Words by: Saira Anderson | Images by: Zach Mahone
Voodoo Festival :: 10.24.08 - 10.26.08 :: New Orleans City Park :: New Orleans, LA
About 50 miles outside New Orleans, I switched the radio station to 90.7 FM, WWOZ, one of the world's greatest radio stations. The haunting brass and jazz sounds welcomed my ears to the Crescent City and a grin broke out on my face knowing what was about to happen. It was only Thursday but many people had already arrived to New Orleans, eager for the weekend's festivities to begin.
|Voodoo Festival 2008 :: New Orleans|
After settling in and before we headed to the first show of our visit, we went to a party on Decatur street. Kirk Joseph and his band were on the balcony of an apartment. Before long, Joseph was joined by Ivan Neville and the rest of the Dr. Claw guys, who were preparing for their gig at Tipitina's French Quarter. Their sweet sounds wafted below to the people on the street, who began to dance and shout after the end of each song. As Ivan jumped in on the keys, the tone of the weekend was set. What one must realize is that Voodoo Fest isn't contained in the boundaries of City Park, it spills out into the streets, onto the balconies, and it's this overall consumption of the city that makes seeing music in New Orleans such a special experience.
The weather for the first day of Voodoo was perfect. As we approached City Park, we were greeted by the funky sounds and deep fried smells of a New Orleans festival. Our day could not have started off any better than by having Ms. Marva Wright's legendary voice greet us. Like many musicians from New Orleans, Wright isn't as well known outside the city as much as she once was. Her voice is not to be missed, and her stage presence captures your attention. Her set bounced back and forth from sweet soul songs to dirty, raunchy blues including her infamous "Ain't Got No Drawers On." Her song "Katrina Blues" reminded us all that New Orleans is still hurting and its struggle to rebuild must not be forgotten. "She ain't Koko and she ain't Etta, she's Marva Wright from right down here in New Orleans ya'll," and you best not forget that!
The next stop was the WWOZ Stage. Nashville soul fused with the local sounds in Big Sam's Funky Nation and the result was a delicious treat for the ears. The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker are a soulful force to be reckoned with, and by adding Big Sam to the bill they took their performance to a different level. They played a mixture of original and old soul tunes, each song forcing the audience members to move and smile. As long as bands like this keep playing, the world will be forced to remember the impact of the greats such as James Brown and Otis Redding.
|Grace Potter - Voodoo Festival 2008|
For a complete change of pace, I headed to one of the bigger stages to see Wyclef Jean. After an almost twenty minute intro by his DJ, who did a good job pumping the crowd up, Wyclef took the stage and the crowd erupted, eager to hear his messages of peace and change. His set was very politically charged and the audience loved it. New Orleans wants to hear a motivated speaker remind them of where they want to go in the future, and Wyclef did just that. He played most of his standards and covers, including "No Woman, No Cry." All in all, I wasn't blown away. I can appreciate his performance, but musically he sounded almost over-rehearsed and stiff. This changed for a moment at the end of the set when Wyclef was joined by his former drummer, Adam Deitch. Deitch's sound is unmistakable no matter what genre or who he is playing with. Wyclef's face couldn't hide his excitement, and he threw himself into "Carnival," a fitting song for an event like Voodoo.
I had the privilege of speaking with Grace Potter earlier in the day and I'm happy to confirm the rumors that she is not only a wonderful person onstage but off as well. She's very real and down to earth, but at the same time very focused and demanding of the respect any great musician deserves. Potter's sister lived in New Orleans so she was well versed in the city and its impact on the musical world. In particular, she mentioned two of her biggest influences, Marva Wright and Dr. John. This is another great example of how special an event like Voodoo Fest is. People like Potter can find themselves playing at the same festival as someone they've admired for years, making the circle of music complete. Potter remarked that the people that live in and visit New Orleans know good music, and she feels like she and her band definitely have made a place for themselves in this vibrant musical culture. And part of being involved in this culture includes understanding the angst and anger of Katrina. "No one can snap their fingers and make it go away" said Potter, as she related how she was inspired to write a song that captures those feelings entitled "Ain't No Time." Her show at Voodoo was deep and dark, and despite technical difficulties, Potter stamped her gritty, sexy rock & roll performance in the minds of anyone who had the good fortune to see her.
As nighttime fell on the first day, I found myself completely taken with the image before me. The stage lights danced across Erykah Badu's wild hair, which perfectly complimented her regal outfit - her very essence captured me before a single sound came out of her mouth. Her beauty and greatness were amplified through her voice and her messages. As I watched her move across the stage, each step more deliberate than the last, I felt truly honored to be witnessing her performance. Her band never missed a note, and the execution of each song was beyond perfect. This performance accompanied by Badu's rhythmical, poetic voice, which hypnotized the crowd to such an extent that even the simplest of hand motions sent the audience into a frenzy. Badu was everything I had ever imagined her to be and her set combined the flavors of Africa with hip-hop and soul, creating a true musical feast for the city of New Orleans.
|Tunde Adebimpe - TV on the Radio|
I had no idea what to expect when I approached the stage where TV On The Radio was playing. I'm still not sure I can describe exactly what I saw there. They sounded like a very experimental, psychedelic rock band. The music was overwhelming and I even though it wasn't the kind of show I would normally enjoy, but I couldn't help but be intrigued by their energetic, passionate delivery. There's something that I admire about bands that dig the shit out of themselves, and these guys totally do just that. Tunde Adebimpe, the lead singer, never stopped moving, constantly engaging the crowd, making me forget that the song content wasn't easily discernible. As far as the band went, the drummer's performance stood out the most. The collision of his sticks with the kit gave driving force to almost every song. These guys were super loud and very out there in many ways, making me feel like I need to see them again before I can really claim to have wrapped my head around this one.
Continue reading for Saturday's coverage...