The Voodoo Music Experience
5th November 2012 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
The Voodoo Music Experience boasted great moments like when funkmaster Bootsy Collins came down off the stage to wander among the audience so he could, as he declared, “touch the people.” The legendary reggae man Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals fame also likes to be one with his fans as demonstrated when he stood at the very edge of the stage during his extra-long and much appreciated encore. Yes, there was a lot of love going on at a festival better known for its hard-core, electronic rock edge.
On Friday (October 26), two griots performed at the Preservation Hall Tent. The first was New Orleans’ own, the great storyteller, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. The chief performed with the 101 Runners, a hybrid of Mardi Gras Indians and funk that was paying tribute this day to Big Chief Bo Dollis. “Bo opened the door a crack,” said leader War Chief Juan referring to Bo Dollis as an innovator in bringing in other instruments to the tradition and taking the music to the stage and recording studio. In his chanting, that was filled with remembrances of past Carnival days, a joyful Monk took it to the roots by echoing Native American melodies and rhythms.
Later that day, griot and ngoni (a banjo-like instrument) player Cheick Hamala Diabate told his own stories of his West African life. The gentleness of his music and demeanor was quite a contrast from the hard-edged blues of vocalist and guitarist Gary Clark who performed earlier at the giant Le Ritual stage. Clark, who has been heavy on the festival circuit, is a guitar monster who can get seriously old-school on a ballad particularly when he vocally brings in his falsetto as he did on “Please Come Home.”
The Voodoo Fest stands as an event of highs and lulls. Unlike Jazz Fest where one can always find some music to satisfy, Voodoo Fest boasts a schedule that has periods that are pretty flat. Wandering around the beautiful City Park setting and enjoying the art installations and food could be satisfying though the incredibly loud sound bleed from multiple stages at once made it less so. With the large space that City Park provides, that shouldn’t happen.
It didn’t take long before the question of whether saxophonists Kidd Jordan and Sherik would actually blow together would be answered. The two horn players, who had never previously met, immediately went at it face-to-face as part of a unique ensemble that also included drummer Johnny Vidacovich, bassist George Porter and vibraphonist/percussionist Mike Dillon. Meanwhile Porter, who’s known more for his funk, smiled. “What are these chord changes?” he kidded in reference to the free jazz style.
The funk was on next door at the WWOZ venue as soon as a glittery Bootsy Collins strutted on stage. Hilariously, when he and the solid band played “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” a glowing image floated around the ceiling of the stage’s shell. Bootsy pleased the crowd with hits and flash and compliments. “You never lost your funk!” he declared. “New Orleans is the Funk Capital of the World.” He definitely got everybody when he took off his cape to reveal a Drew Brees shirt with its big number nine.
It was like the funk never ended at the stage when the Soul Rebels played the next day. “Don’t Stop the Groove” and “Party All Night” proved to be the correct anthems. The Rebels’ choreography was as tight as their tones. The way the members moved their horns in sync and their march-like dance steps stood as a reminder that most, if not all, of these guys got their start in high school marching bands.
There almost seemed as if there was a turning point in Toots’ performance. Oh, the soulful reggae vocalist was great from the start doing his mega-hits like “Pressure Drop” and “Times Tough.” Maybe it was around the time he did “Sweet and Dandy,” that Toots seemed to realize that this wasn’t just an ordinary show. This was a New Orleans crowd, a dancing crowd, and an adoring crowd. Then he really turned it on.
Armstrong Park Gets Busy
It’s great to see Armstrong Park alive with music and people. This week two events will make use of the area. First up, the Thursday evening Jazz in the Park series concludes on November 8, 2012 with a “Keep the Music Free” benefit concert. The organization People United for Armstrong Park, which presented the wonderful shows last spring and again this fall with memorable performances by the likes of vocalists Stephanie Jordan and John Boutte and many others, has put together an all-star cast for the fundraiser. It kicks off with MyNameIsJohnMichael at 5 p.m. followed by a “superband” that will include the New Orleans Soul Queen Irma Thomas, trumpeters Kermit Ruffins and James Andrews, guitarist Renard Poche, bassist George Porter and more. Tickets are $20 and are available at www.armstrongpark.org and at the gate.
The Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival, Saturday, November 10, and Sunday, November 11, which was previously staged behind the Jazz & Heritage Foundation building on North Rampart Street, moves over to Armstrong Park this year. The new location will certainly offer a lovelier setting and some more elbow room for those wielding spoons to dig into the gumbo served up by restaurants like Dunbar’s and Lil’ Dizzy’s.
Another major change to the fest is that for the first time its musical schedule is made up of all brass bands. They start blowing at 11 a.m. and the last note rings out at 7:15 p.m. each day. The line-up includes favs like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Sat. 6 p.m.) the Soul Rebels, who, as mentioned above, funked so hard at Voodoo Fest (Sat. 4:15 p.m.), naturally the Tremé Brass Band (Sun. 2:45 p.m.) and the Stooges Brass Band wrapping it up on Sunday at 6 p.m.
Admission to the Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival, which is presented by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, is free. For more information go to www.jazzandheritage.org/treme-gumbo.
This article originally published in the November 05, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.