The 16th annual Voodoo Music + Arts Experience has come and gone, leaving the rich taste of Hurricanes and filé gumbo in our mouth and the sweet sounds of Foo Fighters, OutKast, Arctic Monkeys and the rest of the festival's stacked lineup.
Taking over New Orleans's City Park every Halloween weekend, Voodoo has become a festival unlike any other. Featuring a diverse set of bands and DJs playing across four unique stages and allowing its patrons the adult playground of the Big Easy during off hours, it has shaped itself into one of today's top-tier music events.
There was no end to quality music over the three days, and only a few minor mishaps (looking at you, Ms. Lauryn Hill...), but some acts were just a little bit better than the rest. There was no shortage of contenders, making this list rather tough to whittle down, but these are the ten best acts of this past weekend's Voodoo Experience.
10. The Tontons/The Suffers Houston is starting to come up in a big way in the national music scene, and two of its torchbearers, the Tontons and the Suffers, were given prime set times at this year's Voodoo. The Suffers started early with a set of scorching originals and a few choice covers, as each and every member of the soulful funk group brought his or her all to the sizable Sunday-afternoon crowd. An early hangover cure, to say the least.
The Tontons played much later, but with the unfortunate circumstance of going against festival headliner Foo Fighters. They still maintained an incredibly captivated audience from start to finish, and despite the stiff competition across the park, many folks still chose them over the Foos. It was a solid showing by a couple of solid Houston acts.
9. Gogol Bordello It's hard to resist the temptation of a Gogol Bordello show whenever they're around, and with a late weekend showing by the Ukrainian gypsy punks. Fronted by the spirited and seemingly tireless Eugene Hütz, and supported by the most unique grouping of individuals one could make up, Gogol Bordello bring an unbridled energy that is incomparable to many.
Their Sunday-evening performance, just before the final bands took the stages, was plagued early on by technical difficulties with the bass, leaving Hütz a bit annoyed, but he made the most of the situation with an acoustic take on "Alcohol," which had been requested by a fan he encountered during his hours before their set in the city.
After fixing the issue, Hütz was back to the front of the stage shouting and swinging his bottle of wine. The set was a bit more abbreviated than most, but still left those not awaiting the headliners walking into the night singing "Start Wearing Purple" to whoever would listen.
8. Trombone Shorty New Orleans was well-represented throughout the weekend, especially by standout sets from Rebirth Brass Band and Soul Rebels, but only one band that was given a main-stage pre-headliner spot. Like last year with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue were given their time in the sun and boy, did they not disappoint.
Coming out hotter than any band of the weekend, the skilled trombone player better known to his family and friends as Troy Andrews is the perfect front man, and he proved that with his hour and a half on the Ritual stage. The things he can do with the trombone are one of a kind, and he hypes the crowd up into a frenzy. One thing that's great about this festival is how much appreciation its patrons have for the local music scene, proven most of all during Shorty's set.
7. Bleachers/Wild Cub Bleachers have been blowing up as of late with their hit "I Wanna Get Better," amassing 2.5 million views on YouTube in half a year. Featuring the guitarist for the hit band fun., Jack Antonoff, Bleachers is certainly in the same vein as its parent band, but with its own unique thing. While their set seemed to be one big build-up before the hit, it was still packed with interesting bits of danceable pop.
Their current tour-mates, Wild Cub, did as they've been doing and took the stage before Bleachers. Their sound is in the same indie-pop realm as Bleachers', and while not yet on the same level, they're on the right track.
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6. Arctic Monkeys Voodoo Fest always seems to give a headlining spot to a band that might not yet be on that ACL/Coachella/Bonnaroo headlining level. In years past, they've given top billing to groups like My Morning Jacket, Wilco and the Raconteurs, among others, but this year that group was the Arctic Monkeys. While they may be as big as can be in their home country of England, they're just now starting to be considered by festivals to top their bills.
