Monday, November 28, 2011

Prudhoe Bay, Alaska

Misty morning in Prudhoe Bay
Published onIt's funny that of all the places that Ursa and I have traveled to over the course of the last couple years, and all the places that I've blogged about on here, that it has taken me so long to get around to writing about the place I get asked about the most, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska; and I suppose that's because it's where I work, therefor it's the place that I'm traveling to get away FROM.
So here's the lowdown on our life up here above the Arctic Circle. As that there are few if any, permanent settlements in such a remote location, and the oilfields are such a large and technical operation, manpower must be brought in from elsewhere. Consequently everyone here works on a rotational schedule for three weeks then flies home for three weeks off (some people prefer to adjust their schedules to two weeks on/two weeks off, or four and four but the principle is the same, I work for x weeks then my alternate takes over my job for x weeks). I work for CH2MHill, a contractor to British Petroleum and we provide various support and logistics for the on shore drilling rigs, and production facilities around the field (mostly moving various fluids used in the drilling process, to and from the rigs).
At first look, Prudhoe Bay can appear to be an extraordinarily bleak place, but those appearances can be deceiving. There are many natural wonders held by the arctic that one simply cannot see anywhere else in the world. As beautiful as it can be though, it is without a doubt one of the harshest and most unforgiving environments anywhere on the planet. As I'm writing this the ambient temperature outside is -31 F, and with the wind chill factor it is -51 F. The snow doesn't freeze in sticky flakes like you may be used to elsewhere, it's texture is more like sand, and when wind storms pick up it is very similar to being in a sandstorm, with visibility dropping to less than 10 feet. So it's safe to say that Mother Nature is not playing around when it comes to this place.
One terminology point I'd like to make is to explain that, as you can see on the attached map, Alaska's arctic coast curves slightly south between Point Barrow and the Canadian Border, this has given rise to a common reference to this area as the "North Slope", or rather, just "the Slope". I have found many people to be confused by this, calling it "the slopes" as though it is some form of ski resort; I can assure you, it is not. (There isn't so much as a hill for a hundred miles)


Meteorological phenomena in the arctic are one of my favorite things about this amazing place. A common point of confusion is the sun "never rising". This is true, there is a period of winter where the sun does not breach the horizon (the sun set on Thanksgiving day, and won't rise again until the second week in January), but it is not like it's inky black night for two months, there is still a good amount of residual daylight that does shine through during the daytime (much like the light before dawn or after dusk). What's really amazing though is when the sun does begin to rise and set again, the two events are timed very close together or even merged entirely, and they produce one long sunrise/set event that is absolutely stunning! It can last for hours, with the sun rising at, say, 11 in the morning then setting around 1 in the afternoon. After the winter solstice on December 22, we will begin gaining more and more daylight, usually around 8-11 minutes per day.
Moon Dogs
Sun dogs and moon dogs are another arctic phenomena, and are produced when ice crystals in the atmosphere appear to create a halo around the sun which is most apparent to the left and right of it, occasionally with one small sun dog just above the sun. Usually these ice crystals only form at very high elevations, but in the arctic it's cold enough that they form at ground level allowing us to more commonly see these effects. Moon dogs are the same as sun dogs except they are much more rare because, aside from the specific atmospheric conditions needed to produce them, the moon must also be full, or nearly full.
Aurora Borealis
The most famous meteorological event in the arctic is the amazing, Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. They wave like banners of light above the tundra, and cast an eerily beautiful glow across the arctic. The Auroras are caused by particles from the sun being forced to the north and south poles by the Earth's magnetic field, then burning up in the atmosphere. This year is expected to see an elevated level of solar activity, and consequently should result in a peak year for Auroras, so for those of my friends and coworkers here in Prudhoe Bay, keep looking up!

