POSTED ON JULY 24, 2013:
The Big Celebration
Downtown shines during CoUFest
After the months of planning and weeks of hype, I was as curious as anyone to see if planners could actually pull off Center of the Universe this weekend in a manner as impressive as it had been presented. After all, this was the first year for the festival, and there were plenty of moving pieces to this puzzle, so making them all fit could be tricky. In the end, however, from everything the public saw, it came off as a victory and a success for all involved.
Perhaps more important than the music (and there was plenty of it) was just how well it presented the Brady Arts District to a large segment of Tulsa that normally doesn't venture north of 41st Street, much less into downtown. Yes, for those who work downtown or head downtown over the weekends, word of a renewed business and arts community is old news: The Guthrie Green has been open for nearly a year, the Woody Guthrie museum was inaugurated earlier this year, and restaurants and new nightspots like Rusty Crane, Hey Mambo, Valkyrie, Bar 46, The Tavern and Laffa have added to a club scene that includes Hunt Club, Soundpony, Vanguard, Downtown Lounge and The Yeti (formerly Crystal Pistol)to create a vibrant and growing neighborhood.
For those who haven't ventured downtown recently, however, seeing the streets lined with vendors and food trucks, the businesses lit up and busy, and the streets filled with people was almost certainly a revelation. True, this volume of people is a rare occurrence saved for an event like CoUFest, but it also showed that there's much more going on than many people realized.
And if the onlookers came to see something happen, they certainly picked the right weekend. Guthrie Green may have started slow as the festival began in the heat, then filled beyond its normal capacity as the evening's headliners rolled out, but the entire experience was a great reflection of what goes on there every weekend. While the main stage roared on like a major rock concert and had Main Street packed shoulder to shoulder for One Republic on Friday night, Larry g(EE) brought a soulful enthusiasm to a Green that may not have been as miserably packed with people, but certainly contained a high-spirited crowd that enjoyed the music mixed with the night air and a chance to celebrate the livelihood of downtown.
And if you walked the streets, it was hard not to be impressed by a growing arts community with vendors lining the streets with their wares and local businesses out to promote their services. Perhaps the biggest shift over the years since DFest last rocked the Blue Dome district, however, was the food selection. Four years ago, you'd have been stuck with fair food and corn dogs, but as Tulsa's food truck community has come to life over the past couple of years, you were left with options ranging from burgers to BBQ to tacos to soul food to gourmet donuts. Again, it marked a celebration of Tulsa's growth.
That's not to overlook the music or say there weren't a few glitches to be worked out. Every stage was up and running on time, however, and although the crowds were sparse at the outset, the bands took the lead in making this a community event. With a vast gap between the stage and the general admission area, The Mowgli's took to the streets to bring a three-song acoustic set right up to the audience early Friday evening before returning to the stage to close their set out in amplified form. Likewise, Mayer Hawthorne did his part to engage the crowd and by the time One Republic hit the stage to kick off its U.S. Tour, Main Street was packed all the way back to the vendor stands, just shy of Cameron, with a full light show on the main stage and a big screen broadcasting to the crowd that extended down the street.
By the time Saturday rolled around, organizers had compressed the size of the BOK and VIP Zones to close the gap between the stage and the audience and allow the bands to feel more connected to the crowd. Even so, MuteMath's Paul Meany took the opportunity to leave the stage to crowd surf the general population on a lit air mattress in a set that proved the band can still put on a killer show, even in broad daylight and 95 degree heat. Likewise, OK Go's lead singer, Damian Kulash, took an acoustic tune to the barrier, joking about the separation between the "pretty people" and the normal people, at one point even saying "Don't worry -- I couldn't afford the tickets with the pretty people, I'd be back there with you as well." The band took the audience participation to yet another level, however, as it pulled Mark Williams out of the audience to play guitar with the band for one song.
By the time Neon Trees rolled onto the stage Saturday night, the temperature hadn't dropped much, but a slight breeze made the night more comfortable, and the band reveled in the size of the audience (which was slightly smaller than that for One Republic, but impressive nonetheless) as it rolled out a handful of radio hits and had the audience singing along with the rest of its catalog. Meanwhile, over on Guthrie Green, New Orleans' Rebirth Brass Band and Asheville's Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band had an audience with a whole different mindset dancing in the lawn and enjoying the stars.
As impressive as the big stages were, you missed the real spirit of the festival if you retired with the underage crowd and didn't enjoy the music spread across 14 club stages to wrap up the night. That's where the real magic happened as SocietySociety exploded on the Vanguard Stage, After Midnight rattled the windows at Mason's, Andy Skib played to an undersized crowd at Oklahoma Joe's, Stardeath freaked out The Yeti, Colourmusic packed Vanguard for an ethereal set... the list goes on. And if you didn't fight your way into the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at Hunt Club on Friday night, you missed Dustin Pittsley joining Taddy Porter for a killer rendition of Guy Clark, Jr.'s "Bright Lights."
No matter what part of the festival you saw or took part in, you should have walked away impressed. Whether by the music or the spectacle, it was a sight to behold. In my book, however, the true victory was the light that was shined on our Brady District and the potential continued growth the neighborhood should see as more people return to enjoy what's no longer a semi-secret in our growing business and arts community.
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