If the ongoing rain and advent of the baseball season haven't signaled it for you already, the festival season is a sure sign for music and outdoors lovers that summer is just around the corner.
By now, Mayfest has become an institution for many Tulsans--and rightly so. Our spring festival, scheduled for May 14-17, has seen its lean years from shifting locations around the downtown area and still finding a way to thrive.
I'll admit that I often don't give Mayfest the credit it deserves: it's a great family event, gives some great exposure to the arts, puts many local musicians in front of a diverse, moving audience and is a great promotional event for downtown Tulsa.
This is the 37th year for Tulsa's Mayfest, an impressive mark. That milestone is even more remarkable when you know that Fort Worth, Texas had its own Mayfest, which was also established in 1973, but was cancelled this year with hopes of returning in 2010.
But our "little festival that could" continues to chug along, championing the arts. Perhaps sharpened by the Blue Dome Arts Festival popping up a block away during the same weekend, Mayfest has stepped up its game and appears to be even stronger.
As a music lover, I know this year's lineup of artists and bands is one of the strongest seen in years. Yes, having a weekend anchored by a couple of mid-level national headliners (Sister Hazel on Friday and The Old 97's on Saturday) doesn't hurt, but the selection of local acts is more impressive. The lineup represents a better cross section of Green Country's best talent.
On Thursday, jazz and salsa rule the evening as Latin American Rhythm Ensemble, Salsa Rhythm Project and Trust Tree take over Bartlett Square at 5th and Main. Stillwater Jazz, Annie Ellicott with the Brian Haas Trio and Grady Nichols light up the Main Stage on the Green. Even so, Americana and rock fans will be able to get their fix with South 40 and Dirtfoot at 4th and Boston.
Once the weekend arrives, the music livens up even more as Friday evening's entertainment kicks off at 5pm on all three stages. The 4th and Boston stage proves to be the most eclectic, mixing pop vocals (Cheyenne Taylor) and singer/songwriter fare (Susan Herndon) with acoustic bluegrass (Rockin' Acoustic Circus), reggae (Sam and the Stylees) and Irish folk/punk (Larkin). The mix will definitely make for a fun evening; and although it all culminates with the rowdiness of Larkin, you'll want to check out Rockin' Acoustic Circus for at a bit before moving along.
Meanwhile, the Bartlett Square stage spotlights some of our brightest pop and rock acts all evening long with Theodress Avery, My Solstice, RadioRadio and Callupsie. Curiously enough, the Main Stage takes a country slant with Round Up Boys, Brandon Jenkins and My Tea Kind (although MTK does lean more into jam-band territory) before switching gears to mainstream pop for headliner Sister Hazel at 9pm.
In contrast, Saturday night's Main Stage lineup starts out on the pop/rock side of the equation with Keyless Entry (yes, the guys from Holland Hall that UTW told you about a couple of months ago), Scott McCurry and Stars Go Dim before going the alt-country route with the weekend's biggest act, The Old 97's.
All the while, Bartlett Square features Americana and Red Dirt with Travis Kidd, Mama Sweet, Brian Capps and Red Dirt Rangers. And just in case you're afraid Mayfest is starting to turn its back on jazz, never fear. The 4th and Boston stage starts out with pop vocalists Mollie Lewis, Jennifer Nichols, Mandy Hill and George Lyman, but Tulsa's elder-statesman of jazz, Earl Clark, returns to Mayfest with Spectrum at 7pm. Clark is followed by singer/songwriter Shake Anderson at 8:15pm and jazz vocalist Starr Fisher at 9:30pm.
This is possibly the strongest and most well-rounded entertainment lineup Mayfest has presented in the past five years.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Tulsa musician's stepped up and the festival saw more applications this year than in the past, but Performing Arts co-chairs Eric and Sarah Gomez deserve credit for picking (and scheduling) wisely. If there's even been a year to stay out late at Mayfest and take it all in, this is the year.
No Sophomore Slump
Roughly two and a half years after the release of his debut disc, Painted in a Corner, local singer-songwriter Josh James has returned to action with Asbestos Honey. He's maturing well with time, though he hasn't tinkered much with his approach. He's still primarily a songwriter at heart; and while he still swings from bluesy pop grooves to mellow introspection, he's also become far more consistent in his songwriting and delivery.
Although James comes out of the gate a little heavy handed with "Truth," he quickly gets his bearings and settles into a comfortable pocket that makes this disc a much more satisfying release. The second track, "Rock Alone," finds the perfect balance between California rock and Midwestern pop hinting at Gram Parsons and the Eagles as much Mellencamp and Seger. The streak continues on with "Ball and Chain," allowing him to find his groove and reveal a little more depth and soul in his vocals and delivery.
My biggest hesitation with James has always been his delivery. He's a master of restraint, with a smooth almost whisper-sung vocal style. Asbestos Honey sees his vocals mature and work to his advantage, keeping the focus on the lyrics and song structures. Even so, I'm still waiting to hear him let go with a deep and bluesy howl that fits with his rather imposing stature.
Armed with a new batch of songs and backing band for occasional rock gigs to offset his solo acoustic performances, James is set on moving forward with his music career and has put himself in position to do just that with this CD. Hooking up with a band was a wise move in that it should help him move out of the coffeehouse circuit and start playing at more venues.
If you haven't heard Josh James previously or just need to catch up with what he's currently up to, he'll be at Ida Red in Brookside Friday night, May 15. It's the official CD release party for Asbestos Honey and James will be performing a solo acoustic set to roll out the new songs.
Considering the lineup and number of bands that Mayfest provides this weekend, you shouldn't need much more to get you out the door. Even so, there are still a handful of good shows that will make it worth going out.
Thursday night is busy on downtown's Main Street with shows at Cain's Ballroom and The Marquee. The big show on May 14 is probably 311 at the Ballroom with Full Service opening. Even so, I'll lay my money on The Sounds (see "Sound Off" online at www.urbantulsa.com for more) being your best bet with the band's mix of modern dance rock and retro-chic new wave. Hey Champ and Kids at the Bar kick things off around 7pm.
Friday night offers a few cool choices like Panda Resistance with Chris Combs at Soundpony or the aforementioned Josh James CD release at Ida Red. Even so, if you're looking for something eclectic and fun, you need to stop in at All Souls as the Acoustic Coffeehouse series wraps up the spring season Friday night. Klondike 5 String Band opens the gig, which is cool enough, but the headliner, Boulder Acoustic Society, is one I've been looking forward to for months. Find a way to mesh bluegrass, jam-band, groove-rock and folk into one package and you might get something akin to BAS. These guys are young, brash, unapologetic and immeasurably cool. It's too bad this show falls on the same weekend as Mayfest, because a good segment of the festival crowd would go nuts for these guys.
On Saturday night, Dustin Pittsley rocks Arnie's, right in the heart Blue Dome district. If blues is your thing, he's the real deal. Even so, Saturday's real stealth show is Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey at The Marquee with Callupsie and Ptiaradactyl.
Finally, if you didn't get enough jazz at Mayfest, or just don't feel like going home after the festival wraps up, stop at the Jazz Hall of Fame for the Spring Concert series. Sunday spotlights featured guest Jambalaya Jass Band at 5pm. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and college students, and $5 for students.
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