POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 18, 2013:
Doing Summer Right...
Festival season winds down, but still rocks
Over the past several years, the music festival season has grown immensely, both nationally and regionally with each of the successful events finding a way to carve out its own niche. Tulsa has always been a festival-oriented city, perhaps more out of sense of community and drawing people out, with Mayfest being a prime example and long standing events like Oktoberfest and the Scottish Highland Games (now known as Scotfest) following the pattern of most urban festivals following a culture, heritage or arts theme, with music being secondary.
Of course, Tulsa did see a major music festival return to prominence as this summer's Center of the Universe Festival brought big names and even bigger crowds out to fill the gap and live up to the expectations that DFest had set before folding camp and that Free Tulsa never truly lived up to.
Even so, for many fans, the best way to enjoy a music festival is to get away and immerse yourself in the music all weekend. This is the model that major festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella have used to grow to iconic status and where events like Wakarusa and Yonder Mountain's Harvest Festival have found their niche and identity. And although most of the nationally recognized festivals are out of state, you don't necessarily have to travel that far to find great music in a festival setting.
In fact, if you live in Tulsa or Northeast Oklahoma, we've got two great festivals that let you soak up the best of the festival scene and some great local music without traveling a great distance on breaking the bank. Serendipitously enough, they also fall at opposite ends of the season, giving us a great way to kick off the spring and close out the summer. Easter Island has grown into new digs over the past two years and proven to be a great kickoff in April.
Perhaps the most relaxing and family-friendly of them, however, is just an hour away in Chandler and helps us start to wrap up the season as Stone River Music Fest is held this weekend from September 20-22.
If you're at all familiar with the current "New Tulsa Sound" movement, you should already be aware of and devoted to Stone River Music Festival. You should also have it circled on your calendar if you love Red Dirt or local blues, because the festival touches on all of it.
Now in its fourth year, Stone River Music Festival continues to grow, but it is doing so on its own terms, keeping true to its original vibe, and remaining comfortable in its own skin.
There are no big surprises here: although a few of the artists may rotate from year to year, this is a primarily a group of musicians who all know each other and come together to celebrate music, family, and friendship. Established artists like Red Dirt Rangers, Gene Williams, and Tom Skinner coexist next to the latest generation of Tulsa talent like the Big O Show, Grazzhopper, and Jacob Tovar to create not only a sense of community, but also a musical experience that crosses generations.
If you're not already familiar with the festival, it initially spawned out of an idea bounced around between Chandler native Dustin Pittsley and his friends. Pittsley's parents own a large parcel of acreage that Pittsley, Martinson and Jesse Aycock agreed would be perfect for a campout and music festival. With parents Jim and Vicki Pittsley on board with the vision, land was cleared, a stage was built, and the first Stone River was held in the summer of 2010.
Right from the start, this was a family-oriented event and the Pittsley family provided the land, extended family was drafted to help work the event with administration, crowd control, and stage managing, and the overall atmosphere not only created a sense of community, but provided a welcoming atmosphere that allowed the adults to have fun, but still felt appropriate for kids, as well.
Response to the first event was overwhelmingly positive and led Jim Pittsley to continue manicuring the land, clearing trees, creating trails and paths, and developing the land into a state that Dustin Pittsley described as "about as close to a state park as you can imagine."
Although I missed the first year due to other obligations, I held no hesitations in attending the second event, based simply on the reactions from those who were there the first year. What I found with that visit included a great weekend of music, but also one of the most relaxing weekends of the year and a sense of family that extended beyond the staff and performers and into the audience. Kids played to the side while 20-somethings enjoyed the music and flipped Frisbees, 30- and 40-somethings spread out with blankets and lawn chairs, and an even older contingent sat around the perimeter and relaxed to the mostly laid-back jams of two generations of musicians.
Each year, Stone River grows just a little bit more. More work on the land causes it to continue to transform from year to year, more vendors give the audience additional options in not only food, but the arts and crafts that complement the music. And, of course, the audience continues to grow as word gets out and the festival's reputation spreads.
I asked Vicki Pittsley about what might be new to Stone River this year, and she shared that as the land has continued to be cleared and developed, there is a lot more camping area for the attendees this year. And there is a handful of new vendors on board to provide even more food choices than years past for those who don't care to cook for themselves with small grills and primitive camping on the festival grounds.
"We also have two new cabins," she added. "Jim has built them himself, doing everything from clearing the trees to cutting and planing the wood, so it has all been done by hand and built from materials right here on sight."
She also shared that although the initial two cabins will be used for established artists like Tom Skinner and Red Dirt Rangers this year, the hope is to have several more completed next year to provide another camping option, not just for the festival, but throughout the year.
Of course, the big draw of the festival is the music, and this year's lineup is as strong as ever, mixing some old favorites with a few new artists. Festival grounds open in the early afternoon on Friday, and music starts at 7pm with a lineup that includes The Big O Show, Pilgrim, Dustin Pittsley Band, Paul Benjaman Band, and Travis Fite with Jared Tyler as music continues until midnight (or whenever everyone decides to wrap it up).
