For this year’s iteration of New Orleans’ Voodoo Fest, SpinMedia returned to curate the Toyota Music Den — now an official stage at the festival. Over the course of the weekend, the tent featured lineups curated by SPIN, Vibe, Brooklyn Vegan, and Stereogum, coming together in an eclectic mix not dissimilar from the festival as a whole, or from the nature of New Orleans’ idiosyncratic music culture.
Friday kicked everything off with the one-two of a DJ set from DJ Quiz (G-Eazy’s tour DJ) and a stripped-back set from Swedish singer-songwriter LÉON, for what turned out to be her first-ever festival set. Backed only by a keyboard, it was a showcase for her powerful voice; she threw in a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” for good measure, too. Bear Hands followed suit in the afternoon, also distilling their sound down to a minimal, muffled drum kit and semi-acoustic arrangements of their songs.
As the day went on, it turned into more of a party. Chairlift came by for a crowd-pleasing DJ set that really went for the ’80s- and ’90s-kid vibes — Suzanne Vega, Ace Of Base, the Bangles. They took a brief detour to the Jackson 5, prompting a quick story from frontwoman Caroline Polachek. “The first time we ever played together was before Chairlift existed,” she said, gesturing at her bandmate Patrick Wimberly. “We were a Jackson 5 cover band for Halloween in 2004.” It culminated in a big singalong to Donna Lewis’ “I Love You Always Forever,” with Polachek and Wimberly jumping into the crowd to dance with everyone. It looked like a moment out of a ’90s teen drama.
Friday concluded with a scorched, excellent set from Nashville rockers All Them Witches, which wound up setting the stage for Saturday afternoon, when Reignwolf showed up and performed one of the most blistering, intense sets of the weekend. With a densely packed crowd spilling out from the tent in front of him, Jordan Cook took the stage backed by a drummer and a bassist, but their sound suggested a much bigger band. It was a power-trio rendition of Zeppelin-esque heavy blues-rock, with Cook somehow managing to keep his leather jacket on as he jumped around in the crowd in the heat. He also somehow held the mic in one hand while playing guitar, periodically slinging it over his shoulder while he soloed. Reignwolf’s performance is the kind of thing that sticks in your mind, as evidenced by the devout fans who hung on every stuttering stomp and searing solo the trio offered up.
Right after Reignwolf, the crowd stuck around for a set of rambling folk/blues-rock from Austin’s Shakey Graves. Just as the thunderous distortion of Reignwolf was appropriately sweaty and visceral for the humidity of a New Orleans afternoon, Shakey Graves, too, were a good fit for a festival down south, not too far from the swamp. The night wrapped up with another crowd-pleasing DJ set, this time from Oh Wonder. They began with a tease of Jamie xx’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” that segued right into M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” — that’s an ingenious combination for inciting a dance party.
Of course, by the time you get to a Sunday at a hot festival, people are a little more, well … haggard. (It was Halloween weekend, too, after all.) In that context, Little Scream’s mid-afternoon set was perfect — a soaring, then dreamy, then funky burst of indie-pop. Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry — who produced Little Scream’s new album Cult Following — sat in on guitar, too, ahead of his main gig’s headlining set later that evening.
Here’s the other thing that makes a Sunday afternoon a little more lively: a set from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. (Read our interview with band leader Ben Jaffe here.) Always a joyous experience to witness, this was also an opportunity to see the group play a fervent hometown set. There was an added wrinkle for this one, too. As part of the 2016 Toyota Music Experience, Toyota gave three groups the chance to compete to play with Preservation Hall at the Toyota Music Den. Preservation Hall selected Tank and the Bangas, resulting in a funky soul interlude amidst the Hall Band’s usual New Orleans jazz, and also resulting in something like 14 people crammed onto a little stage. Every moment of the set, as Preservation Hall Jazz Band set’s tend to be, was celebratory, drawing the biggest crowd of the weekend to end the Music Den, and Voodoo, on a high note. The Pres Hall dudes signed off with a cover of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” (the same one Chairlift had played during their DJ set; it’s a perennial favorite, after all). It sent the audience away with one of the most uplifting experiences of the whole weekend, dancing their way over to see Arcade Fire close the whole festival in suitably epic fashion.