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The Five Best Acts at Voodoo Fest 2013

Voodoo Fest 2013 at sunset
Voodoo Fest 2013 at sunset
Photos by Julian Bajsel

The 2013 edition of the Voodoo Festival has come and gone, leaving everyone who came out counting down the days until the next time they can step foot in New Orleans' City Park. This year people were treated to standout sets spread across four stages from the likes of Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Kid Rock, The Cure, Bassnectar, Dr. John, Calvin Harris, New Found Glory and many others.

With the beautiful city of NOLA providing the atmosphere, pretty much nothing can go wrong when you're at Voodoo -- well, unless you have one too many hand grenades on Bourbon Street.

I've been attending this event for the better part of a decade now, ever since it was in that one part of the park, before it was in the other part of the park which switched to the other park of the park that is now the "permanent" grounds. Well, at least until they move it to another part of the park. Give it 3-5 years.

With a change in venues, despite being just a few hundred yards away from where it was last year, a new vibe is to be established, and even though Voodoo Fest has been going strong for a good 15 years, it felt almost like a new festival rather than one of the longer-running events.

While Voodoo is now an established brand, one that continues to bring an ever-evolving cast of characters to its many stages, this year it felt like Voodoo was almost trying to re-establish the brand it brought to life, mixing the rock roots that lifted it off the ground to the newer way to festival mixing the indie with the dance with the indie-dance with the everything else.

The Voodoo crowd after dark
The Voodoo crowd after dark

Usually it's the headliners that people go home talking about, but this year's event was so heavily stacked from top to bottom that it was hard pressed to go to a stage and not enjoy what was happening. Of course everything wasn't for everyone -- there were a few times where some stages didn't really draw a crowd, and there were a few times you couldn't make it near a set because of how crowded it was. Despite that, though, some new favorites were discovered, but it was the old steady stalwarts that really won over the crowd throughout the weekend.

And now, my five favorite acts from Voodoo Festival 2013:

The Five Best Acts at Voodoo Fest 2013

5. Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor has performed at Voodoo numerous times now under the Nine Inch Nails moniker, every time bringing something new and different to his performances. This time, however, it was a different animal. While several classic Nails songs were heard ("Head Like a Hole," "Hurt," "Piggy"), it was the newer stuff that found Trent really hitting his stride.

Bringing almost a dancey EDM vibe to the Saturday night set, they could've done a good job headlining the Le Plur stage rather than the main Ritual stage. Trent, and his band of hired guns, which included the ever-rhythmic Pino Palladino on bass and a pair of vicious looking back up singers, worked their way through about 25 songs from Nails' entire catalog, mostly focusing on their newer material.

Gone are the days of their harder industrial sound that made them famous with songs like "Closer" in the mid '90s. Trent has welcomed the new age of dance music into his world, and like he could only do best, brought his own charisma and style to the thriving genre. It wasn't necessarily a set for the ages, but it sure was one of the better headlining sets I've seen in a while.

List continues on the next page.

 

The Five Best Acts at Voodoo Fest 2013

4. Preservation Hall Jazz Band Over the years, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been a mainstay at Voodoo, even having their own stage for the past several years. This year, with the change of venue, they decided to scrap the Preservation Hall stage in favor of slimming the event down a bit. With that, though, they still had to give the New Orleans jazz legends a format in which to shine. Well, for just under an hour, the brass and drums pounded out a set of originals and classic tunes to a very happy crowd.

Takes on "Rattling Bones" found a trio of dancers interpreting their version in dance. A run-through of "When The Saints Go Marching In" was eaten up by the crowd, bringing out the true NOLA for new and old fans alike to take a part of. The set just hit right with me, and even though the legends don't have their own stage anymore, they were still given a chance to strut their stuff out on the big stage, and perform one of the best sets of the weekend.

The Five Best Acts at Voodoo Fest 2013

3. Reignwolf The surprise act of the weekend came from Canadian blues-rocker extraordinaire Jordan Cook, better known to his fans as Reignwolf. The grungy set of originals from Cook and his simple-yet-pounding rhythm section that featured his brother on bass, pulled me in from another stage and kept me there longer than I had planned. I didn't even think I was going to see any of their set, let alone stay for the whole thing and call it a favorite at the end of the weekend.

