You'll have to forgive me if I'm still a little blurry eyed and my recollections of this past weekend's Dfest are a little hazy. I'm sure quite a few of you out there are suffering from similar afflictions, but mine actually wasn't the result of tipping back too many at the biggest, best block party downtown Tulsa has seen in years. No, believe it or not, I actually stepped back from the fun and volunteered to work at the festival again this year.
Is that a conflict of interest? I've asked myself that question a number of times and I still can't answer it unequivocally. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I really care at this point. Don't get me wrong, I'd loved to have kicked back and enjoyed the festival on my own timeline and agenda, but if I'm really going to support Tulsa's live music scene and our city's original bands, it takes more than just talk. Sometimes you've got to sweat a little.
I admittedly have an emotional investment in the festival. I was hooked by my first DFest experience in 2004 and after two years of attending and rambling on about how important it was decided I needed to do more than just talk about it, so I volunteered to work at the event. After all, actions speak louder than words, right?
Anyway, I won't bother claiming my opinions aren't tainted, but I did get to see and experience some of the chaos behind the scenes, so here are a few of my thoughts on this year's DFest.
Behind the Curtain
So what was it like behind the scenes? In a word: stressful. The first day is always the hardest, but pulling off an event of this size looks nearly impossible when you get started.
Picture this: Friday, 8am, the streets haven't been closed yet, traffic is unaffected and very little has arrived. Fortunately, the main stage and majority of the fencing were erected on Thursday and all of the indoor stages are already in place (good thing since most of the clubs won't be unlocked until roughly 3pm), so it's primarily the outdoor stuff that needs to be done. Still, the conversation in your head says there's no way in hell there's going to be a festival tonight.
Roadblocks go up to close the streets and vendors and equipment (including the second stage) start arriving around 10am so setup can begin, but it still appears improbable at best.
By about 5pm you're thinking, "If we really bust our butts for the next two hours, we might actually pull this off." Miraculously, it all comes together (as it always does) in the last hour or two before the festival begins.
From there you're up and running, but constantly on the go making sure nothing has been missed. What could be left to stress over, right? Oh, maybe stuff like blowing power.
(Luckily, that one was during soundcheck and a quick visit from PSO got it taken care of without too much down time.) Or perhaps a sound engineer knocking over a drink and spilling it into a guitar amp. Then there's the small matter of the Fire Marshall flipping out over crowd sizes. It's all just another day at the office... err, festival.
Let's cut to the chase, shall we? Everybody wants to know who the best acts of the weekend were. Unfortunately, because I was working and continually running from stage to stage, I didn't actually get to see a lot of bands, but I can account for the following, either from personal experience or overwhelming consensus:
First things first, The Flaming Lips, the band everyone wants to know about. Personally I was never afforded the time or opportunity to find my way to the main stage on Friday night, but from every report I heard, the band (and the stage show) more than lived up to its reputation. These four things I can attest to: (1) the band sounded great, even from blocks away; (2) nearly everyone was talking about how great the show was afterwards; (3) I was still finding confetti in the streets, blocks away from the main stage; and (4) it was inspiring enough for my wife, who is not a Flaming Lips fan, to roll over at 4am and out of a dead sleep still proclaim the UFO (and band) "freaking cool."
What you may not realize is just how packed The Lips show really was. And when I say packed I mean "no more get in, even if someone goes out" packed. I don't have an exact number, but at one point I heard an estimated 11,000 people crowded the main stage site on Friday night.
Meanwhile, even before the Flaming Lips finished their set, Shiny Toy Guns maxed out capacity at the Second Stage and had the Fire Marshall absolutely flipping out. To alleviate the problem, we opened up the gates in the back for an additional exit and folded back the gates in the front so the crowd could spill out into First Street and down Elgin. It didn't hurt Shiny Toy Guns any that Wayne kept pimping them from the main stage, but it probably raised the Fire Marshall's blood pressure until we got more security in place and opened the gates at 1st and Elgin.
Returning to the Flaming Lips for a moment (sort of): the band's mercurial front man delivered the figurative "knockout punch" of the weekend at the conference on Saturday. What was billed as "An intimate conversation with Wayne Coyne" ended up not being a discourse between Coyne and friend/manager Scott Booker, but instead with various audience members, mediated by Booker. This was an interview that will undoubtedly add to The Lips' legend.