The wildlife in the arctic is fascinating to me because of their sheer resilience. It's always a surprising sight to see people bundled up in their parkas, and running for shelter only to have a raven sitting on a nearby storage bin glowering, and squawking at us, as if thinking to himself "you bunch of wusses". To think that these ravens can live in this environment all year round is awesome to me. They are cunning, tough, resourceful birds and are as much a symbol of the arctic to me as a polar bear or arctic fox.
I often get asked about the polar bears, and the truth is that while they are around, our oilfield is located on the coast, and the bears prefer to stay further out on the ice cap, closer to their primary source of food, the ringed seals. If we do see them, it's likely that they are young and having a hard time hunting and are starving, or that they're very old and can't hunt and are also starving, or that they are a sow with cubs. As it turns out, these are the three most dangerous times that you can encounter a bear of any type, so polar bear sightings are taken VERY seriously. More common for us on the coast though are the grizzly bears which, while prevalent, have been showing up with less frequency in recent years due to more strictly monitored regulations regarding the local landfill.
Arctic Fox
As a general rule, I try to leave the squeeing over fluffy animals to my girlfriend, Ursa, but even I have to admit that an arctic fox in his winter coat is one of the most adorable animals you'll ever see. Like the ravens, these little guys are very clever scavengers. Unfortunately, while they are sure to approach people looking for some scraps, feeding them is frowned upon because so many of them carry rabies.
Musk Ox
Another animal that is unique to this area is the muskox (which is not actually related so much to oxen, but rather more closely related to the goat). These gnarly beasts are notable for their thick layer of shaggy wool, and the curved horns on both the males and females. The inner layer of wool, known as qiviut, is one of the softest of all wools, and will not shrink in water of any temperature. It is also stronger, and eight times warmer than sheep's wool. It is highly prized around the world. The muskox travel in small herds of 10-24 and will band together in a defensive circle to protect their calves when danger is present.
King Eider
In the summer months Alaska's northern coast thaws and becomes a fertile wetland, and plays home to hundreds of species of migratory birds, as well as the caribou herds that make their annual migration here to feast on grasses and to be relatively free from predators. Species ranging from the large tundra swans to the tiny little snow buntings that flit around the construction yards. A variety of sandpipers can be seen around the edges of every pond, and ducks and geese abound. Also the ptarmigans with their feathery feet and king eiders are exciting viewing for birders.
Gathering Center #2
All of that, and I haven't even mentioned the oilfield yet. Make no mistake about it, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was one of the most important projects of the 20th Century. It's construction began in 1974 in response to the oil crisis which had beset America the previous year, and the pipeline and it's 11 pump stations were completed in 1977. When at full production it can pump more than 2 million barrels of crude per day to market, and to date it has shipped nearly 16 billion barrels of crude. But it's not just about the pipeline, this entire oilfield is in many ways a technological marvel. Keeping everything running smoothly in these conditions takes a great deal of engineering and planning in order to maintain one of the cleanest and safest oilfields in the world. As a point of clarification, there are many oilfields in the Prudhoe Bay area, the Prudhoe Bay field is just one of them; others include the Kuparuk field, Milne Point, and the Alpine field among others.
Rig Doyon 14
In the simplest terms the oilfield itself is laid out like this: Drill Sites are positioned all around the field, each drill site contains between 20 and 40 oil wells. Oil from those wells is collected and shipped, via pipeline, to Gathering Centers (also called Flow Stations); from there the oil goes through some processing to remove solids, and gasses, then gets sent to Pump 1, which is the beginning of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, where the oil gets shipped down the pipeline to market in Valdez. As for the oil wells, you can't just drill a well and forget about it; crude oil is extremely corrosive, so the wells must have periodic maintenance done to them. That maintenance is done with a drilling rig, which can pull corroded pipe out from downhole and replace it, or drill a new well if necessary. The role of the contractor that I work for is to bring materials to and from these drilling rigs to facilitate them doing their job. Obviously I'm simplifying this a great deal, and there are a lot of diverse activities going on but this is the most pedestrian explanation that I could come up with.


As that there are no permanent residents in Prudhoe Bay all of the oil companies and their contractors house their employees in work camps which are somewhat analogous to college dorms. The camp that Ursa and I stay at is a 400 man camp, called the Arctic Oilfield Hotel (AOH). While none of the camps in the area are much for amenities, it does have a community rec area with a couple pool tables, ping pong table, and poker table, also a sauna, and a small gym. Meals are served in the dining hall; we are fortunate enough to have some of the best food on the Slope at our camp, our cooks are very good. There is always a salad bar, and every dinner has options of fish, poultry/pork, or beef entrees; usually some sort of beans and some selection of steamed veggies. Sundays are prime rib night, and Wednesdays are steak nights. All in all, we get treated pretty well in the food department.

