Review | Photos | BUKU Music & Art Project | New Orleans

Words By: Meghan Bender | Images by: aLIVE Media

Full review below photo gallery!

It’s hard to believe that BUKU Music + Art Project is only in their second year, drawing over 12,000 people for a sold out weekend of music, art and comedy on the Mississippi River. The two-day festival packs a punch, with a unique urban location in music hot spot New Orleans and a line-up that could attract fans of nearly any genre.

The choice of venue was the first huge draw for fans, drawing a crowd from all 50 states. Many traveling Buku-ers agreed that the excuse to come visit New Orleans weighed into their decision to check it out. Since there was no camping at Buku, patrons were encouraged to stay in the nearby French Quarter or Garden District and experience the city. Mardi Gras World has an industrial vibe to it, spanning between a Mardi Gras float storage warehouse and an abandoned power plant, the Mississippi River and old train tracks. This year’s event featured four stages and the VIP stage.

VIPs were treated to a free happy hour in the movie set-esque bayou themed Grand Oaks Mansion, open bar on the S.S. Buku boat near the Power Plant stage, and exclusive performances onboard from artists like Two Fresh, Blackbird Blackbird, and Cameron Kelly. They also got access to the sold-out after party with Diplo.

It was refreshing to see that producers understand the multifaceted interests of their fans. Rather than compartmentalize festival-goers into set musical genre boxes, they created a unique blend of indie rock, electronic, hip-hop, and funk, acknowledging our diverse and broad tastes. The artists took advantage of this unusual gathering of musicians as well; Alt-J performed an amazing collaboration on “Fitzpleasure” with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Earl Sweatshirt performed alongside Flying Lotus, and R3hab and Flux Pavilion joined Zedd.

The weekend was filled with musical high points. Lettuce single-handedly represented the funk genre for the weekend and played an awesome set to convert any non-funkster. White Noise performed between Lettuce and Flux Pavilion keeping the crowd locked in with some dead-on trap music. Flux Pavilion played all of his most popular club bangers, turning the Power Plant stage lot into a sweaty dance floor.

Just adjacent to the Power Plant stage was the Riverfront Stage where we were pleasantly surprised by Brassft Funk. While it may seem obvious to some, we were not expecting the horn driven Daft Punk cover band that played the slot before Primus, but it seemed oddly perfect for the setting. Primus, who never seems to disappoint, performed with their new 3D visuals. While the 3D was cool, the best parts had to be Les Claypool playing a stand-up bass with a bow, rocking around in a pig mask, and generally being the best 3D aspect of the show.

Closing out the main stage for the night was Kid Cudi, whose set did not have a dull moment. He played a slew of old favorites, new tracks from the upcoming Indicud album, and even brought Chip Tha Ripper up for a few tracks. Cudi interacted with fans, owned a huge stage presence, had a huge smile and even shared some Jameson with the front row. For an artist that’s been under the radar recording for the last year, it was a great welcome back and huge teaser for the new album.

Saturday kicked off with an impromptu outdoor performance from the Hot 8 Brass Band, starting the day with some genuine New Orleans flavor. Icona Pop, who came all the way from Sweden, seemed as excited to be there as the crowd was to have them. Their mix of samples, synths, and beautiful live vocals made them some of the most badass ladies there all weekend. Flosstradamus played an incredibly high- energy set, driving the crowd wild with amped-up samples of favorites like the “Harlem Shake” and fellow Buku-er Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle”.

The only low point of the weekend, for this author at least, was the long delay before the Alt-J set. There was no explanation for what caused the 45-minute delay, and the set was extended to make up for the error, but those fans of Kendrick Lamar who had intended to catch the overlapping sets were left waiting in the ballroom. Aside from that glitch, production was great and both the video walls and sound were clearly seen and heard even for those at a distance (though the intimate vibe usually allowed for listeners to get close to the stage).

Former south-easterners STS9 headlined the Float Den Saturday night, playing two sets with Daedelus sandwiched in between. A fantastic show for new and old fans alike, the guys played a lot of old favorites and even had the security guards dancing. "Vapors", "Be Nice", and "EHM" all made appearances as well as tracks off their latest release When the Dust Settles. Since the band was headlining Snowball music festival in Colorado the next day, their signature pyramid lighting structure was not a part of the show, but any new fans were none the wiser and old fans were glad to hear the tunes they wanted, more than anything.

In addition to an amazing line-up of all star musicians, there was also a small line-up of stand up and performance comedians and live graffiti art. A dozen taggers and artists set up on scaffolding by the waterfront, painting throughout the weekend and offering up the pieces for sale. Some of the comedy events throughout the weekend included a local crew from the NOLA comedy hour, Air Sex Championships (think of an air-guitar contest, but with more thrusting), and The Real @ChrisTrew Show.

Buku also did a fantastic job of communicating with and engaging festival-goers. The Buku App made checking the schedule easy, and if you had free time you could learn more about the artists, post your pictures, or engage in the challenges that they gave you through push notifications. Obviously mobile apps are not a great solution for all festivals (camping festivals with nowhere to charge up or rural festivals with no service) but it worked great in this urban setting.

Buku Festival is a great opportunity to experience one of the music capitals of the US and indulge in a diverse spectrum of amazing music, food, and new friends. Considering that this year’s event sold out days before it started, keep it on your radar early for next year.

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[Published on: 3/22/13]

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