Mud. Mud everywhere. I arrived midday on Friday at the site of the 20th anniversary of the annual Voodoo Fest at City Park and discovered a vast stretch of terrains that were devastated and tattered by the previous day’s worth of rain. However, rain and mud are rarely an excuse to let the day and fun be ruined. With that in mind, thousands upon thousands of people were flowing through the gate at a far earlier time than what is usually expected for the opening day of a festival, at least given my experience with Voodoo. By 4:00 p.m., the crowds looked like they would on a normal year, maybe an hour or so before the headliner came on stage. It was unexpected, but I’m sure the organizers were pleased with the rush of people. Already bathroom lines were insane and poorly managed, but that is often an issue at this fest. There never seem to be enough places to go when you have to go, but what can you do?
Regardless of any issues with the grounds and lack of bathrooms, the day of music got going, and for much of what I saw, it was a day of solid sets. Getting to the Altar Stage midway through Third Eye Blind, I was greeted with a large crowd that was clearly there to relive the heyday of the band. This has been an effective tool for Stephen Jenkins and company over the last few years. They capitalized on nostalgia by getting booked and drawing big crowds at Bonnaroo, Shaky Knees, and now Voodoo. Jenkins’s voice sounded much better than it did at Shaky Knees, and that helped the band bring the crowd even more into the set. Sticking to hits like “Jumper,” and “How’s it Going to Be” also helped. Most of their crowd appeared to be the same age I was when the band was ruling the alternative rock scene, and it clearly played into the band’s strengths.
Throughout the rest of the day, the abnormally big crowd was treated to a stellar set of rock that varied greatly and seemed to captivate the costumed attendees of day one. Albert Hammond Jr. of Strokes fame delivered a solid rock ‘n’ roll set, as did hometown heroes The Revivalists, who brought their unique brand of soulful rock to the much-deserved main stage’s early-evening slot. They sounded great, and even though the crowd was huge and it was hard to navigate all the mud, no one seemed to mind all that much.
Next up was one the most anticipated return acts of the entire three-day festival. Led in unison by mastermind guitarist Billy Howerdel and enigmatic, shadowy frontman Maynard James Keenan, A Perfect Circle opened the nighttime sets with a strong, but often polarizing main-stage set. The band recently returned from studio silence after a long retreat, and while the older, better-known songs hit like a bomb and were huge moments for band and crowd alike, the newer material often slowed down the intensity and urgency of the show. The band was into the music, but clearly the crowd was more inclined to see a greatest-hits set that the band seemed vastly uninterested in giving. The new album isn’t bad, but it’s lower-key and slower-moving than the band’s records that came before. It’s the type of slow-burn album that needs time to rest in your subconscious to fully engage. Unfortunately for many in the crowd, these new songs didn’t seem to touch a nerve.
Next, though, was the main draw of the day, Mumford and Sons. I’ve liked many, many of their songs off the early records, and while I was excited for the chance to get to see them before they ramp up the next album cycle, I clearly wasn’t the only one. I’ve been to Voodoo when OutKast, Foo Fighters, and Tool closed the main Altar Stage in past years, and I’ve never seen a crowd this size in all my years of attending. It was incredibly surprising, and without a doubt, I misjudged how popular this band is. Thankfully, Marcus Mumford and company didn’t disappoint. The 90-minute set was explosive when it needed to be, profound and moody when required, and overall, the type of show you expect from a band this well-known and trained.
Obvious highlights were older tracks like “The Cave,” which exploded into a full-on sing-along for the masses in attendance, as well as “I Will Wait” and end-of-the-night closer “The Wolf,” which, for me, was the high point of the evening. All in all, the crowd’s love for the band seemed obvious and well deserved.
Saturday was a wildly different experience from the opening day, but it was still worthwhile for everyone heading to the fest. The grounds were muddy, although not nearly as bad, and many of the attendees had figured out that mud boots would end up being an essential part of traversing the terrain. As a person who took the mud-boot route, I found that it made a world of difference time and time again. As soon as that part of the problem was solved, it was time to see Lizzo. I’ve heard her name more than once over the last few years, and her growing reputation is justified. Marching and dancing through a powerful set while donning a Sailor Moon costume, she dominated her hour-long allotment of time with a fiery mix of feminism, unity, and big-girl empowerment. It’s refreshing in this day and age when a clearly competent, well-spoken bigger girl who is also a person of color can transcend all walks of life and make a valuable experience for everyone in attendance. It was an early powerhouse set that proved that Lizzo and her “big-girl dancers” are going places. Following that, the crowd saw performances by indie upstart Wallows, who played solidly to a reasonable crowd at the Wisner Stage. Since getting decently recognized this year, the band has only released one six-song EP, and they acknowledged as much in their set. Stating that Voodoo had given them an hour when they didn’t really have “that many songs,” they therefore covered “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes.
As the day ventured into darkness, the contrast among bands grew more obvious. Janelle Monae was simply phenomenal and captivating through and through, while her follow-up by electronic duo Odesza on the Altar was easily the best thing I saw all day to get your body moving. Then there came Marilyn Manson on the Wisner Stage. I was a huge fan of his back in the day, but frankly, the years have not been kind to Manson. The music and light show were spot-on, but his vocals and overall performance leaned heavily to the wrong end of what you would want out of a performer. Misspoken lyrics, false starts, and literal silence plagued the set. During the performance, Manson began the chant that was supposed to lead into “mObscene,” but then the stage went black and quiet for minutes, leaving the crowd either scratching their heads or trying to get a better spot for closer Travis Scott. All in all, it was a good day, but Manson ultimately won’t be remembered for the type of sets he became legendary for in his early days.
