Founder Steve Rehage oversaw the first 17 editions of the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, one of New Orleans’ major music festivals. Each was shaped and informed by his aesthetic.
The 2016 Voodoo will be the first without him. But a co-founding partner of C3 Presents, the Austin, Texas-based company that will now manage Voodoo, doesn’t expect the Halloween weekend extravaganza in City Park to change much, at least initially.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for what Steve has done,” Charlie Walker said this week. “The show’s been around a long time. Steve was a good operator. I don’t think we’ll meddle too much with what historically has been a winning recipe.
“We’ll get in there this year and just see how things work. We won’t try to fix something that isn’t broken. But certainly we’ll make improvements based on what we’ve learned from our other festivals around the world.”
Rehage, a New Orleans native who played football for LSU in the 1980s, launched Voodoo as a multi-stage, multi-genre music festival in 1999. He programmed marquee rock and rap stars alongside electronic acts and indigenous New Orleans bands. Headliners have included Metallica, the Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Eminem, Drake, Ozzy Osbourne, Outkast, Green Day, Florence + the Machine, the Cure, Skrillex, Deadmau5 and Jack White.
In 2013, Rehage sold a majority stake in Voodoo to Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s largest concert promoter. He was named president of Live Nation’s North American festivals division, charged with overseeing and expanding the company’s portfolio of outdoor festivals.
But he and Live Nation parted ways soon after the rain-plagued 2015 Voodoo. Neither Rehage nor Live Nation has commented publicly on his departure. A source close to the situation said the corporate Live Nation job wasn’t a good fit for Rehage and that he resigned.
Rehage still owns a minority share of the festival but is no longer involved in its operation. With Rehage out, Live Nation transferred management of Voodoo to C3 Presents.
Founded in 2007 by Walker, Charles Attal and Charlie Jones — they are the three “C’s” — C3 Presents grew quickly. With 160 employees, the company promotes about 1,700 concerts annually in small clubs, Austin’s famed Stubb’s BBQ amphitheater and large arenas.
C3 also produces major festivals. Its signature events are Lollapalooza in Chicago and the Austin City Limits Music Festival, widely considered to be among the premier American music festivals. C3 has expanded the Lollapalooza brand to Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Berlin.
Last year, C3 launched the Landmark Music Festival in Washington, D.C. Staged near the National Mall, it featured Drake, alt-J, the Strokes, Miguel, CHVRCHES, Band of Horses, Dr. John and the Rebirth Brass Band.
Live Nation acquired a majority stake in C3 Presents in late 2014. As with other acquisitions, Live Nation left C3 largely intact to operate its own festivals in collaboration with the national Live Nation team.
C3 retained at least two key members of the old Rehage Voodoo staff: Sig Greenebaum and Don Kelly, who are still based in New Orleans. Their involvement should help ease the transition to a new producer, said City Park CEO Bob Becker. “We’re big fans of continuity,” he said.
Voodoo is contracted with City Park through 2019. The 2016 edition will likely be about the same size as last year, with four stages on the Festival Grounds. “It will be similar to the footprint of the most recent shows, until we really get in there and analyze the flow of people, and the park and the sound,” Walker said. “We need to get a show or two under our belt before we make any changes.”
For all its success, Voodoo has struggled with customer-service issues. Patrons arriving in the late afternoon for the first day of the 2014 Voodoo faced a two-hour wait to enter the grounds. Shortages of trash cans and restrooms have also generated complaints.
“Those kinds of changes, the customer service stuff, if they’re needed, we will absolutely make,” Walker said. “But we don’t have any large-scale overhaul in store.”
For the first 17 Voodoo festivals, Rehage chose or approved all the major bands. Going forward, Amy Corbin, the head of C3 Presents’ concert division, and her team will book Voodoo. She also programs Austin City Limits and Landmark.
Walker said the mix of bands at Voodoo “will remain close” to previous years. Electronic music will still be a priority. “Electronic can’t be ignored, just due to its overall popularity,” he said. “Being relevant in today’s music probably means that you’ve programmed some kind of meaningful electronic on your festival. Even Austin City Limits has electronic now. I don’t see that going away.”
Walker is eager for his team to apply the expertise that has made Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza so successful.
“Hopefully, everybody that comes to Voodoo will see some improvement. I like to think we improve our own shows every year. We tweak ACL every year, we tweak Lollapalooza, we tweak all the foreign shows.
“Hopefully, we’re just carrying forward a great tradition in New Orleans. We want to make it the biggest party in the South for Halloween weekend.”
Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.