NEW ORLEANS — Contrasts between Voodoo Experience, the annual Halloween weekend music festival in New Orleans, and the city’s decades-older New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival are instantly clear.
Voodoo attracts a mostly younger crowd, drawn by nationally known rock bands, hip-hop acts and DJs. But there’s also familiar, New Orleans and Louisiana talent — the kind that fills the Jazz Fest schedule — for listeners young and not-so-young to experience.
Other differences between New Orleans’ two biggest paid-admission outdoor music festivals may be more dramatic.
Thanks to Voodoo’s fall timing and live oak-graced City Park location, Saturday, day two of Voodoo’s three days, was cool, breezy and shady. Jazz Fest, set in late spring, typically is anything but cool and shady.
Being the Voodoo Experience music festival and Halloween weekend, too, vampires walked in the midday sun. Leopard women, fairies, pirates and pirate wenches, a witch with her wizard, killer clowns, zombies and quite a few of those bowler hat-topped thugs in white from “A Clockwork Orange” also roamed the grounds.
Amidst the park’s trees and lagoons, too, there was a relaxed, carnival atmosphere, especially at the site’s Le Flambeau area. The latter, more intimate section of Voodoo contains three small stages featuring Louisiana acts such as New Orleans’ Treme Brass Band and Baton Rouge native Chris Thomas King.
Performing a midafternoon set at the Preservation Hall Stage, the electric guitar-playing King, making his Voodoo Experience debut, performed power trio-style with his bass-and-drums band.
No surprise that King sang the blues. He wrote “I Wanna Die With A Smile On My Face,” he explained, in a phone booth in Austin, Texas.
It’s a good-rocking tune about a man who tells his baby that, if she’s really going to leave, please kill him before she leaves because he just can’t live without her.
King also performed the gospel-country-style “What Would Jesus Do?”
Although he wrote the song after he and thousands of other New Orleans residents were forced into exile following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina-connected flood, he dedicated it to protesters participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The Tao Seeger Brass Band, second act up at Le Flambeau’s Preservation Hall Stage, features the grandson of legendary folk singer Pete Seeger.
“It’s a pleasure and honor to play the brunch set for y’all,” the electric guitar-playing Seeger told the still small, bundled-up crowd of a dozen or so people lounging on the grass.
Raised in Guatemala with a Puerto Rican father, Seeger sang many songs in Spanish, rolling his Rs beautifully. He proudly announced that he’s a New Orleans resident. “I’ve lived here a year and a month,” he said. “I can’t wait to make it 10 years.”
The Tao Seeger Brass Band, containing just two brass instruments, would more accurately be called Tao Seeger’s New Orleans Band.
Its members are locals, including singer-trombonist Lucien Barbarin (of Harry Connick Jr. fame) and Ben Jaffe, the bass and sousaphone-playing second-generation owner of the city’s unchanging haven for traditional jazz, Preservation Hall.
In addition to rapper Snoop Dogg and modern-rock band Blink-182, Saturday’s marquee names included classic Los Angeles punk bands Social Distortion and X.
Leading Social Distortion on the festival’s massive Voodoo Stage, Mike Ness was all snarling vocal and guitar sincerity. The original members of X played a ferocious performance of their landmark punk album, “Los Angeles.”
Among this year’s intriguing Voodoo Experience collaborations was Violent Femmes principal Gordon Gano with Lafayette Cajun band the Lost Bayou Ramblers.
Following the Ramblers’ own set of Cajun music gone heavy rock, Gano, fiddle in hand, joined them for more Cajun songs and Cajunized versions of the Violent Femmes favorites “Blister In The Sun” and “American Music.” The Gano-Lost Bayou Ramblers set also featured a Gano-led murder ballad that was most apropos for Halloween.
The Voodoo Experience continues Sunday with the Raconteurs, Ray Davies, New Orleans’ own original Meters, Dr. John plus many more.