This year's Voodoo lineup clarifies what we already know about festivals: they're made for young people.
The Voodoo Music + Arts Experience announced its lineup last Tuesday. Eager fans frantically refreshed the site’s home page in anticipation for the much-awaited Halloween weekend festival. The buildup soon enough became an anti-climax. Atop thousands of screens, large, bolded letters flashed: Guns ‘N Roses, Post Malone, Beck. The three headlining acts made little sense to anyone who spent the night anticipating the lineup and hoping for Billie Eilish, who'll play ACL in Austin a few weekends earlier. Even the most relevant artist, Post Malone, played Voodoo only two years ago. And then, there was the clump of small text below: a lot of EDM and dozens of names hardly anyone seemed to recognize.
The Voodoo excitement slumped almost immediately into a collective social media groan. Both the Twitter and Instagram worlds tore it apart and the festival quickly fell victim to a social media assault: “Worst. Lineup. Ever.” “this has got to be a joke”, “Is this a prank lineup?” What started out as an exciting reveal was almost instantly discarded. As so often happens in social media circles today, a trending moment got voted out of relevancy as quickly as it gained interest.
I scrolled down deeper into the comments to see where the dissenting opinions were. Despite the rage storm taking place, several brave commenters jumped in anyway to come to Voodoo’s defense. Several comments read “Bad lineup but I’m still going,” or some version of that. When I investigated further, I noticed that most of the positive reactions defending the lineup came from what looked like high-school aged kids--too young to legally drink but old enough to sneak away for a weekend and drink anyway. Many rallied around the lineup’s EDM booking, tagging their friends with comments mentioning electronic acts Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, or Jai Wolf.
It’s easy to write off this year’s Voodoo lineup as underwhelming, but that would overlook the festival’s younger target audience. This year's lineup says that Voodoo's target crowd is likely younger than we think, which makes it like other summer music festivals. Riding the EDM wave, bookers know that high-school and college-aged folks will show up for the DJs they like. And the experience itself makes a festival worth it for a lot of younger festival-goers.Unlike older attendees, they don’t care as much if they know all the acts. They’ll buy the ticket so they can enjoy a rules-free weekend away from their parents.
When you’re in high school, everything is about the experience: concerts, prom, house parties, sneaking out, and savoring the moments you know will come in shorter supply as you get older. Most things are worth doing just to do it. And it’s quite likely that Voodoo organizers knows this. They’re tapping into a younger audience to whom everything is fresh. Many read the booking of Guns ‘N Roses or The National in 2019 as passé, but vintage is in fashion. When it comes to music, the age of an act wears better on the seventeen-year old than it does on the forty or fifty-something who’s already seen it all. There’s more to be excited about for someone who’s ultimate goal isn’t to feel connected with every artist, but just to have a good time.
Voodoo's lineup has been aimed at younger audiences since the start, though the festival has made overtures to older audiences in the past. Its first year lineup included Moby and Third Eye Blind when they were stil hitmakers riding the releases of Play and Blue respectively in 1999, so the audience would have skewed toward teenagers and twentysomethings. Those dumping on the lineup are forgiven if they remember the lineup as more accommodating to older fans in the past because founder Stephen Rehage relied on alternative rock bands from the '90s as headliners in the 2000s when many were still commercially viable if no longer at their peak. The Beastie Boys were almost 13 years past the release of Licensed to Ill and touring To the Five Boroughs and "Ch-Check it Out" when they headlined Voodoo in 2004, and Nine Inch Nails played the infamous Voodoo on The Fly in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina in support of With Teeth--a good album, but not as career-defining as Pretty Hate Machine, The Downward Spiral, and The Fragile, all of which were released in the '90s.
Although the early 2000s lineups were friendly to fans growing toward middle age, teenagers were the primary audience. Writer Keith Spera remembers hard rock band Down struggling to get over on a bill that also included No Doubt and Garbage in 2002. "Confronted with a disinterested audience of teenyboppers awaiting the arrival of Stefani and Shirley Manson, vocalist Phil Anselmo growled, 'I guess I'm not jumping up and down and rapping enough for you,'” Spera wrote. “We ain’t ... whatever is coming up next. We ain’t that.'”
Voodoo also made gestures toward a broader audience starting in 2005 when it expanded its booking of New Orleans acts. It offered three stages of local music aimed at a Jazz Fest-adjacent fan in the following years until that crowd hit a plateau and the growth of EDM forced the festival to launch the Le Plur stage in 2010. That move alienated rock fans who hadn't come to terms with the decline of rock bands as a market force and the redundancy of two rock stages that pulled the same audience that one would. When City Park moved Voodoo from Marconi Meadows to its Festival Grounds in 2013, the more confined space forced the festival to jetison two locals stages, and 2014 was the last year that any stage was dedicated to New Orleans acts. After that, all of the stages with the exception of Le Plur focused primarily on emerging indie acts.
Rehage was let go as Voodoo's promoter in 2016, replaced by C3 Presents, which also promotes ACL and Lollapalooza. Its booking has dealt with the some of the same issues that Rehage encountered--who can headline and draw a pasture-ful of people in the 2010s?--and answered it ways that are in keeping with Voodoo's history. Voodoo has often booked a newsworthy band, a rock band, and a feel-good band that closes the festival on Sunday night. C3 Presents has addressed that with a clearer eye toward its core younger audience than Rehage showed in his latter years running the show.
It’s hard to look at the lineup without thinking of the word “random”. Voodoo isn’t a rock festival anymore, but it’s not EDM-heavy enough to be a rave. This year, it’s a jumble of disparate pieces that fit together imperfectly. Canadian DJ Rezz and deep house act ZHU share a line with rock band Interpol and alternative metal band Bring Me The Horizon. The lineup jumps around as chaotically as the modern playlist. Genre boundaries feel insignificant and mean less than they did 20 or even 10 years ago. For a generation that grew up on streaming services, the chaos makes perfect sense.
Come October, we’ll probably all forget about the initial yawn that followed the lineup release. Voodoo is being upfront about who the festival is for. Under 25s are the target range and have been for a while for similar festivals. Plenty will go even if they don’t love or recognize all the music, because showing up is half the fun.