The Mollusk,” and “Learnin’ to Love.” Naturally they also played “Voodoo Lady.” A few surprises were also thrown in such as “Did You See Me?” and “Frank.” Ween’s one-hour set was truly representative of their 25 plus year career.

Ween set list (note: not all songs listed were performed)

Dean Ween

Dean Ween

Dave Dreiwitz

Glenn McClelland

Claude Coleman

Between the spectrum of colorful songs and the fan’s enthused response, the vibe of the area was intoxicating, and definitely worth the rain and mud battle. Dean Ween, armed with experimental pedals, threw down solo after solo on guitar, while their drummer played through stage fog completely encompassing his kit. Bassist Dave Dreiwitz happily bounced around stage pairing his rhythms with his fellow band mates’. Keyboardist Glenn McClelland particularly worked up the crowd during “Spinal Meningitis” and “Fiesta.”

Ween crowd

Ween’s set was the perfect introduction to the festival, planting enthusiastic Cheshire grins upon thousands of faces. Still, I had the feeling that poor weather and mud traps were here to stay. It was Halloween eve in New Orleans after all, and anything seemed possible.

The Voodoo Experience: Day 2

Halloween in New Orleans was possibly one of the best places to celebrate. In the French Quarter store fronts, bars and verandas displayed scenes of ghouls, ghosts and all things voodoo. During the day people proudly sported costumes with no shame, a theme that lasted into the wee hours of the night. Festival-goers also displayed a wide array of costumes ranging from KISS to Jesus, zombies, A Clockwork Orange gangs to Disney princesses.

At the Voodoo Experience in City Park the weather had cleared up, though overnight it became a muddy corral. On the roster for the evening were Jane’s Addiction, Parliament Funkadelic and KISS. I got there just in time to catch Dave Navarro’s razor sharp guitar licks and Stephen Perkins’ circular drumming. Singer Perry Farrell summed up the scene: “This is the perfect place to spend Halloween, wouldn’t you say so? Let’s celebrate death!” Jane’s Addiction played several songs off of Kettle Whistle and Nothing’s Shocking, including hit: “Mountain Song,” “Stop,” and “Been Caught Stealing.”

I left early to catch Parliament Funkadelic on the other side of the park. Once show time hit performers seemed to endlessly file onstage, including Garry “Starchild” Shider and Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, amongst other masked and anonymous players.

Parliament Funkadelic

The band milked an intro building-up the arrival of the one and only George Clinton. His arrival filled the stage with an array of colors and neon hair—if Ween was claiming rainbows the previous night than Clinton was the entire visible spectrum. A feel-good, funky dance party was about to ensue.

George Clinton

Parliament Funkadelic

Parliament Funkadelic

Parliament Funkadelic

Clinton pumped the audience with hits “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” and “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker).” Clinton paced the stage, victoriously thrusting his arms upward as the stage lights spastically flashed and the audience shrieked in his honor. At one of the performance’s many climaxes Clinton grooved his way to center stage, only to unleash “To the Window to the Wall…” and a resulting rush of excitement. Over a series of songs P-Funk drove beats up only to slowly massage them into soul ballads. After over an hour of funking around to P-Funk I had to peal myself away. I wanted to catch a darker spectacle across the park: KISS.

The scene for KISS was everything one would imagine: face paint galore, black clothing, platform boots, feathered hair, shattering guitars, pyrotechnics, explosions, smoke, lights, blood…the perfect alter to summon a campy underworld.

Guitarist Paul Stanley egged on the crowd to rock louder with his shrilling voice, while Gene Simmons waved his tongue, spat blood, and thumped on his bass. Drummer Eric Singer performed rampant drum solos as his drumming platform raised him skyward and Simmons spawned wings and “flew” to the light beams, soloing from a distant platform. My favorite moment was when Stanley soared through the crowd, on a rip-chord, from the stage to the sound booth, only to perform their 1977 hit “Love Gun.” KISS covered all of the classics, including “Deuce,” “Rock N’ Roll all Nite,” “Shout it Out Loud,” “Strutter,” and “Detroit Rock City.” They ended their performance under the snowfall of white confetti accompanied by an explosive fireworks display.

The Voodoo Experience: Day 3

My last day started off slow after an evening indulging in the scene of Frenchmen Street on Halloween. Though there was a full moon illuminating the night skies there was really only one thing on my mind post-Halloween: the Flaming Lips.

Flaming Lips fans

Experiencing the Flaming Lips live more or less means achieving a state of euphoria. For an hour-and-a-half the spirit is nourished with music, colors, dancing, mythical creatures, imagination, confetti, glitter, balloons, inspiration, optimism and more. It sounds like KISS’s set, but way less gaudy. Their show opened with lead singer Wayne Coyne’s traditional introduction: rolling across the audience in a giant, transparent sphere, known as the Space Bubble. Bathed in lights, color and crowd astonishment, Coyne returned to the stage with the rest of the band to kick off a rhapsodic set. Sizable orange and yellow balloons were soon unleashed onto the audience and the celebration was on.

Spread across the stage was a gigantic semi-circular screen that played videos of naked women flashing, body close ups of the crowd, Coyne’s mouth, and more. People dressed as assorted creatures (they looked like polar bears? panda bears? sheep?) occupied the stage wings, dancing, smiling, laughing and encouraging a good time. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought the band and its performers were dressing as ecstasy for Halloween. Some fortunate fans flanked the stage on bleachers, cheering on the spectacle.

The Flaming Lips stage dancers

Wayne Coyne

Michael Ivins

Flaming Lips finale

The biggest surprise of the evening was when a woman streaked across stage into Coyne’s arms during “Silver Trembling Hands.” Her short-lived presence was greeted by Coyne in the friendliest of manners. Other highlights included new songs off of their latest, Embryonic, a megaphone, a sing along to “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1,” and more explosions of confetti and streamers during “Do You Realize??”

Flaming Lips finale

My Voodoo Experience came to an end with Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Opening their set with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Randolph wailed on his signature pedal steel guitar. With the help of the Family Band he continued to pay homage to Jackson by seguing into “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” and then “Man in the Mirror.” Randolph repeatedly acknowledged the full moon and its powers over his playing. He also thanked fans for closing out the Voodoo Experience with The Family Band instead of Lenny Kravitz’s “cinnamon and sugar music,” happening across the park. It wasn’t a difficult choice.

Robert Randolph

Robert Randolph and the Family Band

Danyel Morgan

Robert Randolph

Randolph and his band built up their set with original grooves, ample funk-soul-blues-rock jams, and a dance-worthy rendition of “Just a Friend.” At one point girls from the audience flooded the stage, dancing circles around band members (a scene that surely irked Krispy and The Knux.) The set came to a close with an uplifting version of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty (bam-A-lam).”

Robert Randolph and the Family Band