“The Tulsa Center of the Universe is a worn concrete circle, approximately thirty inches in diameter, within the middle of another circle made up of thirteen bricks. Overall the center is a little more than eight feet in diameter…
The center of the universe is an acoustic anomaly; when one stands in the center and makes a noise, the noise is echoed back several time louder than it was made. Imagine dropping a small pin and expecting to hear a tiny ‘tink’ as it hits the floor. Instead, the sound the pin makes is more like the loud crash of a gong.
While this is amazing, the truly amazing thing is that no one standing outside the circle can hear a thing. A foghorn could be going off in the center of the circle and those on the outside wouldn’t hear it. …Or rather, that’s how the legend goes.”
If you Google "Center of the Universe," that's merely one explanation you'll find for the downtown acoustic phenomenon that many Tulsans are aware of, even if not everyone makes a visit to confirm the legend on their own.
In reality, if you're standing outside the circle, you can indeed hear what's happening inside the ring, even if it's a bit distorted. When our city's latest music festival comes roaring out of the gate next weekend, however, we're sure the sound will be broadcast far and wide that Tulsa is ready to make a splash -- and this is just the beginning.
Of course, Tulsa has already proven it can host major music events, but after DFest closed down operations in 2010 due to economic and budget issues, the spotlight on our city as a summer music destination has perhaps dimmed a bit. Yes, Free Tulsa stepped in to try and fill the gap, but even it struggled with holding the public attention by featuring primarily Oklahoma based talent with no major headliners.
When word started spreading about a new festival via social networking sites this spring, however, a new buzz started forming while waiting for a formal announcement of what was to come. Although the Tulsa World beat festival organizers to the punch by running headlines that One Republic would launch its summer tour with a festival appearance in Tulsa (word got out when the band posted dates on its own website and Pollstar.com prior to festival announcements), the early leak may have just served to add to the anticipation.
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When the festival finally made its official announcement with a coming out party at the Guthrie Green, it proved to be something worth waiting for: A major music festival returns to downtown Tulsa, albeit with a new name, a different location, and a fresh look and business plan.
Center of the Universe brings new festivities to the Brady Arts District with music mere blocks from the acoustic landmark from which it adopts its name and a lineup that promises to not only give local talent a chance to shine, but also feature some major headliners and emerging artists that could put Tulsa back in the spotlight as a summer music destination, as well.
When discussing the event's origins with festival president Philip Kaiser and executive director Chris Leiberman last month, Kaiser shared that "Obviously, there was a vacuum left from when the other big festival in town (DFest) imploded. People have been dying for this, and people miss it, so about two years ago, Chris said 'We ought to put on a music festival' and my answer was 'Yeah, like I have the time to do that.'"
The idea came back to the surface in late 2012, however, as Leiberman and Kaiser discussed the newfound optimism in Tulsa and especially in the downtown area.
Despite a shortened timeline, Kaiser and Leiberman decided that now was the time to take action, before a large outside corporate entity came in to throw a festival and take the profits with it to another location. Basically, two native Tulsans decided to take it upon themselves to keep the business side of an event of this magnitude within Tulsa.
"We had been talking about this for two years," Leiberman shared, "but after the Route 66 Marathon (which Leiberman has been a part of for the past several years), in December we started getting serious and putting together a business plan."
Initial plans were looking at a more realistic date of launching the festival in 2014, but as Leiberman explained, "We met with Chad and Hunter (Rodgers, of Doc Roc Productions and Cain's Ballroom) to work with them and buy the talent, and it was their opinion that that was when we would start buying the talent anyway, so we decided we could put on a festival and do a good job with it this year."
Once the decision was made, Kaiser and Leiberman began assembling their staff and were off in a flurry of activity that has consumed nearly all of their free time ever since as they consistently work 14-16 hour days to prepare for the festival and all that will go into it.
Kaiser pointed out in June that Center of the Universe was established as a non-profit venture, stating "We care about Tulsa and are doing this for Tulsa. We wanted to do something for the people here and do something to keep people -- especially young people -- here and bring people in."
