Go big or go home, right. At the 2015 Voodoo Music & Arts Experience, they did so whether they wanted to or not. Following a great start on Friday, weather-wise, Saturday turned ominous, the skies opened up and the ground turned to mud. So much so that on Sunday morning, the organizers and powers-that-be decided to do something almost unheard of with festivals: they cancelled a day. “Due to dangerous weather conditions including forecasted persistent rain and flash flood warnings for Orleans Parish,” the official statement read, “Sunday, November 1, the final day of the 2015 Voodoo Music & Arts Experience has been cancelled. Fan safety is the top priority for the producers of the festival and current conditions at City Park do not meet our standards for maintaining a safe experience.” Too bad they weren’t in with the Jazz Fest people, who bring in truckloads of sand and hay to stabilize the grounds following rain; although in some official photos from that morning, parts of the grounds looked like small ponds amid the bright white tents and no amount of hay might have saved the day. In another rare move, producers also prepared to refund Sunday ticketholders.
However, if you were able to make it out for the first two days, you really had nothing to complain about in terms of the music – although both The Cult and Deadmaus were highly anticipated on Sunday. Despite being two opposite ends of the spectrum, both Florence & The Machine and Ryan Bingham shone the brightest on Friday night, producing sets of fantastic music that at times took your breath away. Florence Welch, coming out onstage in a flaming pink pantsuit, hit upon the Halloween weekend spirit with her day-of-the-dead white facial makeup. Opening with a surrealistically magical “What The Water Gave Me,” and introducing the title track of her latest album, How Big How Blue How Beautiful, as a song she has taken around the world: “I’ve brought it back home. It’s yours.”
While Florence made a spiritual connection to the thousands in front of her on the main stage, Ryan Bingham and his band sidled up to those who made up his congregation at the Carnival stage and blew them away with some buoyant blues and country flavored tunes served with a side order of slide, harmonica and mandolin. Including the hot pepper “Sunshine” featuring both Bingham and Daniel Sproul on slide, it was a supercharged set that cranked you up, brought you down to a slow boil, then kicked it back up to end on a sweat-dripping high note. It’s what made them Glide’s Star Of The Day for Friday.
Saturday was a different animal altogether. Bringing the sharper tongues and harder sounds to a wet Halloween, Babes In Toyland, Jane’s Addiction, Public Image Ltd and Clutch howled at the rain and gave the middle finger to the mud and tornado warnings. Clutch roared through their rain-drenched set with a ferocity and sense of humor, bringing COC’s Pepper Keenan in to play some gnarly guitar on “Spacegrass;” while across the grounds Peaches brought out some dancing vaginas. Babes In Toyland, with original members Kat Bjelland and Lori Barbero, needed nothing more than t-shirts and attitude to dress up their set, proving strong-willed girls can turn into stronger women.
Public Image Ltd, who had the “luck” to play almost simultaneously with Jane’s Addiction, came prepared with attitude, which is all John Lydon needed in order to spew, rant and scare the life out of those “lucky” enough to get caught in his razor-sharp stare. Dressed in prison stripes, Lydon looked like someone escaped from the psycho ward, even when he slipped on a pair of reading glasses to scan whatever he had propped up on his music stand. He shook his fist, he pursed his lips, he dared you to dare him. With a new album, What The World Needs Now, fresh on the shelves, longtime PiL guitar player Lu Edmonds and drummer Bruce Smith were along for the wild ride, with bass player Scott Firth.
But Saturday could only belong to one person, what with it being Halloween, and that was the Prince Of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne. If this was your first time seeing Osbourne, you picked a good time. You got to experience an Ozzy extravaganza featuring his own band – Gus G on guitar, Blasko on bass, Adam Wakeman on keys and Tommy Clufetos on drums – a little Black Sabbath with Geezer Butler on bass, and for an extra hell yeah kick in the pants – Tom Morello and Slash. What especially stood out was how much Butler was a major component of the Sabbath sound. If you thought it was all Tony Iommi’s guitar that gave them their darkness, just listen to the songs Butler DIDN’T play on during the Voodoo show.
Morello gave the impression he was having a blast on the stage with Ozzy, taking an ominous song like “Mr Crowley” and running it to the moon and back. Slash brought his killer chops to “Iron Man,” “N.I.B” and the set closing “Paranoid,” which featured all three guest stars. Although he didn’t do any jumping around, Ozzy still cackled, cursed, sprayed his foam into the crowd, doused himself with a bucket of water and let it be known he “couldn’t fucking hear you.” But if he said jump, there was not a soul in the crowd that didn’t jump. And what better way to say goodnight than with a blast of fireworks that lit up the sky above the stage.
There were many other artists who played during the two drastically different days at Voodoo this year. Glide’s pick for Artist Of The Day to check out were The Joy Formidable and The Suffers, both giving spirited performances like we knew they would [an interview with JF’s Ritzy Bryan will run next week]. Young guns like The Struts and Grizfolk kept the flame of rock & roll burning bright. Hank & Cupcakes, Gerard Way, Ruby Amanfu, Modest Mouse, Flow Tribe and Santigold also stood out.
In closing, another year of experiencing Voodoo has come and gone. We sweated in the humidity, got drenched in the rain and ended up covered in mud. But we were also treated to a lot of great music.
Photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough