That the 2011 Voodoo Music Experience dispatched the second Le Ritual Stage to expand the electro-focused Le Plur area and add an additional DJ venue should come as no surprise to anyone who made it out to City Park last Halloween or attended literally any other weekend music festival in the last 12-18 months. Last year’s return of the electronic tent was greeted by the most remarkably determined and enthusiastic fans I’d ever observed at a multi-day event, as the thousands-deep crowd of dub-step, techno and house fans consistently on hand each afternoon as the gates opened swelled ten-fold by sundown. At this summer’s Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the mass of humanity that repeatedly piled into the Boom Boom Tent was so suffocating that fire marshals were brought in when patrons made one final push for position as Girl Talk began his set. In recent years, Bonnaroo has liberated DJs from their once exclusive role as late night/early morning entertainers, and every event from Lollapalooza to Wakarusa is making more and more room for electronic music. It is not “the music of the future” as I had naively posited on a number of occasions since Voodoo 2010; it is overwhelmingly and unequivocally the music of today.
Swapping out a featured main stage for more DJ real estate was a justifiable, if not inevitable, decision on the part of Voodoo organizers. But the absence of a second huge home for nationally renown instrument-playing acts has had both a trickle-down and a trickle-up effect on the festival as a whole: not only is this year’s assortment of rising indie-rockers less robust than in years past, but the change has also forced more of those who did make the cut onto the smaller stages that normally host homegrown standouts for the majority of each day. The WWOZ stage supplements Rebirth Brass Band and Bonerama with Ozomatli, the reunited original Meters, and GIVERS; Preservation Hall has not only Lynn Drury, MyNameIsJohnMichael and Glen David Andrews, but Members of Morphine and Jeremy Lyons; and the Bingo! Parlor gets Portugal. The Man, X, Fitz and the Tantrums, Fishbone and Cheap Trick in addition to Le Carnival institutions Happy Talk and greatest band in the universe Rotary Downs.
At first blush this may seem like a purely negative development (and the loss of any number of exciting rock acts iced out due to the remixed format is certainly worthy of lament) but of the many memories from last year’s event I’ve been able to hang onto, two particular performances stand out in my mind – and both suggest the prospect of larger bands on smaller stages is not necessarily a bad thing. On Saturday, I took in The Whigs‘ wild-fire but confoundingly unsatisfying set from the enormous (and now-departed) Le Ritual Sony Stage a few hours before seeing The Eagles Of Death Metal nearly burn the Bingo! Tent to the ground. Where the Whigs’ rollicking three-man garage punk seemed to get lost among towering scaffolds and an expansive lawn, The Eagles of Death Metal – at nearly eye level with the nicely packed audience – exploded through what was most certainly a festival highlight for those who witnessed it.
When a band doesn’t require the amenities a main stage provides – room for elaborate light rigs and stage setups, anchor points for zip-lines or wire systems – I’d prefer to see them in as intimate a setting as possible, one in which their sound and presence is more likely to overwhelm the surroundings than the other way around. So many big names on such small stages may be a cause from concern for some potential concert-goes, but I’m primed and hopeful for some intense and magical moments.