Surviving the Voodoo Music Experience
Imagine you are walking through a field of mossy oaks, slightly drizzling from a dark cloudy sky, obscuring the crescent moon above. You can hear the music of The VOODOO Experience ahead and feel the decadence of New Orleans all around. This is how my 2011 Halloween weekend began and as it unfolded before my eyes, I could not think of another place I’d rather be for Halloween.
As the music festival’s name suggests New Orleans is rich with multicultural traditions, decadent behavior, and renegades. New Orleans’ Voodoo, having its roots in the ancient African traditions of early slaves who intermingled their beliefs with the French and American cultures, has come to encapsulate the underground attitude of New Orleans.
In 1999, New Orleans’ native Stephen Rehage started The VOODOO Experience as a hope to bring big Rock/Pop Music names and the local music of New Orleans together under one event. What began as a small day show in a stadium has become a 3-day festival known to annually draw over 100,000 festival-goers. VOODOO’s 13th line-up headlined names such as Soundgarden, Blink-182, Girl Talk The Raconteurs, TV on the Radio, and Snoop Dogg. If none of these wet your whistle, no worries. I promise you at least one of the six stages would have something for you to dig on. For instance, on Sunday, I walk down a line of stages and caught The Travelin’ Mccoury’s with Keller Williams, Ray Davies, Portugal The Man, and TV on the Radio all within one hour. I’ve only mentioned big time names that I was able to see, this doesn’t even begin to cover the array of local greats such as the Neville Brothers, Dr. John and The Meters as well as the smaller local bands like Toubab Krew and Illumanasti Trio. Many people were saying this was an off year for VOODOO but I was still impressed. New Orleans has always attracted creative minds and there are plenty of them to go around at VOODOO.
Like the music, the people that attend VOODOO are a very eclectic breed where you can expect leathered out punkers, crossdressers, frat boys, families, wookies and anything else you can think of. There are a lot of freaks in NOLA and trust me the freaks come out for Halloween. That’s another great thing about VOODOO, it gives over half the people there an excuse to wear Halloween costumes all weekend, so even the straight-laced look like freaks. If music and people watching isn’t your thing, then I suggest you make your way to the dozen of art structures placed throughout the festival grounds, with notable artists such as local James Michalopoulos. You could go shopping at one of the many art vendor tents and meet artists like Nick Farrow, who does t-shirt prints for bands like Furthur, or ride on one of the carnival rides. Let’s not forget about the amazing food the city of New Orleans has to offer. Inside the festival, you can find dishes such as fried crawfish wrapped covered in crab bisque, barbequed po-boys, fried Oreos and much more.
As far as big city festivals are concerned, VOODOO is hard to beat. The main reason most of us go to festivals is to escape the pressures of life. The last thing you want to worry about is cops and lame curfews. There are almost no cops inside the festival and New Orleans cops have the reputation on being pretty lax as long as your not doing anything too stupid. Entering the gates you will be asked to empty your pockets and bag after which you are barely patted down, so if you were to bring any small trinkets you wish for the outside world not to see, you might be fine just secretly leaving it in your pocket while you empty out your wallet and other items (all cigarette boxes are opened). Don’t be sad when the festival ends at 9 pm, we in N’awlins yall, where closing time is sunrise.
With the festival ending, it means time to sober up a little (not too much) with a nice big dinner, then head to one of the many after-shows that go on after the festival. If you don’t already have a particular show in mind, I suggest you take a taxi over to Frenchmen St. where you are guaranteed to catch a good show at one of the many bars there such as Blue Nile or Maison. The legendary Tipitina’s is also another great place to check out after-shows. Check the web for after-show times on websites like NOLAnightlife.com or pay attention to a band you like at the end of their show because they’ll usually tell you where they will be playing after, especially if they are a local band. Just a little forewarning, if there is a show you absolutely have to see early the next day, you might not want to go to an after-show because you will easily find yourself piss drunk at 5:30 in the morning trying to flag a taxi back to your room, trust me.
For hotels, I’d suggest looking at the list VOODOO offers on their website, but a higher suggestion would be to have a friend in New Orleans. It makes the trip cheaper and New Orleans is the type of place that is great to have a native show you around. Paid parking is offered throughout City Park and at Delgado Community College but if your looking for the free route, park on one of the Neighborhood streets off Orleans Ave. Just make sure you don’t park in front of a fire hydrant or driveway and you will be fine.
My essentials tips for VOODOO: City Park and the festival layout itself have a lot of cool things to take pictures of so a camera is definitely a must. The food is too good to pass up bring at least $10 to get your Creole grub on. 12 oz beers are $5 and 16oz are $7(don’t waste your money on a hurricane drink in the festival, the alcohol in them is-existent. If you are dying for a hurricane get one at Pat O’Brien’s before or after the festival). There’s a lot of cool art to buy too so have at least $20 if you’re looking to get some kind of cool piece or shirt. Bring your cash with you, the ATM fees are pretty stiff. Bring a blanket to sit on because City Park’s grass loves to stick to clothes. Meet as many locals as you can, people from New Orleans are notorious for welcoming visitors and you can learn a lot of cool things about the city from them. Just don’t be confused by their dat’s and der’s, “dat’s just how they talk cha”, and don’t call them Cajuns, the correct term is Creoles (Cajuns are from around Lafayette). If you don’t want to get arrested in New Orleans there are two rules you need to follow don’t pee in public and don’t drink and drive. Be sure to check VOODOO’s website for any other information you may want, it is a great site. http://thevoodooexperience.com