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New York Cool - Music

 

Voodoo Music Experience
October 24-26, 2008
New Orleans, LA
City Park

Written by Joshua Williams
Photographed by
Amy Davidson

Opposite Photo: Michael Stipe

A ritual is defined as an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite. The three-day annual affair of music and culture in New Orleans City Park is referred to as a ritual. This is not a mere festival like similar gatherings held elsewhere around the country. Music is a major religion in this town. New Orleans is the Vatican of Jazz. Or perhaps it is its Bethlehem or Mecca. This is where the only truly authentic American music form was born. So every year, the ritual is held in City Park. The musicians gather. They play through the established rites. And some may find it to be a religious experience.


Preservation Hall Art Installation

The tenth annual Voodoo Music ritual is a bifurcated affair. On one side, set among majestic ancient oak trees in this beautiful park you find the Preservation Hall tent. This is where the local Jazz, Blues, Brass and Soul bands played. On this side was also the Soco sponsored stage (as in Southern Comfort, which was ever present in everyone’s hurricanes). This was where for the most part you would find more regional acts. Splitting the park in two was a midway, with probably some of the best food you will ever find at such an event. What other music event has alligator on a stick and crawdads and gumbo? Up this midway, you would find periodic parades and displays of pageantry and music you would probably only find in New Orleans. On the other side was a field with two stages for the national acts. This is a simplified version. There was a little bit of crossover on either side, but my basic view of it was commerce on one side, and art on the other.


Wyclef Jean

This is not to say that good acts were not to be found on the larger stages. Wyclef Jean gave an amazing performance. His set was full of freestyle, reggae, rap and every other imaginable genre. He ended his set with a traditional carnivale song, whipping the crowd into frenzy. Those in the crowd with a more boisterous display of participation were brought onto the stage, including a woman with an amazing hula-hoop talent. I was not a big fan beforehand, and I still think Wyclef does not have enough original material. But the man is an amazing performer, and he does make whatever song he is performing truly his.


Lil’ Wayne


Lil’ Wayne

A disappointment on the big stage for me was Lil’ Wayne. Its one thing to build up the crowd’s expectation, another when you try to play them as patsys. I was impressed with his DJ at first, because it was a truly eclectic mix of songs, from Tom Petty to Queen to New Edition to God knows what else and mostly stuff you would not expect to hear at a hip-hop show. But after about ten minutes, I was tired of waiting. A man walking by said, “He only has five songs, so he needs to stretch it out”. And even though I have to admit he has a good flow, I am pretty sure I’ve heard songs about fucking bitches and getting money before. I’m not a moralist, I don’t blush easily, but that approach is getting old and lame. What’s next, songs about bling and spinning rims while sipping on some Krystal?


Stone Temple Pilots


Scot Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots

And of course, the rock was present. There was hardly standing room left on the field for Stone Temple Pilots. They chose to open with "Interstate Love Song," which I found an interesting choice, I figured they would have opened with more of a rocker. They seemed to be in good form, Scott Weiland was coherent and engaging. They knew what the crowd wanted and the set was heavy with their old hits.


Mars Volta

Mars Volta definitely brought their prog rock swagger. But dude, you don’t need to accost a photographer. He was just doing his job, he’s there trying to get a picture of you so you get more exposure, so you can continue to do your thing. It’s not like he was a paparazzi. This was not the streets of L.A. So that is all the coverage you get, because you were an asshole.


Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails


Nine Inch Nails

Also repping on the big stage was Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor is still plying his industrial pop for the masses, using the same formula he’s used for twenty years. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. This guy got the country to accept and sing along to lyrics such as “I want to fuck you like an animal”, probably single handedly saved the fetish and leather clothing industry, and on a serious note, the public accepted industrial music, before an entirely underground genre, because of this guy. That’s an achievement even if his brand is a little more pop laced. NIN’s set list began with recent songs off the new Slip album, but Reznor knows how to please his audience, and the set eventually found its way to "Pretty Hate Machine" and "Downward Spiral" territory.


Jimbo Wallace


Jimbo Wallace's Guitar

Another old favorite of the nineties was found on the Soco stage. The Reverend Horton Heat still brings that outlaw rockabilly punk that he’s been doing for years. And well, stand up bass is always awesome, especially when it’s being played with the manic furor that Jimbo Wallace had on ample display. They played their deft mix of punk, rockabilly, and swing, in full effect and turned up to eleven.


Michael Stipe of REM

Making a comeback on the big stage was REM, the former favorites of college rock stations across the country. Its been a while, and perhaps its due to some of their later offerings, but its kind of odd that Michael Stipe and co haven’t been able to cash in on the indie- rock bubble of the aughts. That may change with their most recent album Accelerate, which finds the band with a more stripped down pop punk feel. The band has three quarters of its lineup, with drummer Bill Berry retiring in 1997. But the remaning trio performed at100%, perhaps winning some new fans and I am sure quite a few fans were left nostalgic for their salad days of the eighties.

Whenever we needed a respite from the throngs of people on the field, we would make our way to the Preservation Hall Tent, and immerse ourselves in a more local music flavor. We checked out the Dr. Michael White Jazz band, which was an excellent way to clean the palate after our disappointing Lil’ Wayne appetizer. White is a clarinetist, and played a more traditional New Orleans Jazz set. He is also a noted jazz historian who unfortunately lost many priceless artifacts thanks to Katrina. It was refreshing to sit on the grass and soak this in after the mauling of the large crowd on the field.


Walter Wolfman Washington

Another notable set we caught was Walter Wolfman Washington, a charismatic guitarist steeped in blues, funk soul and R&B. Washington can probably play guitar while shaving in the morning. He’s recently on an upswing after getting critical acclaim for his recent album Doing the Funky Thing.

 


Irma Washington


Irma Washington and her Band

We also had the honor to see Grammy winner Irma Washington, also known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans. She owns the stage as only a woman with over four decades of performing can.



Soul Rebels Brass Band

Another notable set was the Soul Rebels Brass Band. This seven-piece group had a knack for mixing the traditions of a jazz funeral with undertones of hip-hop and R&B. The beauty of these acts and others in the tent was that there was no pretension. They were happy to be there and happy to be heard. They are consummate professionals. The Preservation Hall Tent for me at least was the place to be. Because face it, most of the acts can be caught at other festivals and tour the country constantly. The acts put on in that tent are going to be a lot harder to find than your NIN or REM. Seeing Stone Temple Pilots in New Orleans is like eating at McDonalds in Paris. Go for the original while it’s still there.

The bands we caught and shot was a mere fraction of what was going on. There’s only so much we were able to shoot. But I must say, I enjoyed this festival, err…ritual. Here’s an indication of how much…I bought a sweatshirt. Doesn’t sound like much right? Well, I haven’t bought merchandise at a concert in probably 15years. I generally hate big concerts. I loathe crowds. But I would not hesitate to attend the next ritual.




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