POSTED ON JULY 22, 2009:
Party with a Plan
Tulsa's biggest musical event of the year returns
More Cowbell. I'm admittedly not huge on the indie-rock movement, but once 7pm rolls around, I won't be able to stay away from the Triton Stage to get a glimpse of Dengue Fever.
Returning for its eighth year and third in the Blue Dome District, DFest has become the biggest and possibly most important music event of the year. Locals can argue the music lineup all they want, but they can't deny it's a pretty freakin' big deal for Tulsa.
DFest has become an anchor of the city's summer schedule and draws not only a local crowd, but music fans from all over, showcasing bands and industries from across the country.
While the mantra for DFest has remained "bigger and better," I'd have to argue that the festival has really gotten back to its original intent for 2009. While some local fans have been moaning that it's not "bigger" than previous years' headliners The Flaming Lips, All American Rejects and The Roots, the fact is that the lineup and festival grounds continue to grow, incorporating 13 venues and roughly 160 acts during two nights.
If we look back at the festival's original mission statement, however, DFest has always been about emerging artists--and possibly never more so than this year. Yes, we've got a couple big mainstream acts (Black Crowes and Cake) to push ticket sales, but with headliner status bands like Gogol Bordello, Ra Ra Riot, Mates of State, The Cool Kids, Ozomatli, Citizen Cope and The Knux, DFest 2009 could be what people are talking about three or four years from now when these bands explode. Attendees will be able to claim bragging rights: "Yeah, but I saw them when they played DFest..."
The intent to focus on regional talent hasn't been lost, either, with roughly half of this year's lineup coming from Oklahoma and surrounding neighbors. Yet, DFest has built a reputation as a festival bands want to play and industry reps want to attend, thus, it will be hosting select bands from coast-to-coast.
The weekend isn't just a series of concerts, however. While the local crowd is probably more interested in the music, DFest includes an afternoon music conference which includes panel discussions, keynote speakers, demo listening and mentoring sessions designed to help the bands learn to do more than just play shows. Music is a business, and if you want to play professionally, you've got to learn how to conduct yourself, take care of business and cover your assets.
This year's conference highlights include musician, TV personality and motivational speaker Andrew W.K. as the keynote speaker, P.O.D. bassist Traa Daniels for the artist series keynote and DFest veteran Martin Atkins' return as the business series keynote speaker.
Additional panels include discussions on marketing, management and booking, and publishing and licensing. Two days of speakers and training can't cover everything, but it will at least help put musicians in the proper mindset and give them some ideas. And although the conference focuses on the needs of musicians, it's an enlightening experience for true music fans as well, making it worth the cost of upgrading your ticket to a conference badge to get a better understanding of the inside workings of the music business.
A surprise move for many was the addition of a yoga conference to the weekend. Although it may seem foreign to outsiders, DFest organizers believe it will fit nicely into the holistic outlook that many bands now operate under, noting that many contract-riders now include access to yoga or workout facilities. The yoga conference also rounds out the weekend, creating a body/mind/spirit equilibrium (even if most of us will go overboard on the "body" experience with an excess of music and celebrating).
I'll be on the run between venues all weekend. Last week, my associate Josh Kline gave his recommendations for the weekend's music lineup (see "An Expert's Guide" online at urbantulsa.com), so I get to counter with mine as we walk onto the festival grounds.
Recognizing that Mr. Kline is more of an indie fan, I'll default to my more commercial- and pop-oriented preferences. I'd recommend you take both of ours into consideration and follow your gut. The best way to experience this much music is to draw out a gameplan, pick a couple you can't miss, and then follow the buzz. That said, here's what I'll be looking to catch:
While most people will want to kick off the festival at one of the two main stages with Dusty Rhodes and the River Band or Stillwater-based Other Lives (formerly Kunek) at 6pm, I prefer to start small at Joe Momma's and tip my hat to the quickly rising local semi-punk and indie darlings Ptiaradactyl. It's high energy, it's fun and it's an audio shot of Red Bull to get you out the gate and on the run.
I'm admittedly not huge on the indie-rock movement, but once 7pm rolls around, I won't be able to stay away from the Triton Stage to get a glimpse of Dengue Fever. The band's infusion of world-beat into indie pop is to intriguing to dismiss. After a few tunes, however, you can be sure I'll be heading for Dirty's to catch the better part of Manda Mosher's set. I love a good singer songwriter, and I'm a sucker for a girl with a guitar, so this one's a sure thing.
