A major music event hadn’t been held in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in late August, but the Voodoo Music Experience pulled it off Saturday without a hitch. Festival producer Stephen Rehage tells Billboard.com the show drew between 20,000-25,000 people and featured several New Orleans musicians that hadn’t played in the city since Katrina.
Staging a festival amid the present conditions of New Orleans was no easy task, but Rehage says his team was committed to doing so without taxing the city’s resources. “The production itself was really guerilla warfare,” he says. “Any time we were missing something, we had to scavenger hunt or go out of town to find it. Simple things like FedEx deliveries are not real reliable right now in the city.”
The show was headlined by Nine Inch Nails, whose frontman, Trent Reznor, lived in New Orleans for many years. The group’s performance featured a guest appearance by rapper Saul Williams, whose shout-outs to the crowd found him acknowledging several damaged New Orleans neighborhoods.
Among the other performers were Queens Of The Stone Age, Tiesto, the Bravery, the New York Dolls, Secret Machines, Kermit Ruffins, Jon Cleary and the Rebirth Brass Band. The evening ended with Ruffins and Big Sam (of Big Sam’s Funky Nation) literally leading a line of musicians through the crowd, out of the venue and on toward legendary club Tipitina’s, where the party continued into the wee hours.
Most of acts also performed the next night for the Memphis incarnation of the event, which was preceded by a series of free shows earlier in the week from Soul Asylum, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers and Theresa Andersson.
“It was a surreal environment in that there was no chaos — not one incident,” Rehage says of the New Orleans show. “The mayor showed up and gave a very eloquent speech where he said, ‘I want to let everyone across the country know that today, the [displaced New Orleans] musicians aren’t on loan anymore. They’re all coming back home.”
Both shows were filmed and recorded for potential use in a documentary. “VH1 is planning to do some stuff, and also, Trent went around the city with a crew and looked at some neighborhoods and his studio,” Rehage says. “We’ll go back and see what we’ve got in the can.”
Proceeds from Voodoo will benefit a host of Katrina-related charities, including the New Orleans Restoration Fund, Habitat for Humanity and Bring New Orleans Back.