Cook is a true showman, working the stage like he was born to do it. His gritty blues guitar playing just made it all the more better. He even, at one point, took to the guitar and drums at the same time for a slow burner that had the crowd enthralled. The high point of the set came when Cook made his way through a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain."

Delta Rae had just performed the same song on the big stage just moments before, and while their version was quite good, it was completely outshone by Reignwolf's haunting version. They definitely had the heaviest workload of the weekend too, not only performing their festival set, but also playing an after gig Friday night and a short set for the campgrounds on Saturday. They were the mules of the weekend -- if mules effortlessly rocked the fuck out.

The Five Best Acts at Voodoo Fest 2013
Photo by Jim Bricker

2. Dr. John Everytime I go to New Orleans, I make it a point to try and check out some original funk, blues and jazz. Thankfully Voodoo, who always do a good job in representing the city that hosts the event, brought a collective of famed New Orleans musicians all on one stage to close out the festival to those who just weren't feeling The Cure or Bassnectar. While those other two acts were surely doing their thing to grandiose crowds, the real show of the night came from The Night Tripper, Dr. John.

Joined by a who's who of New Orleans funk players, including The Meters' George Porter Jr., Ivan Neville, The McCrary Sisters and a bunch of other talented musicians, Mac Rebennack led the growing crowd through a set of inspired originals. The music is timeless, and with a band that could execute any song on an improvisational drop of a dime, they had no problem drowning out the other stages around them. Particularly stirring was a take on "I Walk On Gilded Splinters" that featured horn, guitar percussion and vocal solos from the entire 15 piece band.

There was really no way that this set could be bad, and while most of the busy Sunday night crowd found themselves at one of the other stages, this was definitely the place to be and the perfect way to close out the fifteenth annual Voodoo fest.

List continues on the next page.

 

The Five Best Acts at Voodoo Fest 2013

1. Pearl Jam There were plenty of great acts over the course of the weekend, but only one was deservingly at the top of the bill. Seattle rockers Pearl Jam took care of closing duties on Friday, and from the very onset of the show, which found famed former Saint Steve Gleason, who has reached legendary status in the Big Easy, known not only for his football playing but also for his inspiring battle with ALS, introducing the band. Gleason, who was introduced as a close friend, "if not a member of the band" by Eddie Vedder, also had the daunting task of choosing the night's set list. Thankfully his Pearl Jam roots run deep, because it ended up being pretty much the exact set of songs, save for one or two, that I would have chosen.

The set was incredibly high-energy, and while Vedder was busy throwing out tambourines and helping out with the sign-language interpretation, guitarist Mike McCready was busy melting faces with his incomparable riffs. "Alive" and "Black" were born singalongs, "Even Flow" and "Jeremy" brought me back to my angsty flannel-wearing youth, and "Daughter" and "Given to Fly" were just flat-out cool to hear.

The set closed with a one-two punch of Neil Young's "Rocking In The Free World," that Young himself performed on the very same stage last year, and the fan favorite "Yellow Ledbetter" that started off in all of its acoustic glory, then finished the set with such force that everyone was just left standing with mouths agape, trying to figure out what just happened.

It was the perfect way to close out the first night of the festival. Vedder is one of the best front men of any band I've ever seen. He loves his fans, and makes sure to give them the best possible experience every time he gets onstage. He still, after all these years, loves his music and that shows with quality performance after quality performance.

I'm sad that Voodoo has come and gone, leaving nothing but a huge hangover and a ton of great memories to take home. The whole weekend was packed with great music that even this top five couldn't contain all of my favorite moments. Each stage had its own vibe, and while they might have been just a bit too close to each other -- causing a bit of sound bleed wherever you went -- the move to a different part of the park still turned out to be pretty damn cool.

Voodoo is, and always will be, the best thing going in the world of festivals. ACL is too crowded, Bonnaroo is too big, FPSF is too hot, Coachella is way too hip, and so is Fun Fun Fun. Voodoo is like the wee bear in Goldilocks -- just right. On top of that, you have New Orleans as your after-hours, which can never be a bad thing. Unless you lose your wallet's worth at the casino drunk on purple drank. But then again, if that happens, there's probably a good story to go along with it.

If you've never experienced Voodoo, I'd highly recommend it. Even if the lineup isn't completely for you, I promise it'll be the best time you'll ever have. Just make sure to pack some ibuprofen, because after four days of Halloween fun time in New Orleans, you're surely going to need it.

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