After eight years of growing into a nationally recognized music festival, Diversafest owners announced a tough economy has silenced this year's event, just two months before the scheduled event.
"We worked to the bitter end to see how we could make this happen," said Tom Green, co-founder and CEO of Dfest. "Honestly, it was not going to be the quality festival we wanted. To have to pull the plug on it was heartbreaking."
Growing from 12 bands and about 150 attendees at a bar downtown in 2002 to almost 70,000 people sharing the streets of the Blue Dome District for two days of music last year, Green said changes made in downtown and businesses struggling to stay afloat caused him and his wife, co-owner Angie Green, to call off the event.
After the streets cleared and the amps were loaded up after last year's Dfest, the festivals organizers began working to create 2010's event. But the staggering economy worked its way into affecting the businesses Green depended on to raise enough money to have the event. Green spoke with businesses that had sponsored the event for years as well as new businesses, but they were unable to help.
"A lot of people love our event and wanted to be a part of it, but their budgets just wouldn't allow them to be a part of it," he said.
Then, the barriers to keep Dfest out of the streets of Tulsa began to stack up -- production costs began to rise and past vendors of Dfest began increasing their prices. The music festival also began competing for sponsorship dollars with the addition of new venues downtown such as ONEOK Field. After battling the economy, Green raised the white flag in mid-May when Dfest was be put on hiatus.
"It is what it is," Green said. "There's no guidelines or rulebook for this."
But Green was sure of one thing -- he did not want to scale back the event.
"We have built a brand, and people expect a certain amount of quality and entertainment with that brand," he said.
Although Green would not share how much last year's Dfest cost, he said the cost of including details from creating emergency plans to renting parking lots adds up to much more than most people expect. Despite the cost, Green hopes that Dfest can once again rock the streets of Tulsa next year.
"I feel like if we do come back, Dfest will be bigger and stronger than ever," he said.
Although DFest will not be setting up stages this year, two other music festivals have stepped up to supply summertimers' demand for outdoor music.
The Black Gold Oklahoma Music Run is set for July 30-31 on First through Third Streets between S. Greenwood Avenue and S. Frankfort Avenue -- the weekend Dfest was scheduled to occur.
While Black Gold is not meant to fill the void of Dfest, it will thrive on the same roots that originally started Dfest. Creators of Black Gold said the two-day festival will highlight some of Tulsa's top talent.
"Basically, this festival is about Tulsa -- nothing else," said Donnie Rich, one of the three creators of Black Gold and the co-owner of Flytrap Music Hall.
And with about 75 bands and seven indoor and outdoor stages, Rich said he intends to have something for everyone, regardless of age and music taste.
"It can be one minute a country act on stage, and the next minute there is a hip-hop guy going on right after," he said. "We're getting everyone involved."
The streets will also be filled with vendors' tents showcasing anything from paintings to henna tattoos to balloon animals. The event will be pet-friendly, Rich said, with several watering holes set up for fans' furry friends.
The festival creators said they wanted to make this event bigger than the streets of downtown Tulsa. Jeff Martinson, creator behind Black Gold and owner of Eclipse Cultural House, hopes to supply more than just two days of music.
"There's a lot of talent in this city and state, and we want to bring attention to that," Martinson said. "In return, we want to funnel money back into a music supportive role to keep that talent going in the future."
After hearing Director of Orchestra Nathan Greenwood at Thomas Edison Preparatory School might be laid off after creating new classes and winning national awards his first year at the school, the three creators behind Black Gold decided the school's music department could use a helping hand.
"The budgets are being cut across the board, and obviously music and the arts are the things that are going first," Martinson said. "Anytime you can contribute to those areas, the help is huge, and now is a more important time than ever."
All proceeds from ticket sales at Black Gold will be awarded to the music department at Thomas Edison Preparatory School, with the creators of Black Gold originally hoping to save Greenwood's job. The news came as a surprise, especially to Greenwood who was preparing for hard months ahead.
Greenwood said when he learned he would be leaving the school, he immediately told the people who had made the school year a success.
"As soon as I found out, I let the kids know," he said. "It was a huge, painful blow."
But as the initial impact of that news died off and after Greenwood and the music department became the focus of Black Gold, the teacher received some more surprising news -- he would be keeping his job. After laying off several positions and rearranging teachers, some first-year teachers will be able to stand in the classroom once again. With the kind of recognition Greenwood has received and the funds being raised at Black Gold, Greenwood will be able to teach others about his love for the arts next year
Now, with a secured position for another year, Greenwood has been looking at ways to build the music department to help students continue to express themselves through the arts.
Several Edison students will get the chance to see art in action at the Black Gold festival. The creators of the event will give students a back stage pass to help out with the event. From unloading and loading equipment to performing, students will get a chance to learn about the side of the music business that is often overlooked.
Same Time, Same Dates
Across town during the Black Gold festival, more local and regional musicians will be showcasing their talents.
FreeTulsa 2010 will be taking place in the Brady Arts District on Main Street. The two-day music festival, which lands on the same weekend in July as Black Gold, will be presented by Crystal Pistol, Cain's Ballroom and Soundpony.
Again with this festival, all ages are welcome to listen in on some of Oklahoma's top talent, including Fiawna Forte, Dead Sea Choir and Stars Go Dim. FreeTulsa 2010 will also have posters and T-shirts by Tulsa artists along with free valet bicycle parking.
Although these two festivals might not bring in the tens of thousands that Dfest packed into Tulsa's streets, Martinson is glad Tulsans will have the chance to listen to the wide range of homegrown talent in Tulsa.
"We want to bring attention to how much talent is just sitting here," he said.
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