Voodoo Festival Taps Into New Orleans’ Stubborn, Spiritual Roots

Managing Editor, Music

Cambria Harkey courtesy of Voodoo Festival

When I entered Voodoo Festival in New Orleans’ City Park last Friday, the first scent I caught was a familiar one — but not for a music festival. Sage, incense, and other smudge sticks were burning across the festival grounds, centered in the marketplace in the middle of the festival, where local vendors had quite literally set up shop.

This was my first time in New Orleans, so the overt presence of handmade talismans and homeopathic products surprised me at first, but I should’ve known from the start that the spiritual would be a foundational element for any event that took place in this city. Since the festival coincided with Halloween weekend, the spooky factor was ramped up to 11.

Katrina Barber

Tucked in between the four different stages — and the packed Toyota Music Den, where I caught a killer Preservation Hall Jazz Band set on Sunday — a maze of spooky venues had been erected. There was a Mortuary of smoky, lit-up graves complete with haunted house, a Lightning Skull art installation, and a path of massive candles that purported to offer forgiveness at the end of your journey. I didn’t venture down their path to find out, though.

Later in the trip, our driver would explain that Voodoo is recognized as an official religion in New Orleans, and a rather terrifying ghost tour would unpack some of the other supernatural forces at work in The Big Easy. On Friday — and throughout the rest of the weekend — little paranormal moments popped up in between a set of sparkle pop from Brooklyn-based duo Chairlift, turnt, slinky hollering from Rae Sremmurd, and face-melting blues-rock fusion from Reignwolf. The city’s wonderfully weird independent streak even seemed to overpower The Weeknd’s cold and immaculate toxic R&B.

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