Finally, after two full days of music and fun, it was time to conclude the final day of the 20th Voodoo. Much of what I saw on Sunday was hit-or-miss, sadly. Sunflower Bean excelled in delivering a high-energy pure rock set on the South Course Stage, while Tinashe fell short. Her daytime show was big on production and great dancing, but the use of a backing track for vocals made it difficult to discern when she was actually singing and not simply using the backing.
Back on the main stage, Modest Mouse had a standard performance for a pretty large, early-evening crowd. I have never been a huge MM fan, but to deny that they have some excellent songs would be ridiculous. The problem oftentimes with Isaac Brock and company is the consistency of the sound. Many times, it’s much sloppier than the records, and that is never amazing. It’s enjoyable, but it doesn’t captivate like it does on record.
A sloppy sound wasn’t the case for the nighttime production that was presented by the last two bands of the night, Lettuce and the Arctic Monkeys. First, Lettuce was able to deliver the type of jam-heavy, mostly instrumental music that even fans who aren’t fond of a typical jam band can enjoy. Throughout the set, they delivered time and time again with precision, perfect melodies, and a vibrant light show that enveloped the entire stage. It was my first time seeing them, but I pray it won’t be the last.
Finally, it was time to close out the year with the Alex Turner-led Arctic Monkeys. I’ve only gotten really into them since seeing them the last time they played Voodoo, but the capacity crowd and the authentic sound of the band helped to secure them what I consider to be the set of the weekend. Recently, they’ve been focusing more time in their set to the great, but polarizing “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino,” but on Sunday night, they delved deep and played tracks from every album. Cuts like the solidly epic “Crying Lightning” drove hard, as did huge hits like “Do I Wanna Know?” Other highlights for me were the sinister and ominous reverberations of “Don’t Sit ‘Cause I’ve moved Your Chair” and the violently chaotic “Brainstorm” midway through the set. The only strange thing about this concert was the unexpected and unexplained early start time. They were scheduled for 7:30 but came on a full 10 minutes early—it wasn’t a bummer, just not unexpected.
It didn’t matter, though; they were excellent throughout and solidified themselves even more as masters of melodic, lyrically top-notch songwriting. It was a great way to end an awesome weekend, and a well-deserved nod in the direction of Alex Turner and his Arctic Monkeys. -Landon Murray
There must be magic in the mud. Voodoo Fest was a wet and wild event this year thanks to some mid-week rain. Much of the grounds were giant mud pits that one had to very carefully slosh through. Friday night was particularly rough, and strolling through the deepest mud pits almost became a sport with spectators gleefully watching and cheering others on once they made it through.
Despite the soft, entrapping terrain, we carried on.
I got a sinking feeling when trying to stop and watch bands for any length of time (pun totally intended), but I was able to catch a good portion of The Revivalists. Voodoo Fest used to have far more local acts on their roster which has sadly fallen by the wayside in lieu of having more trendy acts that attract teenage and young adult tourists. The Revivalists have grown over the last few years from local boys to nationwide household names. They were a great fit for this festival for the newbies and the regulars. One of the great things about The Revivalists is that you know they’re always going to put on a fantastic, energetic, and engaging show that makes you move your body. The guys stuck to their crowd-pleasing, happier-toned favorites, and it showed in the swaying bodies.
After several rounds of visiting The Mortuary’s set-up, the Le Plur Stage, the food vendors, and the sponsor tents, we settled for a time at A Perfect Circle. The sound was right on, some of the best sound I’ve heard at VooDoo Fest. The brooding music paired with slow-moving, menacing lightwork cast a dour spell on the crowd. It was a good close to the evening for me as I dredged through the muck and back through the park.
The ground had lost some of its moisture by Saturday, but it was still pretty gummy and difficult to traverse. I believe that I would have been compelled to watch sets longer if I didn’t feel the need to “get out of the mud” all the time, honestly.
I accidentally caught The Wallows who looked like your typical college boys making music in a dorm room or dad’s garage. They certainly had elements of 80s new wave mixed with that 90s don’t-care pop.
Janelle Monae could probably play a larger venue in the city or at least play later on the bill, but everyone was happy to see her during the daylight hours. She looked amazing with her popping outfits that could be seen from clear across the grounds and her different stageshow with backup dancers doing yoga. Janelle’s positive message came through in her performance and put rose-colored glasses on all those listening
Sofi Tukker was a treat while most people were entranced by Odesza who kept their fans hypnotized with occasional fireworks. The duo consisting of the axe-wielding Sophie Hawley-Weld and the hype man Tucker Halpern. Sofi Tukker hasn’t been on the scene for long at all, but the colorful and intriguing pair have had several songs featured in commercials which led people to look up their songs on digital streaming services and YouTube (I am one of them). Both Sophie and Tucker commanded the stage taking turns running back and forth to their perches located on either side of the stage. I find their sound to be cool in the classic sense with a singular, groovy guitar rhythm and Tucker’s inhumanely deep voice. It’s retro without a precedent. But they didn’t let their coolness get in the way of really getting the crowd involved and excited, repeatedly asking them to join them in a chant or jumping to the beat.
Marilyn Manson was the man I came to see this year, though I knew that I would prefer his stageshow and low-key vocals in a more intimate setting. His voice held up well despite swirling rumors that he just can’t hack it anymore, but, as I already knew, the nuance of his vocals don’t transcend outdoor venues as well as smaller indoor ones. The band pumped on playing his hits like “The Beautiful People;” I was hit with nostalgia wishing I had seen this even ten years before. Marilyn did seem to take gaps between songs to recuperate, but it was still a good spectacle to see. -Emily Hingle