Stephen Rehage Talks "Voodoo Music Experience + Arts" 2012
Mon, 22 Oct 2012 06:50:06
Now, music festivals are all the rage in the 21st century.
However, no festival can match Voodoo Music Experience + Arts in terms of diversity, vibe, and lineup. Consistently for the past 14 years, Voodoo has eclipsed every genre from jazz and indie rock to hip hop and heavy metal, bringing New Orleans an unforgettable weekend of music on the eve of Halloween. Once again, producer and founder Stephen Rehage brings the premier lineup and Experience to concertgoers with a bill boasting Metallica, Kaskade, Skrillex, Nas, Jack White, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Tomahawk, and countless others. It descends upon City Park in New Orleans, LA on Friday October 26 through Sunday October 28, and it's bound to be one for the books—as they all are.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Voodoo Music + Arts Experience organizer Stephen Rehage discusses the festival, New Orleans rich musical culture, his own playlist, and so much more.
Visit the official site here!
What was the mindset going into Voodoo Music Experience this year?
When you think about it, you always want to go with the eclectic. That's what the whole Voodoo theme is about and has been about since the beginning. That "Congo Square Drum Beat" translates into what you hear today in modern music. You can hear it in Flea's bass licks and stuff like that. When you look at Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Jack White, Skrillex, and Metallica, it feels good. It looks like we accomplished what we were working on. The only thing that changed mindset-wise involved electronic dance music. Watching that scene explode over the past few years, I'd be on the main stage and look across the field. The electronic area would be bumping. The audience size kept getting bigger and bigger. People would show up and camp out at that stage. For me, the explosion of EDM and how it affects programming was the biggest change.
Well, you need the lineup as far as that genre goes. Skrillex is the king of dubstep, and Kaskade has the mainstream house scene on lock.
They both end up playing alongside the headline acts, and it really spreads the festival out. From the ground side of it, blink-182 was up against deadmau5, and the two audiences were merging halfway in the middle. That gave everything a really cool energy.
This is Metallica's first Voodoo Music Experience.
They were on the hit list for the past 14 years! I finally got to put them on the right side of the ledger [Laughs]. They're one of the dream acts for Voodoo. People don't realize how heavy of a town New Orleans is. We certainly enjoy our funk and jazz, but there's a big rock audience here. Metallica fit everywhere in the world, but I don't think it gets any better than New Orleans on this particular weekend. They were in writing mode actually. I didn't stop calling though. About the 14th or 15th time, they considered it, and I stopped calling [Laughs].
Also, hip hop is well represented by Nas.
Great live performances are what's most important for us. In today's day and age where you can make a record on your laptop, it really comes down to being able to carry and move the audience. Nas does just that. When we're booking the show, I don't look it in terms of rock or hip hop. It's about artists complementing each other and maintaining a flow. Looking at Jack White and Nas back-to-back, it just makes sense. Skrillex and Tomahawk are playing Sunday too, which makes for some tough choices [Laughs].
If you were a fan attending Voodoo Music Experience, how would you spend your day?
I kind of do that. I meander around. What surprises me is I'll forget what day it is and I'll miss somebody I really want to see [Laughs]. I usually start off the morning at Preservation Hall and see where that brings me. That's the magic that is Voodoo on Halloween weekend. It's hard to describe. There are always the moments where you stumble upon something as a producer that I haven't orchestrated. You walk into a tent, and there are 50 people on stage. You're like, "Where did these guys come from? I didn't organize this!" [Laughs] It makes you smile. That's the tribute to the New Orleans music scene. A normal night for New Orleans musicians is five gigs where they're hopping from club to club, supporting each other and playing with each other. They'll walk in on the middle of a song and pick up on a jam session. That's what happens here, and it carries over to the festival scene. I love it. A couple years ago, it started raining. It was a shower that blasted for a half-an-hour and stopped. Everybody was trying to find cover. I stumbled into the carnival tent. Literally, an 80-person marching band was in the audience playing back to the band on stage with stilt walkers. It's pretty outrageous.