Home Cooking
One of Ursa's favorite dishes on the slope is a chicken curry salad that they make. Funny how Ursa liking it directly equates to it's appearance in my cookbook at home. I'm not sure about the salad that the kitchen at AOH makes, but this is the recipe that I like to use. It's super easy, and good. I like the sweet fruits balancing out the curry.

Curried Chicken Salad
1 3/4 Cups chicken broth
1 1/2 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast
1/2 Cup mayonnaise
1/2 Cup yogurt
5 teaspoons curry powder
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium red onion (chopped)
1 firm, ripe mango (peeled, pitted, and chopped)
1 Cup seedless red grapes (halved)
1/2 Cup salted, roasted cashews (coarsely chopped)

Bring 4 cups of water, plus chicken broth to a simmer in a 2-3 quart sauce pan. Add chicken and simmer, uncovered, for 6 minutes. Remove pan from heat and cover, let stand until chicken is cooked through (about 15 minutes). Transfer chicken to a plate and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Chop into 1/2 inch pieces.

While chicken is cooling, mix together mayonnaise, yogurt, curry powder, lime juice, honey, ginger, salt and pepper. Now add chicken, onion, mango, grapes, and cashews; stir together gently to combine.

Thanks for reading everybody, sorry there is no "Tunes" section this week, but Prudhoe Bay doesn't have much of a music scene. We'll be thawing out in sunny, southern California in a few weeks. So we shall see you all then. Bye!

Oh, Parka, you are my only friend!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Orleans, Louisiana

Hello again, everybody. Last week I posted my review of Voodoo Fest (the music festival we attended in New Orleans). But our trip to the Big Easy wasn't all just bands and booze, there was also one of the best tourist destinations in the country to explore.
Statue of Ignatius J Reilly
 Between the food, the music, the nightlife, and the culture; there's a lot to take in. New Orleans is unlike any city in America, as that it wasn't always a part of America. The foundation of American history is based around the Puritans seeking religious freedom from England, but not New Orleans, it was established as a French outpost to resupply the French merchant fleet bringing goods back from the Caribbean. As such, the city's layout, culture, and even attitudes reflect it's unique origins.
Like many cities that thrive on the tourist industry, New Orleans has built their infrastructure to make it easy to get around to the city's high points. The trolley system there is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world, and has been efficiently moving people around the city for 150 years, and is a wonderful way to see the city. It's cheap as well, only $1.25 for a one way fare.
I can honestly say that after our week stay, there was still a lot that was left undone.

The Sites

There are a lot of "musts" to take in while in New Orleans but a tour of the city's historic Garden District should be at the top of the list. Here you'll find mansions owned by celebrities and dillatants. These amazing homes are intrinsically linked to the history of the city, the district was the "American" district, built to rival the Creole's French Quarter. Many of the homes were built by wealthy American capitalists after New Orleans changed from French hands to American following the Louisiana Purchase; later, theey would be occupied by Union Officers after the fall of New Orleans during the Civil War, now renovated and lived in by celebrities such as Sandra Bullock, Archie Manning, Trent Reznor, Ann Rice, John Goodman, and Nicolas Cage amongst others. Beautiful, elegant homes!

Last year I celebrated Halloween by visiting Paris' amazing cemetery, Pere Lachaise, and this year I was fortunate enough to visit some of New Orleans' awesome, French style cemeteries. They are stunning, above ground tombs, with room inside for 2 caskets at a time. The caskets are left in place for one year and a day before being exhumed, and the remains placed into a small receptacle, then re-interred into an alcove at the bottom of the tomb to make room for the next member of the family. The neighborhoods around the French Quarter were traditionally Catholic, and therefore have more elaborate statuary on their tombs. One thing to note is that it's best to see the cemeteries as a part of a tour group, as that thieves have been known to target tourists at cemeteries.

