Voodoo 2016 Festival Review: 11 Scary Good Performances

Tool, Arcade Fire, Puscifer, and Cage the Elephant haunted the Halloween weekend


    Eighteen years in, a new production company takes over operations at Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, held annually over Halloween weekend at New Orleans’ City Park – trick or treat?

    By all accounts, it was the latter with C3 Presents’ newly instated presence (after Live Nation acquired them and the festival a couple years back) offering a number of vast improvements to the three-day event. First off, there were no overlaps between adjacent stages, which virtually eliminated any sound bleeding. Second, the copious flushable toilets reduced bathroom wait times to a minimum. And finally, a creepy cemetery/mortuary, complete with animatronic zombies and professional actors, highlighted the ground’s center, finally putting a kibosh to the festival’s historical lack of Halloween-themed art installations.

    It felt like a total facelift and that extended to the festival’s brand itself: A blue skull haunted the entire scene, adorning the main Altar stage, watching over the central plaza as a statue, and following everyone home on various merchandise. Attaching the experience to an icon is a damn smart business tactic and it automatically makes the festival feel more iconic. If all goes accordingly, the skull could eventually become a signature insignia of the festival — much like Bonnaroo’s triquetra symbol. And those are just the enhancements obvious to the general public. The artist, media, and VIP areas also were spruced up, chock full of more treats and comforts. 

    Beyond those details, C3’s scheduling expertise also contributed to a stellar experience: Friday revved up with a hip-hop and R&B-heavy roster (The Weeknd, Rae Sremmurd, G-Eazy, Tory Lanez), Saturday was saturated with distortion (Tool, Ghost, Bully, All Them Witches, even Die Antwoord and Cage the Elephant, to an extent), and Sunday bottled up the local diversity of the Big Easy (Preservation Hall Jazz Band ,Beats Antique, Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals, the Chainsmokers). Though there was certainly crossover between genres each day, those somewhat distinct breakups made one-day passes more valuable for those with narrower music tastes, while also still satisfying peeps that desire a dash of everything.

    All that said, it’s still the artists’ and fans’ efforts – namely, dressing up each day in the most elaborate, outlandish, creative, hilarious, and disturbing costumes. (Special note: Even though his set was lacking, G-Eazy wins Best in Show for his full-on Joker look, replete with some convincingly insane cackles between songs). Chalk it up to the fantastically festive, incomparably creative spirit of New Orleans, where the entire month of October is like one long costume party. That feeling carries over into Voodo, making it the most masterful and memorable Halloween-oriented music festival in the United States.

    –David Brendan Hall
    Contributing Writer

    Click through to read up on our top sets of the weekend and see our photo gallery.


    11. The Weeknd

    The Weeknd // Photo by David Brendan Hall

    After two major cancellations this month – see: NYC’s Meadows Fest and Austin’s Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix – one might’ve expected even a slight amount of backlash leading up to The Weeknd’s Friday night headlining set at Voodoo. On the contrary, the absences fanned the flames of excitement — the Canadian singer born Abel Tesfaye easily drew more heads than any other act of the three-day fest, packing the Altar stage space to the point of limited dance-mobility.

    Backed by an enormous lighting rig that appropriately evoked some spooky Close Encounters vibes with freeform rotations and blinding light panels, the singer rewarded his faithful throng from the get-go with 2015 hit “The Hills” followed by the live debut of “False Alarm” (outside of Saturday Night Live, which caused the initial scheduling hoopla). Though, aside from the occasional hyped up jump or sashay toward his fans, his performance often took on something of a going-through-the-motions pace.

    Still, Tesfaye won extra points for dedicating slow jam “As You Are” to those who held out at the barricade all day to see him, and ultimately earned a spot among the fest’s most thrilling acts for busting out “Starboy”, the slick title track tease to his upcoming third album, for his flashy finale.


    10. Mutemath

    Mutemath // Photo by David Brendan Hall

    It’s always special when a long-running band gets to play the main stage at a massive fest in their hometown, even if it’s early in the day when the crowds are thinner. Such was the case on Saturday with Mutemath, who appeared jovial and energized as they tore through staple cuts (‘Typical”, “Spotlight”) and newer tunes (“Changes”, “Monument”), all of them laden with enough pop-perfect beats and bubbly synths to get most of the modest-sized audience dancing with near-equal enthusiasm to frontman Paul Meany. (That said, no one’s moves could compare to his keyboard headstand and subsequent rocket-legs launch during “Blood Pressure”.)

    Aside from an obvious outpouring of love, the band’s local status also afforded Meany the opportunity to bring out a special guest — his five-year-old daughter Amelia — to faux-shred on a mini-pink guitar during spacey instrumental jam “Reset” while he wailed behind her on his keyboard. Toward the end, Meany co-manned a homemade-looking synth-guitar with Amelia, who ran her hands up and down the neck, conjuring bizarre yet fitting frequencies for the final freakout. Adorable family chemistry for the win.


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