About the only thing New Orleans’ Voodoo Music + Arts Experience and southern California’s Desert Trip have in common is that they are both music festivals scheduled for October.
Desert Trip’s roster is all about rock’s glorious past, a celebration of six marquee “legacy acts”: the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, The Who, Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
At the forward-thinking Voodoo, by contrast, the far younger, far less iconic Tool counts as a legacy act.
Bringing back the progressive metal quartet, previously featured at the 2001 Voodoo, was a priority for Sig Greenebaum and Don Kelly, the festival’s new co-directors.
“We wanted to make sure we got back to the roots of Voodoo,” Greenebaum said. “Tool is a band that we know the core Voodoo audience would absolutely love. Tool is absolutely endemic to Voodoo.”
Connecting the 18th Voodoo to its history was important, as this will be the first edition without founder Steve Rehage. Rehage departed after the 2015 festival, the third since he sold a majority stake to global entertainment behemoth Live Nation.
Live Nation subsequently assigned management of Voodoo to another of its acquisitions, C3 Presents, the Austin, Texas based concert and festival promoter behind the Austin City Limits Festival and Lollapalooza.
C3 retained and promoted longtime Rehage lieutenants Greenebaum and Kelly. Formerly Voodoo’s jacks-of-all-trade, they now run the show with help from the C3 Presents staff.
“Instead of doing 30 jobs, we’ve got 30 people to help us do those jobs,” Greenebaum said. “It is a better place for all of us. C3 has incredible resources.”
As they ponder everything from persistent sound bleed and drainage issues at City Park’s Festival Grounds to porta-potty placement, Greenebaum says it’s “really nice to be able to focus on things, think about them, and have a team to help execute them. We can use their incredible experience and knowledge to get to the right place.”
To that end, Kelly and Greenebaum strategized with C3 Presents talent buyer Amy Corbin about Voodoo’s 2016 music roster, which was unveiled this week.
“We start every year with a wish list,” Kelly said. “Arcade Fire has always been on that list. They were an obvious pick,” even moreso now that co-founders Win Butler and Régine Chassagne have made themselves at home in New Orleans.
“They can literally ride their bikes to the show,” Greenebaum said.
Landing contemporary R&B singer The Weeknd, one of the biggest breakout stars of the past couple years, was also a coup.
“The Weeknd is the Weeknd — why wouldn’t you want him on your lineup?” Greenebaum said. “He’s a huge artist right now.”
As soon as Tool announced a brief January tour — which included a soldout stop at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center — the Voodoo team approached the band about returning in the fall. Tool “was a no-brainer,” Kelly said. “Sig and I talked about that for probably all of two seconds.”
The diverse combination of Tool, Arcade Fire and the Weeknd “feels like Voodoo,” Greenebaum.
The festival’s electronic dance music stage, Le Plur, is also still a big part of its identity.
“You can’t do a major festival without recognizing that EDM is incredibly popular,” Kelly said. “Those fans are passionate, to say the least, about that style of music. They come through the gate, go straight to Le Plur, and barely leave for a bathroom break. That’s their world and they love it. We recognize that and want to give them that great experience.”
It will be up to the likes of the Chainsmokers and Porter Robinson to provide it.
“That world’s moving so fast that by the time we get to Voodoo, somebody who’s playing at 2 o’clock could be one of the biggest EDM artists in the world,” Greenebaum said.
Hip-hop returns to Voodoo this year in the form of Kevin Gates, G-Eazy and Anderson Paak, among others.
“Voodoo has done well having hip-hop,” Greenebaum said. “We did fantastic with OutKast and Lauryn Hill (in 2014). Last year, we had very little. That’s got to be there. That’s part of the flavor of Voodoo.”
There is noticeably less local flavor this year, with only a smattering of New Orleans acts. Ultimately, Voodoo is what it is — and it isn’t the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Duplicating what attendees can go hear on Frenchmen Street or at Tipitina’s is not Voodoo’s mission.
“By bringing people to New Orleans to be part of Voodoo on Halloween weekend, they’re going to get New Orleans music in the city,” Greenebaum said. “And we’re going to bring them here with these artists, in this environment. That’s what we’re best at doing.”
Voodoo has in years past presented the likes of the Black Keys, Florence + the Machine, Twenty-One Pilots and Sturgill Simpson just before they broke big. Many names on the 2016 roster may be unfamiliar to casual — and older — music fans, at least for now. Even Kelly admits having to research several acts on Soundcloud and YouTube when Corbin first proposed them for Voodoo.
But presenting what’s new and next is what Voodoo is about. As Kelly put it, “We give folks a chance to catch somebody who, maybe a year from now, is going to be selling out the Civic Theatre or the House of Blues.” Or maybe headlining Desert Trip 2046.
Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.