The last weekend of April will find tens of thousands of music lovers descending on Sooner territory in the name of fun and live music. Norman Music Festival, now in its third year, will be held in downtown Norman on and around Main Street Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24.
There seems to be a large uproar of media buzz and press coverage for the festival this year, and it is well deserved.
The event has morphed and progressed in a manner that any festival planner should take note: The 2010 festival offers double the amount of performers and musicians from last year's and has successfully evolved to span two days yet remains free and open to the public.
With more than 150 artists and more than one dozen stages, the weekend will offer something to all comers. Beyond the genre-hopping list of bands and singer-songwriters, the festival also presents DJs, stand-up comedy, short films, spoken word performances and a stage dedicated exclusively to children's entertainment.
The first day of the festival, while providing a diverse list of entertainment, will mostly garner momentum for the following day. Performances on Saturday start in the late afternoon, and most of the stages are indoors. Come Sunday however, streets will be shut down and the outdoor stages will be in full swing offering more than 12 hours of entertainment.
The festival's choice of Brooklyn-based Dirty Projectors as the headlining band is telling of the event's roots. Beyond the impressive crowds and large sum of money that the weekend will bring to local businesses and vendors, at its core the Norman Music Festival is devoted to up-and-coming and underground artists providing the mainstream with talent that they would otherwise be unaware of. The eclectic and layered art rock of Dirty Projectors would easily fill a smoke laden club in the Lower East Side of Manhattan but to place them at the helm of the festival in a college town with a population of 100,000 is a testament to the organizer's foresight. Dirty Projectors takes the main stage at 9pm Sunday night.
But the organizers are just as happy to pull from Oklahoma and regional talent to fill out their roster as well.
Any Tulsan will be quick to notice Leon Russell listed on the schedule. He has enjoyed a high profile in 2010 and a resurgence of interest working in the studio and writing with Elton John and T-Bone Burnett in Los Angeles. Russell will be playing at the Jägermeister Stage (Main St. and Porter St.) on Sunday at 9pm. For those unable to attend the festival, he and his band will also be performing a celebratory show in Tulsa for Russell's 68th Birthday at the Osage Event Center, 951 W. 36th St. North, the previous evening of April 23.
The list of Tulsa's musical participants is not reduced to our historic icons, of course. Musical veterans like the Paul Benjaman Band and Tony Romanello and the Black Jackets will be performing in addition to some newer contributors to the Tulsa music scene.
Bands such as Dead Sea Choir, Fiawna Forte, Scales of Motion, Jesse Aycock, Cecada and Panda Resistance will all be demonstrating the viable and versatile musical artists that Tulsa has to offer.
"Norman Music Festival should be the standard for all small-town festivals," said Costa Stasinopoulos, the keyboard player and vocalist for Dead Sea Choir. The band has recently been enlisting local percussionist Jeff Porter to fill out its live sound and plans to include Chris Combs of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Gogo Plumbay as a special addition for a few songs during the festival. They will be performing largely new material from an album that is still in development Stasinopoulos said.
"The last album (Thin One the Red One) was tragic or something.
Maybe melodramatic. The new stuff is more direct. I'm trying to make it more accessible" he said.
This year will be the second year that Dead Sea Choir has performed at the Norman Music Festival. Last year, the band played early in the afternoon when the festival was a one-day event Stasinopoulos said, and the members were able to walk around for the rest of the day and enjoy other acts. This year, the band will be performing on the Main Stage (the 100 block of Main St.) at 1:40pm on Sunday.
Dougal Hansen of the ethereal folk rock band Cecada also held optimism for the music festival and its potential as a lasting cultural influence in Oklahoma. "I have high hopes for the Norman Music Festival and all of the people working on it," he said. "I'm really stoked that (the festival) continues to be an indie festival."
Hansen mentioned that Cecada, like Dead Sea Choir, is also in the middle of working on an album and its performance at the festival will consist of mostly new material. Cecada is scheduled to perform on Sunday at 1:45pm on the Black Watch Stage, 107 West Commanche St.
Also scheduled to perform on the Black Watch Stage is local music troubadour Jesse Aycock. Aycock has assembled a dynamic backing band for the festival including Eric Arndt on bass, Paul Benjaman on guitar, Nathan Price on drums and Chad Copelin on keys. "I'm super excited to play," Aycock said. "It seems like it is set up and planned really well. I've only heard great things about (the festival)" he said. Aycock will be performing songs from his upcoming EP Inside Out of Blue, which will be released in July. He is scheduled to perform at 7:15pm on Saturday.
"I'm excited to meet some new people and see some great bands," said Clay Welch guitarist for the hypnotic and emotive indie rock band The Panda Resistance. "It's still free for everyone, which is amazing."
While speaking with Welch, he touched on something much greater than the lack of entry fee. The idea of uniting artists from all parts of Oklahoma excited him and the networking possibilities were unlimited he said.
"There's a rift between cities," he said referring to Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Bands that regularly perform in their hometowns do not pursue fan bases on the other side of the Turner Turnpike, he said. Welch sees the festival as a great opportunity for bands to meet, enjoy each other's sets and lay the foundation for a musical cross-pollination. Ultimately, that is what the festival is all about, bringing together a congregation under the guise of music, community and fun. Be sure to check out normanmusicfestival.com for a full schedule of bands and events.
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