A windy, overcast day provided a comfortable start to the 2015 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience Friday. Mostly costumed crowds were still trickling in by 2:30 p.m., when Flow Tribe kicked things off on the Altar stage.
Highlights included singer/-songwriter Jason Isbell on the Flambeau Stage. Switching between electric and acoustic guitar, he played a mix of songs from his recent album Something More Than Free along with older material such as “Decoration Day” from his time with the Drive-By Truckers. For “Decoration Day,” Isbell began solo on stage with only his acoustic guitar, before the rest of his band joined in piece by piece, building Isbell’s lament into something loud, raucous and lovely. “What a beautiful night; what a beautiful place to play music,” said Isbell, who had dressed as Batman. His band, which Isbell referred to as The Alabama Bat Boys, also joined in the fun; everyone wore a Batman costume or a Batman T-shirt and cape. Throughout the set, the supportive crowd cheered for Isbell’s sobriety, which he addressed through song lyrics and personal anecdotes. Towards the end of his set, he thanked Voodoo for “not having us any closer to the EDM stage than we already are.” As it was, Isbell and his Bat Boys held their own, cranking up a big sound to carry their music to eager fans.
Rock trio The Joy Formidable debuted a new song, “Passerby,” which offered the crowd a hint of how the band’s sound has developed, even if it’s not on their untitled new album - due out this time next year. Weaving in bigger harmonies between lead singer Ritzy Bryan and backing vocalist Rhydian Dafydd, and an almost heavy metal guitar riff, the song felt sublime, like staring at something foreboding from a safe distance. “It’s fun playing new songs,” Bryan told the crowd after the band brought the extended jam to an end. It’s been some time since The Joy Formidable has performed in New Orleans, and upon hearing listeners’ enthusiastic responses to their old and new songs, Dafyyd promised the band wouldn’t be away for quite so long. The band will return to play as part of its upcoming tour.
Country darling Ryan Bingham put on a rocking show. “Do you feel like clapping your hands and stomping your feet a little bit?” he asked. He opened with “Dollar A Day,” followed closely by “Top Shelf Drug.” Swapping out his electric for an acoustic and eventually a mandolin, Bingham was backed by a fiddler and a lead guitarist who delved into psychedelic solos, which laced the traditional country songs with an exciting edge.
Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas played the smaller Carnival stage, and the crowd had to deal with sound bleeding from Altar. Between a guitar, bass, saxophone, keys and drums, the band should have been able to hold its own, but unless listeners were close to the speakers, it was hard to hear each song’s nuance. With vocals reminiscent of Gwen Stefani and a gritty, gutter pop/soul sound, Hernandez and her Deltas still drew an impressive crowd. Hernandez shared that Thursday, Oct. 29, was her birthday. “So for my birthday, I would really like if you guys would dance with us,” she said. The band will be in the Funyuns Tent today. “Come get onion breath and meet us,” she said.
Ruby Amanfu took the Flambeau stage early in the afternoon. Her sultry vocals were nearly lost competing against bigger La Plur Stage and Altar stages. After playing one of her favorite songs, “Cathedrals” by Jump Little Children, Amanfu said she and her band were changing the set list based upon the day's energy, but it seemed like the sound bleed was the issue.
Early in the day, Flow Tribe burst onstage wearing bright suits - what they call “funk suits” - varying in colors and patterns and the colorful look set the perfect tone. Between the band’s coordinated dance moves and ripping guitar solos, they got the crowd moving with original song, “Good Time Girl,” “Fire on Esplanade” and others.
Notable costumes: Mr. McGibblets, from popular FX series The League, drew fans screaming for pictures and high-fives. Elsewhere, Andre the Giant made an appearance, and emojis were a big theme, including the two dancing bunny girls. And, of course, there were plenty of zombies.