One Saturday night in May, Stephen Rehage, founder and producer of the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, was having dinner in the French Quarter. Like thousands of others in the area, he couldn’t help but hear the Foo Fighters’ surprise show that night, coming from an unlikely place: Preservation Hall.
The sound of the Foo Fighters — the internationally known rock band that has played venues as large as London’s Wembley Stadium — boomed from the tiny venue known for traditional jazz.
“It went off, exploded,” Rehage recalled last week. “You could hear the music resonate through the entire Quarter. I’d never heard anything like it.”
With Voodoo Experience five months away, Rehage saw an opportunity.
“I got on the phone after that, seeing if they’d be interested,” he said. “Thankfully, they said, ‘Yes.’ ”
The Foo Fighters are Sunday’s headlining act at Voodoo Experience’s Ritual Stage.
The band is starring in the eight-part HBO music series “Sonic Highways.” A new show airs at 10 p.m. each Friday. Foo Fighters frontman, Dave Grohl, directed the series. He calls it “a love letter to the history of American music.”
“Sonic Highways” debuted Oct. 17 with a visit to Chicago that included an interview with blues star and Pointe Coupee Parish native Buddy Guy. Episode two moved to Washington, D.C., and the Virginia suburbs where Grohl grew up. This Friday’s episode goes to Nashville, Tennessee. A date for the New Orleans episode has yet to be announced.
The Foo Fighters also traveled to Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and, concurrent with their Preservation Hall guerrilla gig, New Orleans.
The 16th annual Voodoo Experience, “Sonic Highways” series, the Foo Fighters’ 20th anniversary and the Nov. 10 release of group’s eighth studio album aligned beautifully.
“We got lucky,” Rehage said. “But through the history of Voodoo, that’s one thing that’s been consistent. These diamonds fall in our laps. A lot of it has to do with the fact that artists want to come to New Orleans. The idea that they get a paycheck to come to one of their favorite cities and hang out for the weekend appeals to them.”
Rehage, despite the new responsibilities he assumed in 2013 as president of Live Nation’s North American festivals division, remains Voodoo Experience’s guiding force. That includes being 100 percent involved in picking the festival’s acts, he said.
Last year, veteran acts Pearl Jam, The Cure and Nine Inch Nails helped draw the festival’s approximately 50,000-people-per-day audiences.
Headliners this year, including rap-duo Outkast and a relatively young U.K. rock band that’s more popular in its homeland than in the United States, Arctic Monkeys, are more diverse.
Rehage doesn’t think about demographics when he programs Voodoo Experience, he said.
“When I started the festival, it was about having a great party and great festival,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. Nobody has asked me to change. I haven’t gotten that phone call from someone at the company (Live Nation) saying, ‘Maybe you should put One Direction on the bill.’ The festival works, and I think everybody sees that it’s got its own soul and it fits New Orleans.”