In the past, Mayfest served as a marker for the opening of festival season with warm weather, carnival food, drinking in the streets and local music on every corner reminding us why we look forward to its annual return. As events like last weekend's Bixby BBQ & Blues Fest have taken root and Easter Island has moved to late April, however, we've got new signposts to begin the season.
That doesn't mean we don't still look forward to Mayfest, just that it doesn't really open the season anymore. With 2012 marking the festival's 40th anniversary, Mayfest is an annual tradition that has become a part of Tulsa's fabric. For many people, this may be the only time of year that the whole family visits downtown as Mayfest offers something for everyone.
On the music side, it often proves to be one of the only times during the year that many people enjoy local artists and the talent that Tulsa has to offer. For musicians, it's an opportunity to play in front of a different audience and pick up a few new fans.
With the weather already turning unseasonably warm, I doubt I'm the only one that's been looking forward to festival season. Clear skies, a mild breeze and a cold drink in my hand are always a little better with live music to wash it all down. With that said, I'm sure you can forgive me for glancing forward a week to see what we've got in store with this year's entertainment lineup.
A shift in the organizational committees has also meant a shift in the entertainment, and that's a mixed blessing. While there are a few stalwarts and old favorites missing, what Mayfest's performing artist roster has needed more than anything over the past few years has been a major shakeup, so we'll count this as a step in the right direction.
Although some of Tulsa's bigger names aren't currently scheduled, there are quite a few new artists and people I've heard very little (if any) from. Mayfest is not only giving them a chance to start building a following, but also giving listeners an opportunity to hear someone new. It's hard to not see this as a positive, especially considering the festival is a free event with such a broad demographic.
So what have we got to look forward to next week? Once again, Mayfest is offering up three stages: the Bartlett Square Stage (5th and Main), the David Cameron Community Stage (4th and Detroit) and the Williams Green stage (along 3rd Street, between Main and Boston). Let's dig in and break it down day by day.
Mayfest kicks off next Thursday night, May 17, and gets off to a quick start. The Bartlett Square stage is almost always a safe bet and this year is no different. Although the festivities kick off early, the easy going vibe that Something Steel offers up at 5pm lets people ease into the evening as the focus transitions from art in the afternoon to music in the evening. Paradise Avenue is the wild card here as a relatively unknown local rock act. By the time Eric Himan takes the stage at 8pm and Sam & the Stylees take over at 9:30pm to close out the night, you settled in with a couple of Tulsa's most consistent acts for what's probably the safest bet of the evening.
The Community Stage is the more unpredictable of the night with a cross-section of music throughout the evening.
George Layman and Lee Tomas-Mason kick things off at 5:30pm and 6:15pm, respectively, with singer-songwriter fare. The tempo picks up at 7pm with cover band Jam Candy before Tele Mori brings us an alt-rock set and Klondike 5 String Band mixes things up with its eclectic take on bluegrass.
Looking toward the Williams Green stage, the festival starts out strong with a mix of rock and jazz with Jambalaya Jass Band making it worth skipping out of the office a few minutes early to get in the Mayfest spirit. Old school and new school then cross paths as Admiral Twin takes the stage at 6:15pm, followed by The Loaded Dice at 8:15pm to keep the audience engaged. Local heroes Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey then close out the night by bringing the group's acclaimed Race Riot Suite to the Green at 9:30pm.
Friday Night Lights
I can't help but feel like Friday is "play it safe" night for Mayfest this year. Although the entertainment selections are solid, there's nothing that really stands out amongst the local lineup that grabs me and says I have to be there. The Community Stage goes the pop and R&B route for the evening with Amy Kay, Starr Fischer and Wall Street filling out the evening while the Bartlett Stage goes for a more rock angle with The Usual Suspects kicking the evening off at 5pm, followed by Jenny Labow, The Undecided and Groove Pilots.
Your best bet for the night will be to settle in on the Williams Green and take it all in. Wayne Humbyrd Jazz Experience, Moving Company and Scott Ellison kick things off with a mix of jazz and classic rock with hourly sets beginning at 6pm. The night's shining star, however, is Texas-based alt-country/Americana artist Hayes Carll Band. This one is the coup of the weekend as Carll could be headlining Cain's Ballroom, but Mayfest gives you an opportunity to see him for free under the stars with all your friends.
The weekend picks up again once Saturday night arrives. The afternoon entertainment admittedly keeps things low key, but stopping by Bartlett Square is never a bad idea as the tunes will be relaxed and easy going. Richard Gilbert opens the day at 11am, followed by local favorite Susan Herndon, Sweet Wednesday, Wayne Humbyrd, Lem Sheppard and Ashley Gatta & the Free People for a mix of pop, folk and jazz. Once the evening arrives, however, the Bartlett stage will be rocking with Dante & the Hawks, followed by The Del Toros and Lowdown Fancy to wrap things up.
The Community Stage fills its afternoon with local talent and young singers in the afternoon then turns into the pop and party stage with Not Easily Broken, Pop Machine and Groovement rounding out the night.
Once again, the Williams Green will prove to be the place to be. After opening the evening with Starlight Jazz orchestra and Tulsa's own Scott Aycock, we've effectively got two headliners to wrap up the weekend with Robbie Fulks Trio (who has played both All Souls Acoustic Coffeehouse series and a PAC show in the Williams Theater over the past couple of years) and JD McPherson splitting the night. If you only see one person at Mayfest this year, McPherson is worth going out of your way to see. Although he's based in Broken Arrow, he hasn't spent much time at home over the past year as he's been busy touring nationally behind Signs & Signifiers, his debut album which has kept him squarely in the middle of the current Americana and rockabilly movement.
Wrap it up
Sunday afternoons are fairly mellow and relatively anti-climactic, but the day still holds a few traditions. If you're more interested in Tulsa's musical history, The Roundup Boys are the way to go with a set of country swing to wrap up the Community Stage. The most enjoyable way to wrap up the fest for those in the know, however, is Gordy & Zoe at the Bartlett Stage. This has become an annual tradition as Gordy & Zoe mix world beat and a large drum circle to close out the weekend.
Now that you've gotten an early peek at the highlights, you can look forward to next weekend and plan your stops accordingly while enjoying the food and art that fill our downtown streets for the weekend. More details and a full schedule can be found at tulsamayfest.org, so check it out while you're looking forward to kicking off your summer early and settling into festival season.
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