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Behind the scenes, what people don't see with Center of the Universe is how it is working to benefit Tulsa beyond just a weekend's economic impact. Submission fees from local and regional bands applying to play the festival were directed to support school music programs within Tulsa, and initial plans are for proceeds from any profit made by the festival to be directed toward a proposed trolley system within the Brady Arts District. Although much of the talent may be coming from outside, the festival itself is focused specifically on benefitting Tulsa in a number of ways.
What many people haven't had a chance to grasp yet is just how big the festival will be. This isn't just a couple of outdoor stages and a couple of cool bands. This is an expansive event in sheer real estate alone as the Main Stage will be set up at the North end of Main Street, just outside of Cain's Ballroom, with the festival grounds extending all the way to Archer along Main, as far west as Cheyenne with Downtown Lounge participating, and as far East as Elgin (for The Rusty Crane), with a second outdoor stage at Guthrie Green hosting an impressive collection of bands, as well.
More than one night of music, Center of the Universe takes over both Friday and Saturday nights, July 19-20, to create a full weekend for music fans. Once the mainstage bands finish playing at 10:30pm, the festival will carry on into the night with thirteen satellite venues hosting nearly 60 bands over the two evenings.
Although a detailed schedule was not available at press deadline, an early look at the lineup includes12 heavy hitters and local favorites such as Taddy Porter, Colourmusic, Stardeath & White Dwarfs, Andy Skib and The Wright Brothers along with regional acts like A Lion Named Roar, Nee and Plaid Dragon along with a long list of local staples like All About A Bubble, FM Pilots, SocietySociety, Fiawna Forte, We the Ghost and Dante & the Hawks. There's something for everyone with a broad cross-section of genres ranging from hip-hop to red dirt to indie rock to punk to singer/songwriter fare.
Participating club and satellite venues include Bar 46, Blu, Chimera, Club 209, Downtown Lounge, Hey Mambo, Hunt Club, Mason's, Oklahoma Joe's, Rusty Crane, Soundpony, Vanguard and The Yeti, effectively including almost all of the district's clubs in the festivities. Of course, there will also be a number of artists and street vendors on hand, as well as a broad selection of food trucks, so the streets will have the full festival atmosphere all weekend long.
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Undoubtedly, the main draw is expected to be the talent on the Main Stage and Guthrie Green, and for good reason. If a festival is going to draw more than just the faithful few that support the local scene, it's got to pull out the big guns, and Center of the Universe has done just that with a lineup that's aimed directly at the mainstream and mass appeal while working in a few emerging acts to open minds to new things -- and hopefully break down enough barriers to get the masses to stick around and learn just what our local music scene really has to offer.
On Friday night, Center of the Universe kicks off at 5pm with Tulsa's own Eric Himan on the Guthrie Green stage, rolling out music from his new CD, Gracefully. The Guthrie stage rolls on into the evening with a pair of bands that have take Austin by storm, The Wheeler Brothers at 6:30pm, followed by What Made Milwaukee Famous at 8pm. The night wraps up with The Mowgli's -- a band that just played a fabulous show at Vanguard on May 30 and has appeared on Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show upon releasing its new CD, Waiting for the Dawn, on June 18. This band is exploding nationally and will return to Tulsa, opening for Walk the Moon at Cain's Ballroom on October 10, so you'll want to check them out now.
Although the Guthrie Green should be packed, we all know the Main Stage will draw the largest crowds of the weekend and Friday night kicks off with Churchill (at 6pm), a band from Denver that has just started exploding nationally as the opener on Pink's U.S. tour and the summer festival circuit. Likewise, Mayer Hawthorne may not be well known in Tulsa (yet), but his blend of indie neo-soul with hip-hop underpinnings promises to launch him into the audio stratosphere as his new CD, Where Does This Door Go?, drops on July 16, just three days before arriving at Center of the Universe at 7:30pm on Friday.