The current gameplan calls for hanging out at Dirty's for Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights. A highlight act from last year, Tyler mines classic rock and blues with a fresh twist and reminds me why I fell in love with rock and roll in the first place. This kid is all passion, mixed with blood, sweat and tears. After I get my fix, though, I hear Ozomatli calling me to the Triton stage at 8:30 for a Latin/HipHop fusion and all around party.
The nine o'clock hour poses a bit of a problem with no less than four worthy acts. Citizen Cope will undoubtedly pull a huge crowd to the Poseidon Stage, making me more prone to head to the Williams Theater to catch Van Risseghem. Even so, Ian Moore at Dirty's always puts on a good show, and I've promised myself I'll take time to check out the young pop act Lynhurst from Minneapolis gracing the Dilly Deli stage at 9:10pm.
A host of local fans (myself included) should be gathered at the William's Theater at 10pm to see Ben Kilgore (formerly of Hero Factor) debut his new band and material in front of the DFest crowd.
Once 10:30 hits, however, I have no doubt where I'll be. Although Gogol Bordello is maintaining the buzz, I'm putting all my money on Gil Mantera's Party Dream to be the weekend's best bet. To make things crazier, Party Dream is playing IDL Ballroom. If you dug Ghostland Observatory last year, plan on turning down the light show and turning up the freak factor. This one is my weekend's "can't miss."
Once Party Dream has ended, I'll get back to rocking, split between Taddy Porter at Dirty's and Odis at Dilly Deli, both at midnight. Finally, there's no question how I'll close my night out either. Oso Closo is the best power-pop band and regional act I've seen in the past two years. Hands down. A new disc is in the works, so I'll be there to get a preview.
While a full recovery from Friday may not be possible, I'll be ready to hit the streets again at 6pm. This time, I'm split between headliners, and although I'll want to catch a couple tunes from The Knux at the Triton stage, I'll definitely make sure to see one of Oklahoma's best indie-jam infused bands, The Uglysuit, on the Poseidon stage.
The 7pm hour has my priorities split. Gentleman Auction House returns to DFest after a strong showing last year to play the IDL Ballroom at 7:10pm and deserves the attention. Even so, I'm intrigued enough to make a late trip over to Flytrap Music Hall to see if Norman's Proprietors of Earth can deliver live with their ambient-indie mix.
While the 8 o'clock hour has a fistful of good options, I'll be back at IDL Ballroom for the Vandevander gig. Last year, Matt Fisher and crew were on fire in an inferior room, so I'll be interested to see what they leave standing in a better venue. Expect a highlight performance.
Once 9pm rolls around, I'm at a loss, so I plan on playing it by ear. Chances are, the intrigue factor will find me back at IDL for some Muchos Backflips after bouncing between venues.
At 10pm, I've got too many options. The Williams Theater will be a perfect venue to catch local pop act on the rise, Stars Go Dim, but I'll also want to see how Fiawna Forte goes over at Dilly Deli at 10:10. Meanwhile, PDA always pulls out all the stops for DFest and the Route 66 Roadhouse will surely be standing room only again, so I'll be searching for a back entrance to try and catch the end of his set.
Once 11:30 rolls around, I expect the vast majority of the crowd will be split between Cake's shtick at the Poseidon stage and Bassnectar's electro-dance-funk (the better show) on the Triton stage. I'm opting for something quainter, so I'll settle at McNellie's with Sherree Chamberlain. She doesn't get to Tulsa nearly often enough, so I'll forgo all else to catch her subtle, acoustic pop once again.
Finally, once the 1am hour rolls around, I'd suggest you wrap things up with some of Tulsa's best bands in their respective genres. After all, it seems only fitting to end the weekend's festivities with some hometown boys. If you're looking to dance, make sure you're at Flytrap Music Hall to get your reggae on with Sam and the Stylees. If you're ready to blow it out on a high note, however, My Solstice closes the Route 66 Roadhouse with an all-new set list and a fistful of brand new songs.
Whatever you do, have fun. It's best to go with a plan in place, but you'll always find the best shows by following the buzz on the street. That said, don't set anything in stone: except Gil Mantera's Party Dream. Sleep it off and I'll see you next week.
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