One interesting stop to make while in New Orleans is taking a tour through Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, and see the warehouse where the majority of Mardi Gras floats get built. The majority of the props on the floats are made from sculpted styrofoam then covered with paper mache, then painted. The final products are trains capable of carrying 80 or more people laden with all manner of cups, beads, and coins to be tossed to the eager Mardi Gras crowds. All of the floats for the dozens of parades get redecorated every year according to the year's theme, and at Mardi Gras World you can take a look at the floats and props as they are reconstructed for the upcoming festival.

There is no discussion about New Orleans without bringing up it's famous French Quarter. The Quarter is not only the oldest neighborhood in the city, but the neighborhood as a whole is considered a National Historic Landmark, and is dotted with buildings of historic value. We took a Haunted History Tour through the area, which was cool in part because, visually, the Quarter has a beautiful, yet mysterious ambiance at night; as for the "ghost story" part of the tour, the truth is that these tours are really about the lost art of story telling, and are not so much about whether or not someone chooses to believe in the supernatural. The tour could have been just as aptly titled "New Orleans Macabre History Tour" because it's really about the history and the storyteller; nevertheless an extraordinary evening out.
I would be truely remiss if I failed to talk about the French Quarter's most famous avenue, Bourbon Street. The string of bars, restaurants, cabarets, and trinket shops really do amount to being Disneyland for drunks. New Orleans has no open container law, so you can come and go from any of the bars with your drinks provided that they are in plastic containers (no glass bottles on the street). So revelers can feel free to wander from one crazy party to the next to their heart's content. We had the additional privilege of visiting during Halloween weekend, which meant that Bourbon Street was crazier than normal (even by Bourbon Street's lofty standards) Here's a couple of things to watch out for though. First, don't drink anything unless you see the bartender make it, if it's pre-made than you probably don't want to know what went into it; and second, don't buy the vile shots from the waitresses (they are an overpriced ripoff, and you similarly don't want to know how they are made, see rule 1). Also, at the risk of sugar coating our Halloween/Bourbon Street experience, I need to mention that there was a really terrible shooting on Bourbon Street about a block from where we were celebrating, killing one man and injuring 10 more. The New Orleans mounted police cleared the area quickly and brought order to a horrible incident. Personally I don't feel like this accurately represents the city, and as scary as it was, it would not deter me from returning to New Orleans, but I can't pretend that it didn't happen.

The Food

Wow, where do you start the discussion of the food in New Orleans? This is one of the great foodie destinations not just in the country, but in the world. Look, you're not going to go wrong with anyplace you dine at in the Big Easy, but here's a couple suggestions. We started every day with coffee and beignets at Cafe Beignet. These marvelous pastries are one of the signature dishes of New Orleans and deserving of all the hype. For lunch, you need a muffuletta, (a regional sandwich loaded up with ham, salami, provolone, and a blend of black and green olives, anchovies, and garlic. The home of the muffuletta is Central Grocery in the French Quarter, but honestly, good luck getting in there. Expect to stand in a line.
For dinner you absolutely MUST treat yourself to an evening at the Commander's Palace in the historic New Orleans Garden District. This is the restaurant that introduced the world to legendary chef Paul Prudhomme, who left to become a culinary celebrity, turning the kitchen over to his understudy, Emeril Lagasse. Today the Chef at Commander's Palace is the wonderfully talented, Tory McPhail. The Commander's Palace is on a short list of the greatest restaurants in America. Just fyi: no shorts or t-shirts are allowed at the Commander's Palace (as one might expect from any fine dining establishment) so dress accordingly.

Home Cooking

I couldn't decide whether to include my recipe for beignets, or my recipe for etouffee. In the end I decided the only food that was more of a staple to my New Orleans food experience than Cafe Beignet was the crawfish etouffee that I had at nearly every meal either as an side dish or an entree. Besides that, my recipe for beignets, while good, does not do justice to the magic that happens in the fryers of Cafe Beignet.

