2014’s Norman Music Festival continued the tradition of being free, enlivening the downtown area and featuring multiple genres at numerous venues. The following is a three-day festival chronicle involving approximately 17 hours total of listening and viewing experience. It comes nowhere close to comprehensively documenting the festival because of the sheer impossibility of witnessing everything on the schedule live.
Early Thursday evening found Quilted Cherry Podium at Opolis. It’s a one-man band project piloted by Hunter Roth. He made a polished wooden pedestal that houses a Leslie rotating speaker, 4-channel amplifier and Omnichord topped by a Drum Buddy. Roth uses it to produce diabolical music that could be Hasil Adkins’ spirit channeled from a light years away galaxy. The device roars as if before take-off then vibrates like a celestial organ of ill-intent. Roth calmly guided the Podium through a pulsing and gyrating performance of other-worldly dimensions.
Later in the same venue Team Nightstand played among the evening’s most danceable sets. The highly simpatico duo has a fast, loud and attractive sound that’s magnetic. At McNellie’s saloon solo singer/songwriter Audra Elizabeth suffered through early sound equipment issues. Then she bravely competed for a beery crowd’s attention against the Thunder basketball playoffs on TV.
Friday evening started with Jonathan O’Neil and the Rumors playing blues from the Sailor Jerry stage. Some of these Rumors are young teenagers and they did a journeyman job covering the likes of BB King and Eric Clapton. The Red Room hosted a string of hip hop and rap artists. There was a party atmosphere and it was the most enjoyable time of the festival. Chris McCain rapped about wisdom from OG and a propensity for having ice water in his veins. McCain’s lyrics jumped from the beating hearts in Chesapeake Arena to a party-colored kitty, “At home I keep a calico.” There was some amazing break dancing going down in the audience. J. Horne and Apeks (Alex Schwimmer) did a collaborative set that was amazing for tag team intensity on the mics. They whipped the audience to a fever pitch making it truly live in the four-o-five.
Early Saturday afternoon Bawcomville rocked Opolis’ outdoor stage. The Austin-based quartet is named for front man Jeycin Fincher’s small hometown in Louisiana. They played original and potent material in the vein of Sebadoh and Pavement. On the Wild Prairie Family Stage a jazz six-piece too young to have any experience in the matter, performed a nevertheless solid “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” Nearby at the Songwriters Association of Norman showcase Elizabeth Speegle and her blues band laid-down a sultry set that benefited from her commanding stage presence.
Caleb McGee stormed the Main Stage fronting a six-piece combo of renowned local heroes. He’s Norman’s red dirt Joe Cocker and proudly sang original “Secession Blues” about silly political stunts in the “Republic of Texas.” At the Sailor Jerry stage Terry Ware and the Shambles were demonstrating why Ware’s motto is “Twang is my bread and reverb is my butter.” They played an essential score for Norman Music Festival. The level of talent in Ware’s six-piece cowboy orchestra was stellar.
Back at the Main Stage, OKC’s Horse Thief was stealing hearts and ears. Their melodic hard rock is taking them on two tours of the UK later this year. Inside Opolis, Kierston White prefaced a number with, “I’m going to sing a song about quitting your job and how good it feels.” Her Oklahoma songbird artistry has grown tremendously and it was in admirable form for the festival.
La Femme all the way from Paris, France, was a group of impossibly svelte hipsters who performed bubbly techno-pop with serious expressions on their mugs. Their on-stage and later off-stage dancing was highly entertaining and they employed a groovy theremin in one number. Boyd Littell led his band ADDverse Effects in a hip hop repertoire more powerful than Mike Tyson in his prime. They sang a daring X-rated tune ostensibly about candy, throwing Jolly Ranchers into the crowd. Feel Spectres’ lively power-pop performance suffered from being in the funeral home-like atmosphere of the Sooner Theatre. Front man Matt Goad said from the stage in conclusion that it was the weirdest gig he’d ever played.
Jabee Williams drew an enthusiastic audience at the Blackwatch Stage, 107 W. Comanche. He’s a rhyme master and arguably the 405’s premier thoughtful rapper. Stoner band stalwarts Dead Meadow came on the Main Stage after dark. They played a solemnly psychedelic flavor of music that’s been aptly described as “narcotic space rock.” Headliners Bright Light Social Hour performed their jovial and popular songs into a howling Oklahoma wind. They’ve had nothing but success in music mecca Austin and it was readily apparent why they were chosen for the NMF VII finale.
J. Horne (l) and Apeks rocking the mics at Norman Music Festival VII.