Do a lot of fans wear Halloween costumes?
They do! Over half of the audience is costuming. A lot of the bands do too. Last year, MGMT came as The Flintstones. It's always crazy looking at one day where all of the artists are dressed up! That makes security really interesting [Laughs]. You never know who anybody is! "He's got an artist credential on, but it's Fred Flintstone, let him in!"
What were some good memories from last year?
Well, the alarms ended up going off in the dressing room. It sounded like a fire drill. Literally, it was during set change. All of a sudden, we heard this screeching noise. I was like, "Did someone set something on fire?" It ended up being Snoop Dogg's dressing room [Laughs]. They all came walking out of the dressing room calm, cool, and collected like, "We didn't set that off!"
Do you feel like the festival reflects the ethos of New Orleans being a musical melting pot?
That's the premise of the whole thing. The Voodoo branding and theme goes back to "Congo Square" and a 19th century story revolving around what's Armstrong Park today which borders up against the French Quarter. In this shanty town where 6,000 Haitian slaves were housed, eventually the city passed a law where Sundays were "Free Slave Day". It was the first time in America that slaves were allowed certain freedoms. Because of their Haitian background, Sundays become these voodoo rituals. They were very sacred. The drumbeats would attract people from around the city to come out and watch what was going on and their performances. Out of that neighborhood grew this drumbeat. The Europeans influenced that beat. Everything began to morph and evolve. It was a musical melting pot. Since Hurricane Katrina, the other side of the French Quarter has exploded. There are so many artists there. Artists have traveled from around the world to move here. There's a cool carnival burlesque element. Across the way, you've got traditional New Orleans music as we know it. It merges together to make this really beautiful thing—you can't put a bow around it. No radio station can capture that spirit. The festival was conceived around this concept. The genres don't have to make sense. As long as it's great music, we embrace it and try to present it in the correct form. When the artist signs on, there's not a lot of, "You can't do this" or "You can't do that". You were booked because of what you do. Get on stage and do it. It's a free-for-all. The dressing rooms are in one location. All of a sudden, Red Hot Chili Peppers are playing with The Meters, and George Porter Jr. and Flea are going bass lick-for-bass lick on "Clayp Your Hands and Say Yeah" for 12 minutes. It's about freedom of art and having a good weekend.
What's that moment like being on stage seeing the festival come together?
There's usually a moment each year. You're planning it all year. You're building a temporary city for two weeks. On the first or second night, you take a deep breath. There's the audience in front of the stage and you go, "Holy shit! This is pretty massive and incredible". The year of Katrina, we felt it was necessary to move forward with the festival because people needed a moment to forget, about sheetrock, insurance claims, everything that their lives were at that time, and enjoy some of the world's greatest artists. Half of that spontaneous combustion that happens between musicians is incredible. You're a zombie on Monday, but the Tuesday after you'll be at lunch and it'll hit you like, "That was a really cool moment!" Last year, Danny Clinch filmed the festival. He handed me a flip camera the first day. Sunday night, we had a great run with three stages next to each other. Ray Davies was on one stage. The Meters were on another. Cheap Trick was on the last one. We were both in the pit. Danny was shooting Cheap Trick, and I had the flip camera out. We started walking to go see The Meters. You're in New Orleans. That's where you're supposed to be! As we got 100 feet away from the stage, we heard, " I Want You to Want Me". Without saying a word, we walked back to Cheap Trick and broke out our cameras [Laughs]. You can't miss that!
Have you begun planning next year?
I can't believe it but next year is the 15th anniversary, so we've started that process!
Who's on your playlist at the moment?
I've been listening to Jack White's record, Blunderbuss over and over. It's a great record. He's done the festival four times, and every version of Jack has performed at the festival. This will be the third year in a row he's closing on Sunday night. It's a little bit of a tradition.
Will you be attending Voodoo?