Shrimp Etouffee

1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 medium onion
1/2 green bell pepper
1 sorano pepper
2 ribs celery
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups bottled clam juice
2 Tbs melted butter
1/2 tsp dried basil
3 scallions (part of the green tops included)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 lb shrimp (either popcorn shrimp, or large shrimp cut into bite sized pieces)
cooked rice

In a large skillet heat peanut oil then add flour to make roux. Cook the roux until golden brown. Add onion, bell pepper, sorano, celery, and garlic and mix until coated with roux, then slowly add in clam juice, stirring to combine. Cover and simmer until vegetables become tender. Add in butter, basil, scallions, lemon juice and return to a boil. Add shrimp (if the shrimp is raw, you may want to add it earlier to give it more time to cook). Serve over rice.

The Tunes

The only thing New Orleans is possibly better known for than it's food, is it's music. Great music venues abound such as Tipitina's, One Eyed Jack's, or Blue Nile, but there are many more to chose from. I recommend stopping by one of my favorite music websites, Jambase, to get an idea of who's playing where during your stay.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Make sure not to miss out on a chance to attend a show at Preservation Hall to see the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Preservation Hall was founded in the 1960's originally as a place to have older, local musicians play, and act as a draw to bring people into a gallery, but more people started showing up for the music than the art. Now the Hall defy's convention by being solely about the music played there, no drinks are served, and the only products sold are recordings of the jazz bands that play there, and a few rare recordings of local jazz artists. The Hall itself is small, only holding about a hundred people, so the sets are kind of short (about an hour) to accommodate several small crowds per night. The line to get in forms a little early, and can get rather long, so I recommend showing up around 7pm, or so to get a good spot in line. Regardless, it's worth the wait.

Shout out to my new friends from Ireland! Hope to see you all again, soon.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Voodoo Experience, 2011

For the 2011 edition of our Fall Music Festival Trip, Bird and I, accompanied by my brother-in-law Jack, chose to hit Voodoo Experience (commonly referred to as "Voodoo Fest" by the locals) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Held annually at City Park on Halloween Weekend; the three day festival covers a broad range of genres stretching from classic New Orleans Jazz at the Preservation Hall Stage to all electronic shows at the Le Pleur Stage, and of course a series of both up and coming and established hit makers on the main stage (Le Ritual) and two other stages featuring a variety of local and touring bands. This year the dates fell perfectly with Friday, Saturday, and Sunday being the festival dates, and Monday being Halloween; it was destined to be an epic weekend!
Some pre-ritual coffee and beignets
Compared to other festivals we've been to I would say that Voodoo Fest was well set up in the fact that they had a wonderful trolley system to get you to City Park, and a fleet of city buses to get everyone back to Bourbon Street after the shows had concluded at night. City Park itself is also very well designed for holding these kinds of events which was very nice. And finally there was the food. Hands down the best festival food of any festival we've been to. I gorged myself on crawfish etouffee, bread pudding with white chocolate sauce, and (freaky though it may sound) fried pickles that were positively addictive. And I would be completely remiss if I failed to mention our morning beignets, not a morning passed that we did not break our hangovers by having a trio of those delicious pasteries as well as a cup of stiff coffee at Cafe Beignet. I now understand why they have become such a signature dish for the city of New Orleans.

The Lineup

A-Trak, Achachay, Ani Defranco with Ivan Neville and Herlin Riley, Band of Horses, Bangerz, Blind Pilot, Blink-182, Bobby Rush, Bonerama, Boots Electric, Carmine P Filty, Cassy, Cheap Trick, Cheeky Blakk, City and Colour, Civil Twilight, Claude Vonstroke, Christoph Andersson, Daedelus, Dangermuffin, Danny Howells, Dave Malone, Del McCoury Band, Dirty South, Dr John, Fatboy Slim, Fishbone,
Fitz and the Tantrums, Fleur de Tease, Fort Knox Five, Girl Talk, Givers, Gordon Gano, Happy Talk Band, Higher Ground Drifters, Honey Island Swamp Band, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Iris May Tango, Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, Jackmaster, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Katey Red, Keller Williams, King Britt, King James, Kreashawn, Kyle Turley, Lee Burridge, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Ma Maison with Trey Mcintyre Project and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Major Lazer, Mastodon, Mates of State, Maya Jane Coles, Members of Morphine and Jeremy Lyons, Mike Relm, Miracle At, Mission Rail Co, Morning 40 Federation, My Chemical Romance, Mynameisjohnmichael, Natalie Mae and Her Unturned Tricks, Noisician Coalition, Odd Future, Ozomatli, Palmetto Bug Stompers, Peelander Z, Portugal. the Man, Quickie Mart, R Scully, Ray Davies, Red Baraat, Rotary Downs, Snoop Dogg, Social Distortion, Soul Rebels Brass Band, Soundgarden, Star Eyes, Steve Angello, Swiss Chriss, Tanner Ross, The Limousines, The New Orleans Bingo Show, The One AM Radio, The Original Meters, The Raconteurs, The Revivalists, The Sheep Dogs, The Static Jacks, The Stone Foxes, The Vettes, The Wombats, Three, Tony Skratchere, TV on the Radio, Voices of Black, Wolf + Lamb Experience, X, Z-Trip

