Every now and then things fall into place just right, like having a festival called Voodoo in New Orleans, over Halloween weekend. These were factors converging to create, one would imagine, a very unique and idiosyncratic festival. Just walking around the French Quarter around lunch time yesterday, watching people dressed like Han Solo or a pirate or a whole array of superheroes downing PBR tallboys, it felt like I’d walked into some insane movie scene; it seemed like being in New Orleans for Voodoo, on Halloween, would be a lot more interesting than your average festival trip. And, while it was still happening, it was. Unfortunately, every now and then things fall into place and then something messes it up. Namely, this time around, torrential rains lead to the Voodoo experience being cut short, with today having been cancelled due to further weather threats.
Before that though, the festival was living up to the promise of a singular experience. Even on Friday, Halloween was dominating the mood at Voodoo, with seemingly every other person decked out into skeleton facepaint during Florence + The Machine’s set, including Florence herself. Though I’ve seen Florence headline several festivals this year, it never gets old. It’s actually the opposite; each successive time you see her, it’s easy to feel like you’re getting caught up in the maelstrom of this woman’s momentum; each show somehow feels more intense than the last. As it goes with pretty much any time Florence + The Machine headline a day at a festival, they essentially dominated the night and, to an extent, obliterate your memory of having seen anyone else onstage earlier. But there were other good things, too — the crowd-pleasing experience of seeing a field full of people sing along to “Float On” with Modest Mouse or a stage full of people dancing around Girl Talk; the writer-pleasing experience of Jason Isbell dedicating a song to the late, great Grantland.
Voodoo’s lineup was uneven — why does Slightly Stoopid still have to be around? — but its quirks lead to a strange set of headliners unlike most other festivals in the States this year. Sure, that means that Third Eye Blind were set to have a high-billed set, but it also meant the chance to see Ozzy Osbourne on Halloween night. As it goes with these things, luck would have it that all the good stuff conflicted with each other Saturday night, so it took some running around. Beset by pouring rain almost all day and night, Voodoo’s second day quickly became a muddy hellscape full of people in crazy costumes, which made the whole thing sort of bizarre to witness. I watched Santigold with Halo’s Master Chief; she tried out a few new songs, and stuff like “Creator,” “Shove It,” and “L.E.S. Artistes” all had the kind of festival power to make you forget whatever kind of miserable conditions nature had brought down on you. Django Django’s effervescent art-rock was similarly uplifting; during that one, a trio of people dressed like Super Mario Bros. characters were smoking weed, and it’s kind of hilarious to see Luigi and Princess Peach hitting a piece. Public Image Ltd., one of those bands you wouldn’t really be able to catch at a lot of other festivals, surprisingly sounded unstoppable doing “Public Image” and “Rise” even though John Lydon always kinda looks like a grumpy old man who somehow wandered onstage.
After all that, the main attraction was Ozzy. By this time, it was impossible to have emerged from the day in any sort of comfortable state — standing water and ankle-deep mud were everywhere, it still rained on and off, everyone’s costumes were a mess. But there’s something so perfect about seeing Ozzy do a greatest hits set on Halloween, in what had become a gross field, that it was about as satisfying a conclusion to the weekend as I could think of, even if it wasn’t intended as such. Slash and Tom Morello joined him on various songs. Geezer Butler was there, too, and basically the whole middle of the set was them running through Black Sabbath classics from “N.I.B.” to “Snowblind” to the totemic “War Pigs.” The dude’s a legend, one of those artists where it’s a welcome chance to see them do their thing. And that the final moments of Voodoo turned out to be a furious encore featuring “Paranoid” and a volcano of fireworks is more climactic than a post-Halloween hangover of a day anyway.
Still, it’s a disappointment any time stuff like this goes down. Whenever you see Florence + The Machine, it feels like you’re watching a ritual that’s calling forth the elements and feeding off of them. Well, Florence did too good a job of that this weekend. This time, “What The Water Gave Me” was a pair of ruined sneakers and a day to kill in New Orleans. Thanks Florence! But, there are far worse cities to wind up with some time to kill, and far worse places to have a festival. Voodoo has the setting and vibe figured out. Hopefully next year it has better luck with nature.