ow back for its third annual installment, Free Tulsa returns to the Blue Dome District again this weekend to take over downtown for two nights of the best independent music Oklahoma has to offer. After relocating to the Blue Dome District in 2011, Free Tulsa has found its home and is settling in with 12 stages and roughly 165 bands while expanding its programming to offer even more activities over the course of the weekend.
One of the most interesting developments this year is the inclusion of the "Jim's Never on Sunday Hot Dog Eating Contest," sponsored by Jim's Coney Island and Wonder Bread. The contest takes place on the Main Stage at 6pm Saturday evening, July 28, as contestants face off to see who can down the most hot dogs to win a prize pack, bragging rights, and an extremely full stomach -- which may prove to be their fatal flaw when running between bands in the summer heat. Nonetheless, it should be an entertaining way to kick off the evening before the music starts flowing in full.
Also appearing this year for additional entertainment are the Shredneck Skate Park, featuring customized ramps by locally owned and operated Shredneck Skateboards and a car show with Individuals Car Club showcasing a collection of customized low-riders throughout the festival grounds on both nights.
The real purpose of Free Tulsa, however, is to showcase the music and talent we have both here in town and throughout the state and music will be in no short supply. As of press time, schedules were posted for 12 stages with Enso and Electric Circus being late adds with DJ's and electronic artists to expand the totally offering to 14 stages and roughly 165 performing artists. Festival grounds open at 5pm each night with music beginning at 6pm and enough bands and styles of music to keep Tulsans occupied for two full nights. Here are a few stage by stage highlights to help you plan ahead in anticipation of a full weekend of live music.
McNellie's Main Stage -- Located at 1st and Elgin, this is where all the biggest acts will be this year, keeping the outdoor masses captivated. Both nights provide a strong lineup, but the most promising shows of the night include Defining Times and Vandevander (at 7pm and 8pm, respectively) and the return of Ester Drang at Midnight on Friday evening, July 27. Saturday offers up a potential sleeper in Earl Bassett at 8pm, while everyone knows set by Fiawna Forte and Colormusic (at 9pm and midnight) will be crowd favorites.
Joe Momma's 2nd Stage -- Located in front of Yokozuna at the corner of 2nd and Detroit, this was the stage that stole most of the thunder last year and it promises to do the same again in 2012. Friday night's sure bets include Ben Kilgore (who is rumored to possibly be debuting a new band that could include two sets of brothers and the drummer from a nationally touring band) at 11pm and the return of OK Sweetheart at Midnight. Saturday promises to be even better as Flashbulb Fires is one of the few bands from outside of Oklahoma to join the fest, opening the stage at 6pm, then featuring Beau Jennings & the Tigers, Pretty Black Chains and Taddy Porter to close out the night in the 10pm, 11pm and midnight slots.
IDL Ballroom joins the festival this year as well and although the music starts later, due to the venue being used for band interviews earlier in the evening, the three band lineup each evening promises this may be one of the best stages of the weekend. Friday night delivers Good Morning Grizzly, We the Ghost and People, People while Saturday brings Junebug Spade, Moai Broadcast and Student Film.
Just down the block a bit, Back Alley Blues & BBQ is sponsoring an outdoor stage in the alley/parking behind the restaurant that runs right up beside Dwelling Spaces for one of the more intriguing matches of the weekend. Officially listed as the "Rock & Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher" stage, the schedule only includes one of the bands from that movie's soundtrack, but offers one of the most promising collections of rising acts over the course of the weekend. If you're out Friday, you don't want to miss Refund Division at 9pm or Stephen Speaks at Midnight, but I've also got a special interest in Black Canyon at 7pm and The Outset at 11pm. Saturday night kicks off with the only band appearing on the movie soundtrack, Ithica, at 6pm then delivers its heavy hitters late as Oil Boom, The Del Toros and Foreign Home wrap up the night from 10pm on. Also of note: Oil Boom has a CD release coming up on Tuesday night and Foreign Home drops its debut EP next month, both of which are worth watching for.
Elsewhere around the festival grounds, you've got a massive smorgasbord of music to choose from. Dilly Deli's best offerings are Depth & Current at 9pm and The Bourgeois at 11pm on Friday and back to back sets by Rude Amps and Lizard Police oat 9pm and 10pm on Saturday.
Joe Momma's highlights include Riley Jantzen & the Spirits at 9pm on Friday and Admirals at Midnight on Saturday, while The Max delves into electronic and dance music all weekend, including a 9pm set on Friday by RazedOnRobots.
If you're a regular at Fassler Hall or The Colony, the Fassler Stage will deliver your favorites, including sets by Brother Bear and Montu on Friday and Pilgrim and Paul Benjaman Band on Saturday nights to highlight the lineups. Meanwhile, the McNellie's indoor stage offers up a near schizophrenic mix of bands, but promises a strong ending to the weekend with sets by The Move Trio and Guardant at 11pm and Midnight on Saturday.
Woody's houses indie rock on Friday night with Forever Blowing Bubbles offering up a promising set at 8pm, then moves to the garage rock and punk vibe on Saturday, which should provide fun sets by KickTree and Triple Fang at 10pm and 11pm. Just across the street, Arnie's breaks from its normal vibe and plays home to hip hop and rap for the weekend with ABoT winner Mike Dee performing at 9pm and OKC's Jabee stepping up at Midnight on Friday; followed by Saturday's highlights of The Mexican Cartel at 8pm and Oilhouse at 9pm.
If you're looking for a break from all the energy and rock, you can always stop in at Dwelling Spaces, which will be hosting the acoustic stage again this year. All of the artists will provided a respite from the heat and noise, but Kenzie & Kendal promise to once again be highlights with a 10pm showcase on Friday while Damion Shade & the Savage Young promise to be one of the best on Saturday with another 10pm appearance.
Overall, Free Tulsa proves to be a great showcase for the talent in not only Tulsa, bit across Oklahoma. In speaking with John Schroeder, who has been essential in constructing the festival lineup, he shared that "our main concern has been how to be beneficial to the bands." Certainly, the showcase that he and the Free Tulsa staff have built will provide a platform for each of these bands to not only present themselves to a Tulsa audience, but prepare them to step up to a new level.
While 2012 has proven to be another building year for the festival, Schroeder shared that he expects a big shift for Free Tulsa next year. Although he couldn't share what changes are coming, he did say that "we're excited to get even more venues involved next year, possibly even outside the Blue Dome District."
Now, Tulsa gets to enjoy one more weekend of free shows and more bands than any one person can possibly keep track of, all in one weekend. Your best bet to keep up with the schedule and last minute changes is to follow all the action on your smart phone at mobile.freetulsamusicfestival.com. Make sure to get out and enjoy all the best that Tulsa (and Oklahoma) has to offer.
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