Looking for a few more DFest highlights? How about these:
My Friday night MVP award goes to The Stock Market Crash for playing the second stage and filling the slot that Stars of Track and Field left open when they backed out of the festival to open for the Smashing Pumpkins in San Francisco. TSMC sounded excellent, put on a great show and made sure nobody even thought about the other band.
Friday night's "best of" list also included Seis Pistos rocking a full house at The Loft (formerly Studio 310), country act True North as the most criminally overlooked treasure during the Flaming Lips' timeslot and Congress of a Crow's top flight set, which included a capacity crowd and a guest appearance by PDA that set off the crowd and nearly burst the building at its seams.
Saturday night was close, but the big winner of the night was Bang Bang Bang at Blank Slate. My wife proclaimed them the best of the weekend and the room was still buzzing twenty minutes after they finished their set. We've got to find a way to get these guys back to Tulsa for a show at the Cain's.
Other Saturday highlights included The Vanished putting on a killer set at the second stage (you'd have sworn they were playing to a hometown crowd if you didn't know better), Hannah Blaylock's amazing vocals at Dirty's, and The Hero Factor at Arnie's outdoor stage. That may sound like kissing up to a perennial local favorite, but the band sounded great and the audience packed the show to capacity amidst rumors of the band possibly breaking up.
Second stage co-headliners Limbeck and The Format can't go unmentioned either. Not only did they both deliver a better show than I expected, they drew a large enough crowd to necessitate opening the gates for a second night in a row to avoid a fire hazard.
Bonus Points for Effort
I've also got to give credit where credit is due and there are a few acts I'm aware of that really stepped up to the plate this weekend.
You couldn't tell by his performance, but Amos Lee had a trying 24 hours before taking the main stage at 11pm on Saturday. Originally scheduled to arrive on a non-stop from Newark on Friday evening, his flight was delayed then cancelled due to bad weather on the departing end and he was rescheduled for a Saturday morning flight, connecting in Dallas.
Once he arrived in DFW, Lee's connecting flight to Tulsa was delayed, then delayed, and delayed yet again. Finally, in order to make it to Dfest, he jumped in a rental car and made the drive himself, arriving roughly an hour before his performance time. Talk about grace under pressure...
If an award was given for sacrificing your body for the fans, it would have to go to Noah Richardson of Stevedore. Richardson literally dropped at the end of Stevedore's 10pm performance on the second stage and was transported out by EMTs. Noah was finally released around 3:30am on Saturday after being treated for heat exhaustion and dehydration.
And finally, Approaching August didn't have to race the clock or visit the hospital, but the band did step up when another act cancelled and played two full sets on Friday night, one in the unenviable time slot opposite the Flaming Lips.
Bonus points are also owed to South 40 and Brandon Clark Band for splitting the difference to cover for Brandon Hart's cancellation and Paul Benjamin for offering up his amp when Adam Aguilar's (2AM) combo got damaged.
Letdowns and Losers
Now, with 150 bands playing there was sure to be a few losers in the bunch. I'm sure I didn't catch all of the stinkers and for that I'm grateful, but I will call out a few.
First up, for minor offenses, Refuje played at 7pm Saturday on the Second Stage. They're young and nice kids, but Crooked X they're not. Sorry guys: stay in school and keep working on your chops.
Dirtfoot, from Louisiana, deserves a dishonorable mention for having a bad attitude, being rude to their stage manager and sound guys and for just sucking in general. I know The Lips were on at the same time, but they only drew maybe 50 people the entire time and Green Lemon packed the place as soon as they got off. Buh-bye...
Finally, Dangerous Rob started off by claiming he's the last gansta rapper in Tulsa then exited in under ten minutes, leaving even his stage manager and sound tech wondering if it was a joke. It wasn't. I don't care what pound you're certified by, Dogg, a few more shows like that and we won't have any gansta rappers in T-Town.
Hopefully last weekend's big event did more than serve as Tulsa's biggest street party of the year, but instead served as a wakeup call for music fans that had otherwise fallen dormant or gone into hiding. If you've been rejuvenated or newly inspired to support the local music scene, now is the time to get out and catch up on what you've been missing. There are plenty of shows and options around T-Town this week, so here are a few highlights to get you started:
If you haven't caught up with afterEIGHT recently, you need to get reacquainted. The ever-evolving band experienced another shift in the line-up over the winter resulting in Bryson Phillips taking over as front man, younger brother Shawn stepping in on bass, and guitarist Jonathan Williams joining the group.
