By Doug Hill
Dylan Mackey is one of the people who make live music happen. He’s a sound guy. Mackey was at his electronic control board in the Opolis venue at 6 p.m. April 25 mix-mastering musical elements for the first of seven bands that initial evening of the sexith annual Norman Music Festival. Near the end of their set the vocalist on stage, whose band name will go unmentioned because it’s unfit to print in a family newspaper, thanked the sound guy for doing a good job.
“That’s unusual,” Mackey admitted with a shy smile.
It was a sweet start to what would be a lot of music over the next 72 hours. Performance highlights of the evening included shows by Kali Ra, Paul Shell of the Songwriters Association of Norman, Jordan Herrera with John Calvin and Kierston White.
By Friday evening the festival atmosphere was heating up. Restaurants such as The Diner, that would normally be closed at that hour, stayed open with a special abbreviated menu. Street buskers not officially associated with the festival were playing guitars and taking advantage of a music- loving albeit mobile audience strolling by. Performances started as early as 3 p.m. at Guestroom Records alley stage. Loom, Poolboy, The Pizza Thieves and Gross Beast blasted their way to fame or infamy. Folk singer Amanda Cunningham played gentler strains with acoustic guitar and sassy vocals at Tres’ indoor stage. Across the street Dreamer Concepts’ show area was set up out back with all the aspects of a cool backyard. Cosmostanza’s infectious power pop ignited a mosh pit of faux ruffians who knocked heads and shoulders in front of the stage. A blond waif wearing a Super Mario backpack dodged the brouhaha. Over at Opolis outdoor stage ADDverse Effects was playing an attractive hip hop set with lead vocalist Fiji fronting a full guitar and drums band. Mother Nature made a furious appearance just as festivities were at their peak. Lashing rain, high winds and thunder caused hundreds to dash from the outdoor venues to shelter from the short-lived storm. One wag called it an impromptu wet T-shirt contest. Performances continued into the wee hours.
Saturday morning dawned cool, gray and breezy but dry over a Norman ready for the festival’s finale. Feathered Rabbit warmed the gathering throng with a sultry show on the main stage that included vocalist Morgan Hartman wearing a micro-mini dress with shredded thigh-high black nylons. The band rocked it and the day was off to a smashing start. At the Sailor Jerry sponsored stage Elephant Revival played hipster country music. The gal on washboard had black gloves studded with metal to enhance her imaginative percussion. They drew a big appreciative crowd and the patchy clouds were starting to break revealing sunshine and blue skies.
Walking between shows is a big part of NMF because there are so many venues and they’re spread out over several downtown blocks. People-watching and passing street performances to the next attraction are almost as much fun as the main events themselves. Right by the James Garner statue on a Main Street sidewalk artist Spencer Tracy had spent his early morning doing a good multi-colored chalk mural for people to admire. Early evening found King Khan and his BBQ show on the main stage. In an outlandish emerald-green cape and feathered turban Khan was a bare-chested sight to behold. Along with kick-drum accompanist he had the crowd in rock 'n' roll thrall. After that wacky extravaganza, Norman Mayor Cindy Simon Rosenthal came on stage and proclaimed it officially Norman Music Festival Day.
Big Sam’s Funky Nation up next was far and away the festival’s best main stage performance. Sam Williams is a New Orleans showman to his core. Besides lead vocals and scorching trombone solos he managed to go around stage cheering each of his band members on to take the assembled higher and higher. Williams was glistening with perspiration from the effort and it was a memorable show.
Festival headliner The Joy Formidable had a false-start sound glitch that was quickly remedied. Then they played a high volume set with indiscernible lyrics and all songs sounding pretty much the same. Happily this wasn’t the festival’s conclusion. Solid Norman outfits including John Wayne’s Bitches and Love Cobra played until well after the witching hour.
Big Sam's Funky Nation took Norman by storm on the Norman Music Festival's main stage April 27.