The Festive Sacred: A Preview of Voodoo Fest 2012

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