In turn, the group has left behind the emo/screamo overtones of last year's disc, Better Late Than Never, in favor of a more direct and hook-oriented approach that aligns it more with bands like Anberlin and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. The re-vamped lineup was so impressive when I saw it for the first time (at the My Solstice CD release in June), I turned around and made a road trip to King of Clubs in Claremore two nights later to catch the band again.
No road trip is necessary this week as afterEight plays the Crush Lounge tonight (Thursday, August 2) with Kessler, The Secret State, The Thrill That Kills and My Solstice. Doors open at 7pm, the show starts at 8pm and tickets are only $8 so make sure to check it out.
On Friday night, August 3, Failsafe takes the local stage as the headline act at Bob's (next door to the Cain's Ballroom) with support from Alien 8, First Lady Assassins and the return of Fighting Tomorrow. Doors open at 7p and tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the show.
Just down the street, Mooch & Burn hosts My Solstice, Yes I Am and The Beautiful Losers on Friday night with a $5 admission. Meanwhile, Wink Burcham plays Arnie's Bar and Midnight Marauders invade Mercury Lounge, each with a $5 cover.
If you look to South Tulsa on August 3, Eyes Set to Kill plays the Crush Lounge with Take 'Em Down Lad, Emberson, Fiore, Flight 409 and Phaeton. Cover is $8 and doors open at 6:30pm.
On Saturday night, August 4, 69th and Lewis is the place to go for metal and screamo. The Otherside hosts "Summer Metal Heat" with Goodnight Fight, Surcease Angels, JorDan, Eighty Proof, The Company, Insert By Incision, They Were Outlaws, Fumar and Southern Lush for $8. A few doors down Blue Eyed Boy Death Machine plays the Crush Lounge with Hospice, Seperation From All, Aesthetic, Plague of Prophets, The Abyss Between Scapulae and The Thrill That Kills, sporting a $7 cover. Both shows begin at 7pm.
Also on Saturday night, David Cook (this year's ABoT/Urby winner for best local, indie produced album with Analog Heart) plays Boston's with Odd Man Out opening and a $5 cover. Looking downtown to the Blue Dome district, TJ McFarland plays Dirty's Tavern, Exit 6C hosts Tulsa's reggae godfather act, Local Hero, and Larkin rattles the windows at Arnie's. It's lead singer Chad Malone's birthday so expect the Guinness and Irish Whiskey to be flowing all night (as if the don't already any time Larkin shows up).
On a more serious note, The Blend Coffeehouse in Broken Arrow will be holding an Invisible Children Benefit Concert from noon until midnight on Saturday, August 4. The event will feature music from 16 bands, as well as Invisible Children merchandise and bracelets and all proceeds will go to the Invisible Children Inc.
Originally, the documentary film Invisible Children: Rough Cut (filmed in 2003) focused on the children of Northern Uganda who would flee their homes nightly, so as to not be abducted by the LRA (a rebel, guerilla army) and forced to serve as child soldiers in the country's civil war. On August 26, 2006, after roughly 18 years of insurgency, the Ugandan government and LRA signed a truce, calling for an end to the war. Since the truce, Invisible Children Inc. has turned its focus to the plight of the thousands of Ugandan citizens that have been displaced by the war. More information can be found online at www.invisiblechildren.org and will be available this weekend at The Blend.
Try and stop by even if only for a few minutes in the afternoon to check out a local musician or two to find out more and contribute to a worthy cause.
The rest of the week is dominated by big (and bigger) shows, starting with Against Me, Two Gallants and Gaslight Anthem at the Cain's on Tuesday, August 7. Tickets are $17.25 in advance or $20.25 at the door and the show starts at 8pm
The following night, August 8, Counting Crows brings its summer tour to Drillers Stadium with Collective Soul and Third Eye Blind as support acts. Tickets are $49.50 plus service charge and can be purchased online at www.gettix.net or in person at Reasor's or Starship Records and Tapes.
Looking a little further out, next Thursday night, August 9, will be a busy night in Tulsa as Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish play the Cain's ($25), Gin Blossoms appear at the Osage Event Center ($15) and The Feds hold a CD release party for A Touch of Panic at The Blank Slate.
Of course, if none of this suits your taste, be sure to check out UTW's weekly events calendar to find the band you're looking for. Just get out and support live music in Tulsa.
The Final Bed Check
Finally, local radio icon Jan Dean passed away last Wednesday, July 25, after a year long battle with Brain Stem Gioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Services were held in her honor on Friday, July 27, as her loss sent shockwaves through the local radio community. Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to Jan's family and dear friends.
Good night, Jan. We'll miss you.
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