Although most people are already thinking fall as football season arrives and the temperatures have finally broken slightly, summer hasn't really wrapped up yet. Being September, we've still got a few weeks of warm weather left, and what has become one of my favorite local music festivals of the year is still at hand.
If you haven't made the hour's drive out to Chandler for the Stone River Music Festival, you've missed out on one of the crown jewels of our local music scene. While Easter Island is always fun and a great way to kick off the season, Stone River has proven to be one of the most relaxing and laid back festivals I've attended to date. Whether or not that was the intention, I'm not sure, but it's certainly the by-product of a festival that is run by and populated with a close circle of family and friends.
If you're not familiar with the festival or its background, it got its start in 2010 as Dustin Pittsley and some friends discussed the possibility of doing something on the land that his parents owned. After gauging interest and getting a positive response, efforts were made to clear the land, create a stage and generally prepare the land for an influx of campers and musicians. As Pittsley described it, his father turned 40 acres into what feels like a national park.
Although that may sound like a stretch, it's not. The first thing I did after finding my camping spot last year was head out on a long walk to explore the land. The 40 acres are a beautiful mix of cleared land, forest area and walking trails that opened up a beautiful Oklahoma sunset.
Of course, it was all prepared to accommodate the festival and everything is in place to do that appropriately. Not only is the stage and listening area well established now and surrounded by a variety of arts, crafts and food vendors, as well as a general store, there are also three separate camping areas: one secluded and quiet, one more open and festive, and a third, where the bands tend to camp and congregate, that stays alive well into the wee hours of the morning with music and conversation.
The whole thing is family run and family friendly, with an eclectic mix of music fans that matches the mix of music and musicians. When asking how the festival developed, Vicki Pittsley (Dustin's mom) said "Jeff Martinson and Dustin asked if they could do something and we said sure. We didn't expect it to turn into something like this, but the family really got behind it and made it happen."
Even as the festival has grown and stretched out into its third year, it has still retained that family vibe. Run primarily by the Pittsley family with a few close friends and volunteers, everything feels close knit and comfortable, including the mix of bands.
Year over year, the mix of participating bands hasn't changed much, but that's because after helping establish the festival, Pittsley gave those that played previously an option to return and almost everyone wanted to come back and repeat the experience. Fortunately, that's not a bad thing as it provides an eclectic mix of acts that touches on a variety of styles without feeling like more of the same all weekend long.
Stone River Music Festival returns for its third year this weekend and runs from Friday evening, September 21 thru Sunday afternoon, September 23. Gates open at 5pm on Friday and the music starts at 7pm, with a lineup that fills the weekend with a variety of artists and styles.
Friday evening opens up with Klondike 5 String Band at 7pm, followed by the Big O Show at 8pm, Desi & Cody at 9pm and Travis Fite at 11pm, with the 10pm spot still to be decided. Music is only scheduled until midnight, but don't be surprised if it extends later with an extended jam session with Pittsley and other jumping on stage.
Saturday afternoon is traditionally more laid back and this year is no different, with an acoustic vibe carrying the early part of the day with Cory Morin opening the day at noon, followed by Steve Lidell at 1:20pm, Don White at 2:40pm and Travis Linville at 4pm.
Linville provides an easy transition into the evening lineup as Red Dirt Rangers take the stage at 5:20pm, followed by Brad James Band at 6:40pm, Wink Burcham at 8pm, Dustin Pittsley Band at 9:20pm, Randy Crouch at 10:40pm and Paul Benjaman Band at Midnight. Once Crouch takes the stage, however, all bets are off and I'll expect the rest of the night to run late in an extended session as he invites a variety of musicians on stage to join him.
Although Amber Pittsley (Dustin's wife) does a great job of keeping everything running on time, that's part of the charm and joy of the weekend: All of the musicians are friends, which gives the entire weekend a family and community feel. As a result, even though they do well at keeping to the schedule, things are still left open enough to allow for improvisation and when a jam session breaks out, they let it flow. After all, that's really what the weekend is about anyway, right?
If you're looking for a great way to wrap up your summer, Stone River Music Festival is one of your best options. Located roughly and hour west of Tulsa, 2.5 miles north of I-44 on Highway 18, the festival is far enough away to feel like you've escaped from your week, yet close enough to not feel exhausted when you return. Primitive camping is allowed on the site and it's a family friendly event, with children 10 and under admitted free with a paid adult.
Tickets are only $30 for the entire weekend if paid in advance via ticketstorm.com or the Stone River website with a $35 admission fee at the gate. Directions, more details and a full schedule can be found online at stonerivermusicfestival.com. Do your best to escape for the weekend and take this one in: I can promise from personal experience, you won't be disappointed.
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