Day 1

Force Feed Radio
We were excited to get our festival experience going and showed up extra early. We made a lap around City Park and got the lay of the land. This was going to be an easy festival to get around as that 3 of the 5 stages were very close to one another. We bought some beers and sat down to listen to Force Feed Radio at the electronic stage. I enjoy electronic music, and can appreciate the skill involved, but I'm not really into it enough to really discuss it intelligently, so I'll just say that it was enjoyable.
The Static Jacks
The first act that we really wanted to see was The Static Jacks. I had heard good things about them, and their studio stuff sounded good. I had expected them to be more punk for some reason, but they had a lot more 80's new wave influence which was very cool. It was a solid, energetic set. This being Halloween weekend and all, some of the bands wore costumes on stage as well, The Static Jacks came dressed as the Dead Rabbit Gang (depicted in the movie Gangs of New York). Cool choice.
From there we went to the next stage and checked out local jazz/funk band Fleur Debris quickly, then over to see the Wombats briefly before heading over to the main stage to see the tail end of Blind Pilot. Blind Pilot wasn't bad, a slow, warm, folksy sound was touching but maybe was misplaced as a main stage act. A more intimate stage would have been a better showcase for them.
Peelander Z
What Blind Pilot lacked in tempo was easily made up for by performance rockers, Peelander Z! This may not be a band that translates well into the studio, but they are definitely a band to experience. The energy they give off hits you like a tsunami! It's hard to describe the show of a group of punk/Japanese/cartoon/superheros, it's just something you've got to see. There was a stoppage in the show for a baseball break, Peelander Red sporting a sea monster costume, crowd surfing. . . crowd limboing. Insane, that shit was just insane! While probably not the best show musically, it was without a doubt one of the most fun shows I've ever been to. As Peelander Yellow described it, "We no play music. . . we play with all of you!"
From there we went over to the Preservation Hall Tent to see members of the band Morphine playing with Jeremy Lyons and calling themselves The Ever Expanding Elastic Waist Band. A very cool show, which was really a study in bass instruments, Lyons playing a 2 stringed bass guitar, Dana Colley playing a baritone sax, and Billy Conway on drums. It was a funky, jazzy sound that had a great groove to it.
We then made our way back to the main stage to see the night's headliners, beginning with Band of Horses. Funny thing about Band of Horses is that I've heard their music and I've heard that they are a good performing band, and those two thoughts always seemed incongruous to me. Whenever I listened to their music I just kind of assumed that they would be rather mediocre live, despite all reports to the contrary. Clearly my assumption was wrong (as assumptions often are). This was in fact a very good show, I was surprised at just how much Ben Bridwell smoked on stage though. It was Mellencampesque.
My Chemical Romance
Next up was My Chemical Romance. Now here was a show that was meant to be on a BIG stage! Gerard Way has a bombastic, theatric, and energetic stage presence. The band came out clad as characters from Camelot and began to thunder away. MCR's fusion of punk, glam, and prog rock translated very well to their live act and I thoroughly enjoyed their set.
Chris Cornell of Soundgarden
The final act of day 1 of Voodoo Fest was a band that I had been hoping to see since I was in high school, Soundgarden. I was excited last year to hear that the group would be reuniting and releasing a new album and clearly I wasn't the only one. When Soundgarden took the stage for the much anticipated set the crowd was electric! Even though they had a new album out, the band chose not to bog down their set with too much new music and instead opted to play classic hit, after classic hit, which nobody seemed to begrudge them. Chris Cornell was interesting in his interactions with the crowd, mentioning that this was his first trip to New Orleans that he actually remembers (since his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction) and told a story about New Orleans Police arresting their guitarist on the band's last trip to the Big Easy for a "tiny little bag of weed". Musically the band sounded sharp and Cornell's gutsy wailing hasn't lost a note. The light and stage production for Soundgarden was the best of the weekend as well. All in all it was a grunge kid's dream come true.

