Anyone plugged into the social media outlets and has a Facebook account likely saw the announcements as word got out and spread over the internet about "Center of the Universe" earlier this spring. At once cryptic and enticing, the posts drew enough attention to quickly draw a couple thousand followers to the festival's Facebook page in anticipation of more information.
A few weeks ago, the initial announcement was made: A new music festival with major label artists will debut this summer, over the weekend of July 19-20, in the Brady Arts district. As the first round of acts was announced, names like One Republic, Neon Trees and Mutemath were revealed, showing that festival planners are taking this seriously while incorporating local acts like Dante & the Hawks and Fiawna Forte into the fold.
What many people still haven't figured out, however, is exactly who is behind the festival and what it's about. After a couple of emails and phone calls, Urban Tulsa Weekly sat down with the men behind the Center of the Universe, Philip Kaiser and Chris Lieberman, to find out a bit more about the festival and what it means for Tulsa.
In discussing the impetus to launch a new festival, Kaiser mentioned a vacuum in the wake of the demise of DFest.
"People have been dying for this and people miss it, so about two years ago, Chris said 'We ought to put on a music festival' and my answer was 'Yeah, like I have the time to do that.'"
After last year's Route 66 Marathon, however, Lieberman and Kaiser began talking again, discussing the new-found optimism in Tulsa and especially in the downtown area.
"We thought if we were going to do something like this, we needed to do it before a big corporate, for-profit, entity came in and left town with all the money," Kaiser explained. "We're putting on a festival in Tulsa, for Tulsa that will benefit both the businesses and concertgoers.
"We had been talking about it for two years," Leiberman continued, "but after the marathon, in December we started getting serious and putting together a business plan."
Originally planning a 2014 festival, upon meeting with some Cain's Ballroom reps, the pair figured the timing would be okay to do it this year.
Kaiser was quick to point out that Center of the Universe is set up as a non-profit venture, not strictly as a business angle. "We care about Tulsa and are doing this for Tulsa," he shared.
"When I was growing up, I couldn't wait to get out of Tulsa because there was nothing to do here," Kaiser said. "Now, people come in and they are amazed at what's going on here.
"When everything came into play to do it this year, it did put a little bit of a rush on everything," Leiberman admitted, "but I've worked with the Route 66 Marathon, so we do already have experience doing large-scale events."
One of the things that isn't completely clear yet is how festival admission will work or exactly where it will be held. Planned for the weekend of July 19-20, Center of the Universe will take over the Brady Arts District with a the main stage just outside of Cain's Ballroom hosting three bands per night and the Second Stage at the Guthrie Green featuring four. Also, several clubs in the Brady Arts District will host local bands after the main stage concludes, spotlighting over 70 national, regional and local bands over the course of two nights.
"We understand that people are still figuring out what's up," Liebermann shared. "When we were doing the budget, a big piece was deciding on a price. Do we want to have 10,000 people there paying $45 or 20,000 for free and let the VIPs pay for the bulk of it? We decided it was important that most of the festival was free and to expose as many people to new music as possible."
As a result, admission to the festival grounds will be free, allowing admission to the Guthrie Green, the Brady Arts Districts, and most of the club venues. VIP tickets will then be sold, allowing those ticket holders access to the first 75 feet in front of the main stage, VIP parking, access to Cain's Ballroom -- which will be set up with couches and a lounge area with video feeds from the main stage with air conditioning -- and access to the first 10' in front of the Guthrie Green Stage. A second-level BOK Zone ticket will also be sold which includes access to the next 100 feet in front of the main stage as well as Cain's parking lot, which will be set up with misting tents and Oktoberfest tables and entry to Oklahoma Joe's, The Yeti and Soundpony for air conditioning. Weekend VIP passes are already on sale for $245 for the weekend with BOK Zone tickets selling for $135 in limited quantities.
"Our business model is to have the 10 percent of the people who can afford and want VIP access to pay 60 percent of the budget," Kaiser explained. "People who attend for free will still have main stage access, albeit from further back, and we will have LED screens and additional speakers broadcasting back down Main Street so you can still see and hear as far back as Cameron and Brady streets.
Additional opportunities to support and be involved -- from patron recognition to sponsorships and naming rights -- are still available. Even more essential to the success of the festival, however, is the opportunity to volunteer to work the festival, which will also grant access to the BOK Zone and VIP preview party on Thursday night at The Hard Rock Hotel, and those opportunities are on the festival website.
Even for those attending via free tickets, the festival grounds in the Brady Arts district will feature scores of artists and vendors, including 10 or more food trucks and access to the participating clubs as well as direct access to the Guthrie Green stage.
One more major headline act was scheduled to be announced after press deadlines. More details, including a full band listing, festival map, ticketing and volunteer forms can be found online at Centeroftheuniversefestival.com.
The word is out, and the festival lineup is coming together quickly, so mark your calendars for July 19-20 and make you plans now. As Lieberman stated succinctly, "Tulsa desperately wants a major music festival again, and two businessmen have stepped up to make it happen. Now people just have to come out and support it. We're already looking forward and planning for next year, though. We're in this for the long term."
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