By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Reggae, metal, country, Americana, blues, R&B, Latin, electronic, psychedelic, pop, ambient, DJ, hip-hop: Norman Music Festival has it all.
With over 200 bands performing in the sixth annual urban, indie music festival April 25-27 in Downtown Norman, NMF Chair Steven White said the free event highlights a range of local talent.
“I do believe that there is a music scene in Norman that’s different than what you see anywhere else. It’s different than what you see in Dallas and its different than what you see in Oklahoma City,” White said. “There’s always a good group of regular bands — whether they’re playing at the Opolis or they’re playing at The Deli or they’re playing at The Bluebonnet — there’s just such a thriving force of good musicians who are here. And then underneath that, in the underbelly of that, there’s always these new bands that are coming up.
“It’s a very creative community. So the opportunity to raise the flag for these bands, to showcase these bands, to let people see this vibrant music scene — I think it adds value to our community. Yes, we call ourselves the City of Festivals and there’s a lot of things we do to bring people in, but really with the Norman Music Festival we’re bringing people in to show-off the musical talent that we have right here. The musical talent that we have is thick and rich.”
Alex Larrea, guitarist for DEERPEOPLE, a psychedelic pop band based out of Stillwater, Okla., performing this year at NMF, said NMF was critical in establishing the band’s credentials and confidence when they were first starting off.
The group formed in 2009 with bandmates Larrea, Brennan Barnes, Julian Shen, Jordan Bayhylle, Derek Moore and Kendall Looney first performed at the third NMF in 2010 as the Opolis stage headliner.
“I don’t know many other states or cities that have festivals that really make local musicians and artists feel huge. You feel important,” Larrea said. “The bands you know and play with and hang with, those are the bands getting the headliner positions.”
DEERPEOPLE is performing 11 p.m. April 26 on the Blackwatch Stage. Larrea said the group has some big ideas up their sleeves to make the show unforgettable.
The Main Event
With this year’s main lineup, White said his goal was to create a giant dance party on Main Street.
“I just wanted big, fun, lots of lights, lots of shaking. There’s a funk band out of New Orleans called Big Sam’s Funky Nation, they’re the main support, and there’s just going to be people dancing and sweating and having a good time,” White said. “After that we’ve got this indie, pop, rock band The Joy Formidable.”
Big Sam’s Funky Nation takes the Main Stage 8 p.m. April 27, with The Joy Formidable afterwards on the same stage at 9:30 p.m.
With The Joy Formidable, a three-piece Welsh band formed in 2007, stepping into this year’s headliner lime light, White said listeners are sure to have a good time.
Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan, lead vocalist and guitarist for the group with Rhydian Dafydd on bass and backing vocals and Matt Thomas on drums and percussion, said the group is eagerly anticipating their first visit to Oklahoma.
Bryan said she enjoys the celebration-like atmosphere urban festivals provide and looks forward to feeding off of NMF’s exciting energy. The group enjoys interacting with the crowd during shows, Bryan said, and she hopes to be able to provoke emotion in the audience through the band’s personally-written pieces.
“It leads to quite a spontaneous, dynamic kind of performance in that we never quite know what sort of emotion or thought it’s going to provoke,” Bryan said about performing songs live. “I tend to discover something new about the songs that we’ve written almost every night depending on the audience, the place or the circumstances.
“We definitely wear our hearts on our sleeves when we’re playing live. It’s really like a dangerous kind of honesty, the way we perform. It’s certainly not contrived and we’re not going through the motions — it’s not about that. It’s about actually feeling something about the songs that you’ve written and having something honest in that moment with that crowd. I can’t really describe it in any other way.”
Past headliners include Portugal The Man, Other Lives, Red Wanting Blue, The Olivia Tremor Control, The Walkmen, Black Joe Lewis, Ty Segall, Dirty Projectors, Electric Six, The Sword, Leon Russell, James McMurtry, The Gourds, Of Montreal, Man Man, The Polyphonic Spree and British Sea Power.
Where It All Started and Where It’s Going
The inaugural NMF was held in 2008 as a program of the Norman Arts Council. With approximately 20 bands participating, White said a total of about 20,000 people came for that first year.
Since then, NMF established Norman Music Alliance, a 501 (c)(3) organization responsible for organizing the annual event, in 2012 and has continued to see rapid growth every year.
“After we met after that first one we felt this was something we could do better the next year so we started planning the next one. Since 2008 when we started, we’ve seen about 10,000 new people come every year,” he said, with this year’s Saturday attendance anticipated at nearly 45,000 people.
White said the festival has seen so much success because it benefits both fans and musicians.
“You’ve got these bands in Norman, in Oklahoma City, in Tulsa — this is an opportunity for everybody to come together,” White said. “One, the fellowship of the bands together, they get to see bands, there’s some cool bands in Tulsa that the kids in Oklahoma City don’t get to see so the opportunity to be around everybody, and then just for the fans to be able to walk in and out all the venues. I think bands get real excited about it.”
Of course, White said, the festival wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of volunteers, sponsors, downtown businesses, musicians and the City of Norman.
“All the people that we work with, all the resources that we get from the city and the help from the Downtowners and the help from the Chamber, all these businesses — everybody kind of coming together for one weekend that is out of the ordinary, that’s more fun than you can probably shake a stick at,” White said. “People come together and somehow it works out.”
Hopes are that the festival will continue to grow in the coming years. How long growth will happen is uncertain, White said, but he does anticipate having to change the structure of the festival, possibly moving a portion of the festival to another location.
No matter what happens in the future, White said he doesn’t want to set limitations on what could happen.
“To me this organization is very organic. It’s a bunch of people who just had a passion, nobody was trying to make any money, we were just trying to develop something unique here in the town,” White said. “With the Arts Council and the help of the Chamber and the Downtowners, we were able to utilize Main Street for the urban setting. I think the worst thing you could do is try to box this festival in and say, ‘This is where it goes.’ It kind of has to grow on its own.”
For more information on NMF visit normanmusicfestival.com.
For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.