Day 2

We got to the festival a little later on the second day. I was geeked out on seeing Boots Electric and we showed up about an hour before they were to take the stage. We filled our time by getting some lemonade and watching Soul Rebels Brass Band, a fantastic New Orleans Jazz/rock/funk ensemble. Afterwords we got some food and found a nice spot in the grass by the main stage to see Boots Electric. The master plan for Day 2 was to camp out by the main stage because the lineup there looked so solid.
Boots Electric
For as high as I was on Boots Electric, I have to say that they were a real disappointment. They have an awesome studio album, but to say that it didn't translate to a live show would understate things. I will give lead singer, Jesse Hughes, some credit for having an entertaining onstage persona, but musically they sounded nothing like their studio stuff. I was expecting something funkier, something a little more Parliamentesque, and instead got some jangle rock fluff. They also, clearly didn't have enough original material, as indicated by the loooong pauses for dialogue in between songs.
Next up on the main stage, it was time to let the testosterone flow with prog metal monsters, Mastodon. I'm hot and cold when it comes to metal bands, but I'll tell you what, Mastodon has some serious talent. Every song seemed to have at least one of the band members diverge off into some ridiculously crafted, and technical solo, but they did a wonderful job of blending the solos into the rest of the song so it sounded seamless, not like some mid 80's hair band pompastic bullshit. I know that straight up metal isn't everyone's bag of tea, but if you like metal than you're sure to like Mastodon. The crowd at Mastodon was really into it as well, albeit a smaller crowd than I would have expected.
Social Distortion
We ducked out of Mastodon a little early to get some dinner (and to get me some more fried pickles which I couldn't stop eating all weekend long). Then we returned to the main stage for some Social Distortion. I've been a fan of Social D for a long time and they were one of the bands that had got me the most excited when I first saw the festival lineup. Having now seen them live I will say that Social D is a solid live show, not fantastic, but if you are a fan of their music, as I am, than you will not be disappointed.
Snoop Dogg
One act that I was intrigued in seeing was Kreashawn. The Oakland native writes and produces her own music as well as directs her own music videos. She's become a self made YouTube sensation, which has garnered her a major label deal. So I was curious to see what this do-it-yourselfer was all about. And frankly, she's not for me. Kreashawn had gotten her hooks into me with her hit, "Guchi Guchi" but the rest of her stuff was pure crap. We bailed early to head back to the main stage.
Though, apparently, we didn't bail out early enough because we didn't really get the best spot to see Snoop Dogg. But we weren't too bad and the crowd was really fun. I expected to have a good time seeing Snoop, but I didn't know that he would be THAT good of a live act! Great fan interaction, hot dancers, some great local rap talent joining him on stage. The Doggfather still knows how to put on a killer set!
New Orleans Bingo Parlor
We had decided to take in one of the headlining acts other than the main stage act on this night. Consequently we left the main stage before Blink 182 was set to perform and made our way over to see a show called New Orleans Bingo Parlor, at the stage which was named after them. What a unique experience! The Bingo Parlor is an interactive rock, and cabaret show (if that narrows things down at all for you). The show is kind of like rock and roll vaudeville; featuring comedy routines, cabaret dancers, and of course Bingo! Fun. . . Just good fun.