The weekend's main event and scene stealer, however, is arguably the 9:30pm performance by One Republic -- the band that inadvertently stole the headlines from the festival itself. For those not familiar with One Republic, it's the group fronted by Tulsa native Ryan Tedder. Born in Tulsa, Tedder's family eventually moved to Colorado Springs, where he graduated high school before returning to attend Oral Roberts University. Although he finished with a B.A. in public relations and advertising, his path was set in a different direction as he produced demos in Nashville and honed his own songwriting and recording chops.
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Tedder signed a publishing deal in 2007 that covers all of his outside work as he has become a favored songwriting partner, writing or producing songs for a variety of artists including Adele, Carrie Underwood, Beyonce, Timbaland, Chris Cornell and Gavin DeGraw, to name just a few.
The real story this weekend, however, is that One Republic is launching its U.S. tour behind its new album, Native, with an appearance at Center of the Universe. The band exploded in 2007 with the singles "Apologize" and "Stop and Stare" from its debut album, Dreaming Out Loud. As a staple of pop radio, Tedder and One Republic have become a "Tier A" pop act, drawing extra attention to the festival with this appearance.
Although pop fans will love Friday's lineup, indie and alt-rock fans will likely be more impressed top to bottom with Saturday night's roster as MuteMath (already a favorite in Tulsa) opens the main stage at 5:30pm, followed at 7pm by OK Go -- the band that went viral with its 2009 video for "Here It Goes Again" and exploded into the mainstream. Neon Trees returns to Tulsa to headline the night with a 9pm performance that blurs lines between modern alt-rock and '80s synth pop.
The Guthrie Green stays busy as well with a lineup that was highlighted in Urban Tulsa Weekly last week as Bronze Radio Return opens the night at 5pm, followed by the indie/college rock of Quiet Company at 6:30pm, the New Orleans jazz of Rebirth Brass Band at 8pm and the undeniable funk and soul of Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band at 9:30pm.
With a lineup of major names and emerging artists this strong, it's no wonder Tulsa has already started buzzing about Center of the Universe, and our neighbors from across the state have taken notice as well. Beyond just drawing people for the headliners, though, this gives our local talent a much broader potential audience to impress with a more high profile platform to perform on.
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The real key to the festival, however, is just how you choose to enjoy it, and festival organizers have been doing their best to spread the word about the three options:
1) Be a VIP. If you want the best experience possible, you can purchase VIP tickets for $245 for the weekend or $122.50 for a single night. This includes access to the "VIP Zone" which includes the first 75 feet in front of the main stage, access to Cain's Ballroom (which will be converted into an expansive VIP Lounge with air conditioning, video feeds, and free beer), and access to the first ten feet in front of the Guthrie Green Stage.
2) A second tier, the BOK Zone, is being offered for $135 for the weekend or $67.50 per night, which allows access to the next 100 feet beyond the main stage, including access to the BOK Zone with beer vendors, misters and Oktoberfest tables in the Cain's parking lot adjacent to the main stage, as well as easy access to Yeti and Soundpony to escape the heat.
3) You can take it all in for free, including the Guthrie Green and all of the club venues, but access to view the main stage will begin over 200 feet back, or roughly the middle of the Brady Lawn. The festival will be broadcasting the main stage performances on large LED screens at the corner of Main & Cameron, however, with repeaters continuing the sound all the way down Main Street.
When asked about the pricing structure, Kaiser said that "When we were doing the budget, a big piece was deciding on a price. Do we want to have 10,000 people there paying $45 or 20,000 for free and let the VIPs pay for the bulk of it? We talked to a lot of people in the industry and did a lot of research and we decided it was important that most of the festival was free."
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Now that you've gotten the lowdown on Tulsa's newest music festival, all you've got to do is decide how you prefer to enjoy the show. Even if you decide to go with the free option, you still need tickets, which you can get online at centeroftheuniversefestival.com. BOK and VIP tickets can be purchased online as well, or in person at Ida Red (3336 S. Peoria Ave).
Do yourself a favor ahead of time and go online to view the full band list and performance schedule so you can plan your nights wisely and get the most out of your trip to The Center of the Universe.
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