New festival grounds draws eclectic crowd to City Park
Packs of glitter-encrusted fairies swayed, giant rabbits pranced and a Speedo-clad reveler gyrated as if the scant clothing he wore was on fire.
The occasion was the 15th annual Voodoo Fest, the three-day music festival at City Park, which offered an eclectic mixture of music, art and experience to New Orleanians and out-of-town guests over the weekend.
This year’s festival drew daily crowds estimated at between 35,000 and 40,000 to City Park’s new festival grounds, one of five locations where the event has been held. It featured a lineup of heavy hitters including Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails and the Cure, and variety of electronic, folk, rock and local acts.
“It’s all about expanding your taste,” said James Decvers, a New Orleans native who made the trip down from New York and said the festival’s diverse lineup was one of its biggest draws for him.
Voodoo Fest has steadily developed its brand and resiliency over the years, overcoming natural disasters and man-made ones to establish itself as a major player in the world of music festivals.
At its debut in 1999 at Tad Gormley Stadium, founder and New Orleans native Steve Rehage said Sunday, the 8,000 attendees who showed up were greeted by a merciless, sideways rain.
“By the time Dr. John got on stage, there were more people in his band then in the crowd,” Rehage said.
Six years later, Hurricane Katrina threw a wrench into everyone’s plans. Unable to hold the festival in City Park, Rehage, with the help of Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, instead held a free concert in Audubon Park.
Rehage admitted that, in the past, he and his team have “made every mistake known to man,” including an attempt to sell tickets for the first festival online.
“It was taking people four hours to buy a ticket with a 56K modem,” he said.
But regardless, Voodoo has flourished.
Last week, Rehage sold 51 percent of the festival to the global concert production company Live Nation Entertainment, in a deal that will have Rehage join the company as president of its North American festivals division.
He said that move would not alter the course he’s set for the festival — one that delivers top-quality music alongside a dynamic entertainment experience.
The festival grounds were decorated with surrealist art exhibits ranging from a huge robotic face with muscles that could be remote-controlled by attendees to a 30-foot-tall illuminated spinning cone. As Pearl Jam played Friday night, a dozen or so revelers cavorted inside the psychedelic prism.
Two forms of camping were offered for those who desired never to leave the grounds. The more luxurious option, which cost $2,500, included a set-up tent with a bed and a cot, as well as free food and a bar. According to Jack Sanders, whose company Design, Build and Adventure built the luxury camping set-up, the singer Reign Wolf crooned over the campfire at the VIP campground on Saturday night.
Those who wanted to pitch a tent for less could shell out $50 to bring their own gear to a nearby lot.
Brittany Bowie, a 20-year-old student at Florida State University, said she’d met a flock of friends among the 100 or so campers and would return and pitch a tent again next year.
“This is the vibe of being totally immersed in the festival. You wake up to sound check. It’s great,” she said, as she and her friends grabbed a few cold beers and headed toward the stages.
While most of those at Voodoo Fest this weekend were enthused about the festival, there were a few gripes.
Some attendees were critical of the heightened security.
Attendees this year were given wristbands that were scanned when entering and departing.
Matt Story, who lives in Amite, said there was a 45-minute line to leave on Friday. “I feel a little bit like I’m in the New World Order,” he said.
Voodoo Fest is known for its eclectic line-ups, and this year was no different.
As Pearl Jam’s lead singer Eddie Vedder wailed Friday through a killer set list designed by former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, local musician Glen David Andrews delivered a spirited hourlong performance on the Flambeau stage, just 100 yards away.
An hour earlier, Scottish DJ Calvin Harris had entranced a huge congregation of young people with his bass-popping grooves.
“Eat, sleep, rave, repeat,” boomed the lyrics.
In the middle of the set, an 18-year-old woman with a skeleton-painted face and a wrist full of neon and orange bracelets grabbed a reporter by the shoulder and pulled him to the middle of the festival grounds.
“Listen to this,” she said.
The location was seemingly equidistant from all four stages, and only the slightest rumblings of music could be heard. In the midst of the unrelenting bath of sonic stimulation, the quiet was both suspicious and eerie.
The woman said she’d been at the last seven Voodoo festivals, starting when she was 11. One year, she left her car unfixed in an impound lot for months because she needed the money for her ticket, she said.
“The vibe has changed over the years,” she said. “It’s blended better, it’s come a little bit out of its New Orleans shell,” she added, her jaw quivering.
“Everyone’s stoned and drunk or on something, Voodoo is life.”