The festivities begin again at noon on Saturday as Grazzhopper, Bat-or-Kalo, Steve Lidell, Wink Burcham, and Jacob Tovar and the Saddle Tramps carry the weight throughout the afternoon. As evening sets in, Gene Williams & Jeff Williamson help transition to Desi & Cody, Brad James Band, Dustin Pittsley Band, Red Dirty Rangers and Hosty Duo to wrap up the night. Of course, if you know these bands, you know that musicians will be swapping in and out all evening, creating a giant "family jam" as the night continues to evolve.
Finally, after a night that may or may not include sleep for festival-goers, the weekend wraps up with what has become a tradition: The Sunday afternoon "Gospel Jam" with Tom Skinner, Monica Taylor and friends.
Beyond all else, Stone River Music Festival has quickly established itself based on a sense of community amongst the musicians and a family-friendly atmosphere that you won't find at most other events of this type. Of course, that flows from the top down as the Pittsley family makes sure everyone feels welcome. Don't fool yourself into thinking Stone River is simply a local thing, however. Yes, it's built around family and a tightly knit musical community, but the reputation continues to spread as new friends and family have confirmed their tickets and will be coming from as far away as Florida, Louisiana and North Dakota and this year will even see a few attendees from England.
If you want to hear not only what our "New Tulsa Sound" and Red Dirt music scenes are really about, but also wrap up with one of the most inclusive and relaxing festival experiences of the year, you won't miss Stone River.
When heading out, take I-44 west toward Oklahoma City and get off at the Chandler exit, heading 2.5 miles North on Highway 18 to 870 Road, then go 0.3 miles West to the festival site. (You'll see signs of Highway 18.)
Complete details, directions and full schedule can be found online at Stonerivermusicfestival.com. Tickets are available online via TicketStorm.com at $20 for Friday, $25 for Saturday or $35 for the entire weekend.
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Summer may be beginning to wind down, but we've still got a busy music calendar in Tulsa. Your best bet this weekend is to roll out to Chandler, OK for the Stone River Music Fest to hear a solid mix of Red Dirt and "New Tulsa Sound" artists intertwining their muse. If you're not in a traveling mood, however, we've still got plenty of options in town and a busy week ahead. Here are just a few of the highlights to get you headed out the door.
Thursday, September 19
One of the best shows of the week hits Brady Theater as John Hiatt & the Combo and Steve Earle & the Dukes co-headline a night that showcases two of the best and most underrated songwriters of the past 30 years. Or if you're just looking for a chance to relax and dance a little, check out The Move Trio at The Yeti.
Friday, September 20
Cain's Ballroom hosts "The Event" with Jessi Colter, Shooter Jennings and Red Dirt Rangers. The Brady District is busy all over, however, as Good Morning Grizzly plays Soundpony, Vanguard hosts a 90's party with My So Called Band, and Hunt Club brings in The Lonelys with The Bourgeois and Wonderheim. Guthrie Green is busy as well as OILHOUSE takes over with graffiti artists, break dancers, DJs and the music of Algebra, Dr. Freeman, Mike Dee, Verse, Pade, Sur'Ron, Ulunzu, Delacroix and Spencer Gainey for a full night of Hip Hop.
Meanwhile, if you're looking to get your blues-rock on, don't miss The Steepwater Band at Mercury Lounge.
Saturday, September 21
Mercury Lounge hosts a return visit by The Damn Quails for what should be one of the best shows of the weekend. If you're looking for something different, however, you can get your metal fix at Cain's Ballroom with a benefit show that includes Kiss tribute act Dressed To Kill with Dead Metal Society (featured in last week's issue), Alien Blues Alliance, and Sweatin' Bullets. Elsewhere along Main Street, Yeti hosts I Said Stop! and The Dead Shakes, Dante & the Hawks play Hunt Club, Riot Bear is at Soundpony and The Vanguard hosts Roger Jaeger's CD release party for Beacon, with Dinner & a Suit co-headlining the night.
Sunday, September 22
Tulsa Roots Music puts on the biggest show of the season at Guthrie Green as Little Joe opens the day, followed by Leogun and a full set by Indigenous as early evening approaches. Afterwards, you can walk over a couple of blocks to see Tulsa's own American Idol hero, David Cook, at Cain's Ballroom with Caroline Glaser opening.
Monday, September 23
Get your blues on with Little Joe McClerran as he holds down his weekly residency at Mercury Lounge.
Tuesday, September 24
It's metal night at The Vanguard with Mobile Deathcamp, Oldman, Contagion 237, and Enslaved By Fear.
Wednesday, September 25
The week wraps up with a pair of great shows. If you're into classic songwriters, you'll be at Cain's Ballroom for James McMurty. If you're part of the younger crowd and love metalcore and pop-punk, however, you won't miss The House Party Tour at Cox Business Center with A Day To Remember, All Time Low, Pierce the Vail, and The Wonder Years.
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