This year's Voodoo didn't inspire much love when the lineup was announced, and with the help of the rain it lived down to the expectations.

Sheck Wes photo by Steven Hatley for My Spilt Milk
Sheck Wes on Sunday at Voodoo, by Steven Hatley

Voodoo 2019 felt an exercise in denial. 

First, it acted as if City Park’s Festival Grounds are a viable site for a festival. Once again, Friday rains left the grounds fucked for the rest of the weekend. They have been worse, but the combination of rain and foot traffic left giant patches of slimy, foul-smelling mud and standing water, which made getting around a challenge the rest of the weekend. City Park did some work on the drainage after the deterioration of the grounds forced Voodoo to cancel Sunday in 2015, but the swampy conditions the audience faced this weekend show that the Festival Grounds’ drainage problems may be insurmountable. It’s a shame because Voodoo feels like an event there, but it’s an event that remains one hard rain away from brutally compromised. 

But the bigger denial came in the lineup. Voodoo 2019 implicitly argued that what America wants is anything but hip-hop, which is demonstrably not true. The only urgency I saw away from Le Plur came in the hours before Post Malone when the audience flocked to the Altar Stage or stopped at the Wisner Stage for Sheck Wes, who’s on Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack label. His audience was lit for his DJ before Sheck even took the stage. 

The charts show that in the battle of rock vs. hip-hop, hip-hop won and music that doesn’t sound influenced by it now sounds irrelevant. Most of what I heard at Voodoo this weekend was predicated on the idea that what America really wants is something else. The Ghost of Paul Revere is premised on the idea that what America wants is a less dogmatic, less pop Mumford & Sons. Interpol argued that America is really nostalgic for post-punk nostalgia. Duncan Fellows played with the hope that Greta Van Fleet has long coattails. 

the national photo by steven hatley Matt Berninger of The National on Saturday at Voodoo, by Steven Hatley

 

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Because of that, few bands that played at Voodoo merit meaningful attention. They gambled that a few months on the summer festival circuit could help them become a band too big to play the House of Blues, and I’d argue that most of them lost that bet. Voodoo gambled that people would care about them, but half of Guns N’ Roses’ crowd showed up just in time for the band’s show Friday night, Saturday night’s crowd was there for Bassnectar, and only the last few hours of Sunday felt like anything special as the flow of people showing up for Post Malone was constant starting at 5 p.m. 

The good news for Voodoo is that the crowd was largely there for Voodoo itself. Social media was pretty cold to this year’s lineup, but people showed up despite the rain, mud, and dad rock leanings. Le Plur is unquestionably a draw as a scene and a collection of talent—and I’d argue the priorities are in that order—but just as baby boomers show up for Jazz Fest because it’s Jazz Fest, teenagers and young twentysomethings do Voodoo just because.

ZHU photo by steven hatley ZHU at Voodoo, by Steven Hatley

 

The bad news is that the rock that Voodoo has made central to its identity in the ‘90s has never seemed more marginal. The Guns N’ Roses fans showed up for Guns N’ Roses, more than doubling the size of crowd that was there for Brandi Carlile in front of them on the Altar Stage. And while their fans stuck it out for the whole three hours, the younger Voodoo audience stopped by, checked them out, then moved on. The under 40 set were merely cultural tourists, though, nor were they detached. I didn’t see a moment in the weekend where anybody lost their shit like the young woman in front of me did during “Welcome to the Jungle.” She danced, bounced around, and punched the air like she took all the drugs. But, midway through the next song, she moved on. She’d had her GNR moment. People simply didn’t show up for Beck, while the other guitar-first bands were agreeable and forgettable.   

Since previous Voodoo lineups were better balanced and found more interesting acts to scatter throughout the day, I hope this year was an aberration, a flat year with a bunch of careerists who showed more hope than inspiration. They might have been the best of what was available this late in the festival season, and they might have been the best of what Voodoo could afford after paying for the top lines of the talent announcement. 

japanese breakfast photo by steven hatley Japanese Breakfast played Voodoo on Saturday, by Steven Hatley

 

In other Voodoo notes:

- In previous years, Voodoo has led with its most newsworthy booking on Friday night, made Saturday the rock night, then booked Sunday like the afterparty, wrapping it up with Voodoo’s version of a legacy band, someone who can deliver a few feel good, sing-along moments. This year they scrambled that and reinforced a basic truth: big acts draw. Post Malone probably outdrew Guns N’ Roses, and he certainly outdrew recent Sunday night acts The Killers and Arcade Fire. The Voodoo audience may have been up late on Saturday night partying, but give them the right band and they’ll go home on Monday instead of Sunday. 

And, if Malone had been booked on Friday, he likely would have obviously outdrawn GNR. 

ashe photo by steven hatley Ashe performed Sunday at Voodoo, by Steven Hatley

 

- I debated the propriety of wisecracks about Axl Rose’s looks on Friday night because I couldn’t get around them. The obvious plastic surgery distorted his face so that he looked prematurely Shatnerian, and he bailed on his once-signature serpentine move with an implied You get the picture because he’s not that lithe anymore. Is it gross to talk about his looks? It didn’t help that Slash, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler look their age in their faces but have maintained their Appetite for Destruction physiques. Since their set was an effort to play their younger selves (Devorah’s review is right on point), it seems fair to notice how Rose today differs from the guy whose performances 20 years ago sold tickets at Voodoo on the weekend. Fortunately, his voice remains a flamethrower in his upper register, so he remains a musical force. A musical force with Carrot Top’s perpetually arched eyebrows.

 - On Friday, Bea Miller canceled her set due to the “technical nature” of her show, according to an official announcement, which sounded like code for Bea doesn’t want to electrocute herself. On Saturday, Whipped Cream’s set was cancelled on Le Plur. He was replaced by the L.A. DJ Paz, which meant that with the two cancellations, two fewer of the handful of female artists at this year’s Voodoo lineup actually performed. (Catie Sanders) 

bring me the horizon photo by Steven Hatley Bring Me the Horizon at Voodoo, by Steven Hatley

 

- During Friday’s Bishop Briggs set, all I could hear were the sound of marketing meetings behind her. She opened with “Champion,” which sounded like a World Series montage waiting for the slow-motion video.

- Voodoo will be Voodoo. It has been a more consistently competent festival in recent years, but its wild streak will bow up. This year security asked people to take off their rain boots, presumably to prevent people from sneaking anything in. That didn’t stop people from bringing in banned items, but it did slow down the lines. (Catie Sanders)

- Voodoo will be Voodoo, Pt. 2 - The beer tent offered a reusable metal cup for sale to provide a green alternative to single-use plastic cups. When I bought one, the bar back put a plastic up of beer inside of it because they were selling pints of beer and the metal cups only held 12 ounces.  

- Brandi Carlile looked like the outlier on this year’s lineup, and was likely booked because she’s on tour with Guns N’ Roses. She didn’t seem out of place though, as her band muscled up her Americana in just the right ways. The guitars had crunch and the drums hit hard, but the songs didn’t lose their lithe charms in the process. When she covered Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” she kept the song’s loose flow and dynamics so that it sounded improvised even though she’s played it dozens of times before. 

brandi carlile photo by steven hatley Brandi Carlile opening for Guns N' Roses at Voodoo, by Steven Hatley

 

Our coverage of Voodoo 2019

- Where are the women at Voodoo 2019?
- Our introduction to New Orleans' DJ Nice Rack
- Our preview of Japanese Breakfast
- Our review of Friday night with Guns N' Roses
- Our review of Saturday night with Beck
- Our review of Sunday night with Post Malone