October 24-26, 2008
New Orleans, LA
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.
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.
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
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 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
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"
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 and her
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
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.