And their recent increase in popularity is deserved, which the Monkeys proved by drawing a crowd for their Saturday-night closing set that was packed all the way to the back of the field. Lead singer Alex Turner is the epitome of sexy. With such a tantalizing swagger about him matched by his silky-smooth voice, it's no wonder the Monkeys have become as big as they have.
5. The Revivalists Voodoo always books based on a band's ability to perform live, and they nailed it this year by calling the Revivalists. With possibly the most fitting band name ever, these Big Easy players bring their home-town New Orleans sound to a new level, adding jam, funk as well as the unexpected but very welcome addition of pedal steel guitar.
Lead singer David Shaw was all over the place, climbing his way over the speaker stacks, on the drum riser, into the photo pit and anywhere else the lanky front man could find to go. And wherever he went, he brought his infectious vocal stylings with him. People seemed to be way more into this show than any other save for the headliners, and for good reason. The Revivalists were one of the main reasons Sunday was the best day musically, and easily my No. 1 discovery of the entire festival.
4. John Butler Trio John Butler Trio is not to be missed. They've been doing their thing for the better part of two decades, and don't seem to be slowing down. The Australian blues/roots-rock group, fronted by former busker and guitar whiz John Butler, have rotated in and out members, but seem to have a pretty good thing going with its current formation.
Their Sunday set on the main stage was a welcome change of pace from the rest of the rock and hip-hop the rest of the weekend. Their jammy sound, which seems to be rarer these days at major music festivals not named Bonnaroo, was the perfect hangover cure early in the day.
3. Foo Fighters Foo Fighters were at the top of the lineup for a reason. With a new album soon to be released and a new HBO series both called Sonic Highways, a week's worth of performances on David Letterman and the recent Nirvana love from last year, it's Dave Grohl's world now. Filling that prototypical "rock god" spot that we always need to make the world level, Grohl can't do anything wrong these days.
The Foos closed out Voodoo with vim and vigor, and in between megahits like "Everlong," "Monkey Wrench," "Big Me," "My Hero" and "Best Of You," they treated the crowd to a few musical costumes for the holiday with takes on Tom Petty's "Breakdown" and Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure." Even Trombone Shorty got in on the fun, adding his talents on his namesake instrument to the Foos "This Is a Call" late into the set.
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2. Pretty Lights While The Foos were great, the Pretty Lights show across the park was just a little bit better. While I initially split my time between the two acts, Pretty Lights eventually won out and kept me enthralled until the end of their set.
It's been interesting to see Pretty Lights progress from a small act just a few years ago to one of the leaders of the EDM movement. While originally the moniker for Colorado DJ and producer Derek Vincent Smith, it's morphed into something completely different; for this showing, Smith brought with him a plethora of instrumentalists, including a full horn section and Break Science/Lettuce drummer Adam Deitch.
While the Le Plur stage drew a huge crowd the entire weekend for EDM heavy hitters Skrillex, Zedd, Flux Pavilion, Pete Tong and Fedde Le Grand, Pretty Lights stood out above the pack with a set that kept people shaking their bootys until the festival's very last moments.
1. OutKast Just the pure fact that this might've been OutKast's final show ever is enough to make it a little more special than the rest of them. Closing out what had been a long summer of shows at pretty much every major music festival in America and beyond, OutKast decided to ditch the cube they've been touring with and focus on bringing the hottest show they could to the feisty All Hallows Eve crowd.
While the set was the exact one they've been playing, there was something just a bit different and better about this one. The energy from the onset of "Bombs Over Baghdad" was fiery, and never changed the entire rest of the night until well after the festival was over.
We won't be as lucky as we've been this year with the amount of Outkast the world has seen, so those fortunate enough to have taken in one or several of their shows this summer should let the greatness soak in. Andre 3000 and Big Boi are legends of the game, and their discography is so packed with hits that this show could have kept going for hours longer.
It was one of those rare shows where you never get bored -- one that when it ends, you have no idea where the time went because of how enthralled you were by it. Not many acts these days can keep your full and unequivocal attention from start to finish, but Outkast had no problem completing that task. I just wish I had run into them in the French Quarter later that night. That would've really made it the perfect experience.
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