Day 3

The final day of Voodoo Experience really centered around three bands: Fishbone, Dr. John, and The Raconteurs; and everything else was gravy.
The day began with Fishbone, which was without a doubt one of the most off the hook shows I've ever seen! They had an immeasurable exuberance on stage, and a crowd that was totally crazy. Dr Madd Vibe (Angelo Moore) was an unstoppable ball of energy; cartwheeling, stage diving, mosh pitting, along with singing, playing a mean bass sax, and rocking out on the theremin (a strange electronic instrument which changes pitches based upon the proximity of the player's hands to the instrument's sensors). To tell you the truth, ska music doesn't make onto my iPod often enough, but I LOVE attending ska shows. There is nothing like the crowd at a good ska show!
Dr John
From Fishbone, we rushed straight away over to see New Orleans rock legend, Dr John and the Lower 911. It was a great opportunity to see Dr John, fresh off of his induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and it was made especially cool by the who's who of New Orleans greats that showed up to jam with him on stage. Grammy winning singer Irma Thomas was there, as was blues guitar great, Walter "the Wolfman" Washington, as well as Cyril Neville (best known for his work with The Meters). But the man of the hour was the Night Tripper himself, Dr John, who tore through a set of sizzling, swampy, funky blues. This is the kind of show you make sure to see not just because it's music from a master of his craft, but also because it's honestly a huge privilege to get to see the man himself. Thank you Dr John.
Portugal. The Man
After opening the day with those two amazing acts I was content to just bumble around to different stages to just browse what sounds were out there. The band that I gravitated towards was Portugal. The Man. As much as anything else I was interested to see how the band from my home of Anchorage (Portugal. The Man hails from Wasilla, AK) would be received by the New Orleans crowd. I was pleasantly surprised as they drew a large and excited crowd. I was equally impressed by the live showing by the band themselves. Their studio album would lead one to assume they are a laid back jam band, but live they are actually a solid rock band. A really great band that I'm looking forward to seeing soon.
It was inevitable that with such a strong start to the day, somebody was going to step up and completely underwhelm the crowd. That band, unfortunately, was TV on the Radio. I don't really begrudge TVOTR and I don't wanto to say that they were bad, but the truth is that they were really not a memorable act in comparison to the other bands of the day.
We left TV on the Radio early to catch a little bit of rock veterans, Cheap Trick. We really didn't stay long in part because frankly, Cheap Trick came off like a band that has spent the last three decades milking their previous success. It was very disappointing. Judging by the crowd, it was clear that some people had come to  this day of the festival specifically to see this band, and I'm sure that those people were not let down, but for a casual music fan like me I would have been far better off downloading Live at Budokan and calling it a day.
Jack White of the Raconteurs
A couple of let downs didn't dampen our spirits much because the best was yet to come. The best by far! The Raconteurs were the most talented band I've seen in a very long time, and I have an entirely new found respect for Jack White. He is without a doubt the most talented guitarist of his generation. The Raconteur's set ran the gamut between blistering rock, to outlaw country and slithering blues; this band really does have it all. It's great to see an amazing talent like Jack White, who is at the prime of his abilities, able to pick and choose the finest musicians to play with. This was an absolutely amazing band and a true pleasure to see. Jack White is my new guitar hero!

The Playlist

1)  Welcome to the Black Parade  My Chemical Romance
2)  I Want You to Want Me Cheap Trick
3)  Right Place, Wrong Time  Dr John
4)  Story of My Life  Social Distortion
5)  The Rockafeller Skank  Fatboy Slim
6)  Outshined  Soundgarden
7)  Into the Sun  The Static Jacks
8)  Pulled Over the Car  The Ever Expanding Elastic Waist Band
9)  Gin and Juice  Snoop Dogg
10) People Say  Portugal. The Man
11) Gucci Gucci  Kreashawn
12) Laredo  Band of Horses
13) Everyday Sunshine  Fishbone
14) Mad Tiger  Peelander Z
15) Money Grabber  Fitz and the Tantrums
16) Are You Ready?  Soul Rebels Brass Band
17) Cissy Strut  The Meters
18) Salute Your Solution  The Raconteurs
19) The Wolf is Loose  Mastodon
20) Boots Electric Theme  Boots Electric

Rollin' back to Bourbon Street