CityBusiness 10.28.02

Oct 28, 2002

New Orleans City Business
October 28, 2002

Voodoo fest kicks up mojo to lure crowds
BY Keith Pandolfi, Staff Writer

It started out with a controversial name, paltry attendance and a torrential downpour. But in the past four years the Voodoo Music Experience has grown into a festival expected to draw nearly 90,000 fans from around the country to New Orleans this weekend.
Voodoo has always presented big-name acts. The reason behind its increase in attendance, says festival founder and New Orleanian Steve Rehage, can be summed up in one word: "Eminem."

In Voodoo's first year in 1999, only 18,000 fans showed up to a virtual tempest at City Park.

The next year's lineup, however, included controversial rap artist Eminem. Along with other acts such as Stone Temple Pilots and Cypress Hill, Eminem helped draw a crowd of about 65,000, an attendance increase of about 47,000 from the previous year.

This year's festival, which takes place Saturday, Nov. 2, at New Orleans City Park, will feature artists such as Macy Gray, No Doubt, The Crystal Method, Garbage and Counting Crows among others.

As it did last year, Voodoo will team with the House of Blues to present the week-Iong concert series Voodoo After Dark. This year's featured bands include local and national acts such as Better than Ezra, Los Hombres Calientes and The Wailers. A new addition to the festival is Road to Voodoo, during which three bands -Gov't Mule, Hed(pe) and Taproot -will perform in three different parts of the country during the week leading up to Voodoo. The tour ends Friday, Nov. 1, when the three bands perform at the House of Blues.

Along with booking bankable talent, Rehage says the biggest challenge in nurturing Voodoo has been finding enough sponsors. Festival sponsorship dollars peaked in 2000, he says, during the height of the dot-com boom.

But it's become increasingly difficult to find and maintain sponsors in a weakened economy. "We have about the same number of sponsors this year as we did our first year." he says. "It's strange since our audience has increased so much."

It's not just the economy that's held sponsors back. When Voodoo started in 1999, Rehage faced pressure from some companies that wanted him to change the name of the festival before agreeing to sponsor it. "Four years ago, no one wanted to be associated with the Voodoo name," he says. The festival was also boycotted by religious groups that found the name offensive.

Voodoo is produced by Rehage Entertainment, a production, marketing and management company with offices in New Orleans and New York. Other events owned or produced by Rehage include Planet Hoops, Yahoo! Internet Life Online Music Awards and the Revlon Run/Walk for Women.

Rehage says presenting the festival close to Halloween in New Orleans has been a marketing coup since the city is already a popular destination for Halloween revelers.

While last year's Voodoo festival included a stage for local acts, Rehage decided to go without one this year. "We had some of the city's best talent but they didn't have the draw I was comfortable with," he says. He attributes the low turnout to the fact people can see those acts several nights a week at local clubs. "We had about 200 people watching Marva Wright, but about 50,000 watching Tool," he says. "From a national standpoint, people want to see the bigger acts."

Jan Ramsey, publisher of Voodoo co-sponsor OffBeat magazine, says the music fans Voodoo caters to don't have a strong interest in New Orleans' indigenous music. "1 wish they would put the local stage back, though, since it could help strengthen the music scene," she says.

Ernest Collins, director of the Mayor's Office of Arts %26 Entertainment, says he's willing to talk with Rehage about reintroducing the local stage. "From our standpoint, we would love to see it come back, but we can't dictate to a promoter what he has to do," Collins says. "It's a challenge because of the types ofmusic being offered (at the festival) and the people attending. We had authentic New Orleans acts like Kermit Ruffins and Marva Wright, but the crowds just weren't into them."

Still, by drawing 90,000 people to New Orleans, Collins says Voodoo has a substantial economic impact, though no official studies have been done yet. Rehage says about 60% of Voodoo's fans come from outside of Louisiana. "A lot of the people coming are college kids from around the country," he says. "But Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York and Atlanta are our biggest draws."

While the '80s had hair bands and the '90s had grunge, Rehage says the biggest musical movement of the 21st century so far is electronica. "The electronic music scene is exploding," he says. To accommodate the growing audience for electronica, this year's Voodoo festival will feature a 30,OOO-square-foot laser-equipped tent specifically for electronic music