With Free Tulsa now upon us, the excitement has built, but it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices at hand. You can rest assured that with over 150 artists performing over the weekend, there will definitely be some great shows to be seen. On the flip side of the coin, there will also be some awful ones and you'll have to sift through the trash to get to the treasures.
Although this is by no means the be-all, end-all guide to Free Tulsa bands and as of press time, the weekend's schedule was still to be completely confirmed, we've scanned the lineup and have made some notes on a few of your safest bets to make sure to have a good Free Tulsa experience.
By all means, if you're a regular on the local music scene, do take the time to support your favorites, but you won't get the most out of the weekend if you don't take the opportunity to check out something new and see who is bubbling just under the surface, ready to become the next big thing. That said, this list of highlights may not apply to you, since you already know and have seen the best of the best.
For anyone who is uninitiated or unfamiliar outside your own niche, however, we've put together a few highlights to point you in the right direction and give a little variety to the weekend. Of course, the easy way out is to park at one of the two main stages for the evening and some of those bands are listed here, but there's much more going on and you'd be remiss to not check out at least a few of the additional stages and see who's really making an impact in our local clubs. With that in mind, here are our recommendations and best bets for your weekend at Free Tulsa.
The music starts at 6pm, but we know that everyone will be wandering around and trying to settle in for the first hour. By the time 7pm arrives, however, the crowds should be ready for a good music fix to get things started. If you're a pop music fan, you can't go wrong with the piano-pop of Apollo on the McNellie's Main stage. The band that stole a buzz and lots of attention last year continues to mature and add layers to a sound that mixes current influences like Snow Patrol and Maroon 5. Kenzie & Kendal promise to create this year's biggest buzz as the duo plays the first of two shows over the weekend in a full set at McNellie's upstairs stage while Pretty Black Chains opens its night with an acoustic set at Dwelling Spaces, all at 7pm.
Damion Shade and The Savage Young at McNellie's is my pick for the 8pm hour, a solid representation of what's going right with the local club scene with strong songwriting and a soulful front man that proves indie rock isn't just for indie snobs.
The 9pm hour creates another quandary as last year's breakout act, Rude Amps returns to Free Tulsa with a high energy set on McNellie's Main Stage. Meanwhile, Kenzie & Kendal reveal a more intimate side with an acoustic set at Dwelling Spaces. The real scene stealer, however, just might be Quiet Corral on the Blackwatch Stage. This Lawrence, KS band brings a unique blend of indie rock aesthetic and folk and Americana tinged influences to create something truly special.
Although many may disperse or float between acts at 10pm, I'll be camped out at the Blackwatch Stage for Sherree Chamberlain. As one of the best female songwriters in Oklahoma, you shouldn't miss it when she makes a rare appearance in Tulsa, because you never know when she'll make it back to town.
At 11pm, it's hard to not hang out for more at the Blackwatch Stage with one of Norman's most engaging rock bands, Depth & Current. If anyone is going to tear you away, however, it's got to be LoHawk. Free Tulsa brings what will be only the second performance by the quartet that sees Brian Haas (of JFJO) join forces with Callupsie's Aaron Hamby, drummer Andrew Bones and Matt Edwards.
This is what a festival like this is all about.
As midnight rolls around, I believe you shock rock your socks off and although I've said it before, I'll say it again: Pretty Black Chains is one of Oklahoma's best pure rock bands. The group's fully electrified show on the Blackwatch Stage will prove it. If you're ready to mix things up before the evening wraps, however, Snorlaxx will bring some hip-hop to this predominantly indie-rock festival with a show on the Dilly Deli/Dustbowl patio.
Fassler Hall has a great lineup all weekend long, but Saturday is when it mixes up its otherwise normally scheduled programming. Kick things off right with a jazzy set that sees Annie Ellicott and Amy Cottingham join forces at 6:45 and wreck your expectations for the rest of the weekend.
At 7pm, Scales of Motion takes the Dilly Deli/Dustbowl patio stage to not only celebrate the release of this year's stellar disc, Nocturnes, but also what essentially equates to the band's 10th anniversary to make for a special show. Meanwhile, Roger Jaeger adds an acoustic set to Dwelling Spaces schedule as one of that room's highlights of the night.
At 8pm be sure to stop by Woody's to check out Lunar City, as the experimental indie-rock band sets the bar's normal aesthetic on ear and uses this show as a release party for its debut CD. Stop in, check it out and get the new disc now.
At 9pm, it's hard to deny Fiawna Forte your attention. If you go anywhere near the Blackwatch Stage, she'll draw you in and keep you captivated -- that's just how she works. Free Tulsa is just another exercise in group captivation for her, but it's always a great show. The only other real option is sliding in to Back Alley Blues to see Travis Fite, who continually floats under the radar in Tulsa yet somehow influences more players here than you can count.
And There Stand Empires is the iconic experimental band that you can't miss at 10pm, throwing down with a monstrous sound in Fassler Hall that will make the "New Tulsa Sound" crowd's head spin. Gargantuan riffs, double bass, crazy drums -- yeah, this is the stuff -- and it's intelligent too. Seriously: it's a can't miss.
The only show more guaranteed to satisfy is Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey on the McNellie's Main Stage. Even if you're not normally a JFJO fan, the band's performance of the Chris Combs penned Race Riot Suite will make you a believer. Add in the fact that its being performed just a short distance from where it all went down and you've got the makings of one special performance. Jeff Southerland and Matt Leland will even be appearing to add horns to the mix.
Finally, wrap up your weekend at Midnight Saturday with whatever style makes you happiest: Chrome Pony brings indie synth-pop to the Blackwatch Stage, FM Pilots fills the pop-rock void at Woody's, Kawnar returns to town for a hip-hop set at the Dilly Deli/Dustbowl patio and Deer People finish things off for the indie-rock elite. As for me, however, I'll be partying with Tulsa's best new rock band, RL Jones at the McNellie's Main Stage to blow things out and leave a lasting impression.
Remember: no matter what your preference, with over 150 bands on hand, Free Tulsa has something for you. If these highlights don't fit your taste, throw them to the side and search out your favorites -- or follow the local buzz. After all, you won't find the next big thing if you aren't willing to be adventurous and try something new -- and new music is what Free Tulsa is supposed to be all about, so have fun with it.
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