Last week, the first phase of the seventh-annual Diversafest music conference and festival (July 25-26 in downtown Tulsa's Blue Dome district) lineup was unveiled during a press conference that was held at downtown's boutique gift shop Dwelling Spaces. Cofounders Tom Green and his wife Angie Devore-Green, sitting with festival committee members Davit Souders, Paige Laughlin and UTW's own Gary K. Hizer, made the announcement on Wednesday, April 23. Reporters, cameramen, photographers, musicians and businessmen and women from across the Tulsa area witnessed and recorded the proceedings with the kind of anticipation and reverie expected after the spectacular breakthrough of 2007's festival.
With 120 bands, 40,000 people in attendance and the first T-Town Flaming Lips performance in 8 years, 2007's Dfest marked a turning point for the city. The success of the event not only transformed our ghostly downtown into a viable Big Event platform, it also placed us on the festival circuit radar (something increasingly important as festivals become more vital to the growth and exposure of talent).
Undoubtedly, a large part of that draw stemmed from the Flaming Lips alone. The band routinely fills arenas, and it's not far-fetched to assume that close to half of those 40,000 were lured in by the Lips and the Lips alone. This argument is made all the more compelling when you consider that the year before, the festival attendance numbers were less than half of 40,000. It's not inconceivable for the numbers to double from year to year based on the successful promotion of the festival-at-large, and Dfest certainly has led a charmed life thus far.
But 40,000 patrons is a huge number for Tulsa, and unless they plan on bringing a band with the same draw as the Flaming Lips every year, it's possible that 2007 saw the ceiling of Dfest's growth potential. All things considered, 2008 looks to be an even more pivotal, make-or-break year than 2007. Eyes will be on the festival, both locally and abroad, to see if Green & Co. can successfully parlay last year's momentum into something that will cement Dfest, once and for all, as something other than a one-hit wonder.
During an interview several months ago (UTW's Spring Thing Guide, pg. 43), Mr. Green alluded to the fact that he wasn't interested in trying to top the spectacle of the Flaming Lips by bringing in a band of equal or greater stature. This lack of interest is undoubtedly derived from the simple truth that it will probably not be possible to top the Lips with one band alone. Rumors have swirled around the possibility of either Wilco, Ryan Adams or the All American Rejects headlining this year, but whether true or not, those artists were noticeably absent from the names read by Green last Wednesday.
The Chosen Ones
Announced as the keynote speaker this year is Martin Atkins. Best-known as an industrial session drummer who's played with bands such as Pigface, Public Image Ltd., Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, Atkins is also an instructor at Columbia University and has written a book on the business of touring called "Tour Smart and Break the Band."
During the press conference, Green mentioned that if he'd had Atkins' book seven years ago, Dfest likely wouldn't exist (presumably because the Greens would've been much more successful with their band, Ultrafix, had they followed Atkins' teaching).
The first group of local and regional bands confirmed was largely comprised of the usual suspects; Cheyenne, Unwed Sailor, Ryan Lindsey, Callupsie, Ghosts, Red Dirt Rangers, Jesse Aycock, Congress of a Crow, PDA, Admiral Twin, Sam and the Stylees, The Starkweather Boys, The Effects, Colourmusic and El Paso Hot Button were among the several dozen artists named on Wednesday. Though many of them did not perform last year, the local list named thus far comprises a "who's who" of Oklahoma music, with only a few glaring exceptions that will hopefully be listed at a later date.
A slew of potential players remain unnamed. Tulsa gems Black Swan, Here is There, I Said Stop!, Vandevander, Straight Lines, Cecada, Fiawna Forte, John Moreland and Kawnar have yet to fill the roster, while Norman/OKC/Stillwater acts The Starlight Mints, Evangelicals, Kunek, Student Film, Mayola, Ali Harter and Samantha Crain are all missing in action for the time-being.
The first round of national headliners is comprised of a mixture of old-guard acts with cult followings (Helmet, Zappa Does Zappa), MySpace generation pop-punk buzz-builders (Paramore, Edison Glass) and experimental genre hybrids known to circulate the festival scene (The Disco Biscuits, Ghostland Observatory). Interesting, the lineup largely avoids demographic cross-breeding; few of the 'tween fans of faux mall-punkers Paramore are likely to be drawn to the groundbreaking old school hardcore of Helmet (or to even know who Helmet is). Likewise, the largely youth-group skewed fan base of Edison Glass will probably avoid the substance-friendly psychedelia of the electro-jamming Disco Biscuits.
This kind of amped-up "something for everybody" friendliness (a trait that Dfest has become known for) may succeed at filling in the large void left by the Lips (not to mention Leon Russell, who also headlined last year), but the question remains: Is there an ace that remains up Green's sleeve? Who will be announced at the next press conference in May?
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