Home Street musicians Norman Music Festival directors discuss the emotions behind a 2-year hiatus, accelerated planning and a long-awaited return | Culture

Norman Music Festival directors discuss the emotions behind a 2-year hiatus, accelerated planning and a long-awaited return | Culture


Norman Music Festival began in 2008 with a modest lineup of six bands from across the country performing in a single day. From rock to pop to indietronica, around 15,000 people attended the festival. In that group was Joshua Boydston, a man who fell in love with the festival there.

“It was the first time I saw myself — my interests — at an event in Oklahoma in a way that I hadn’t seen before,” said Boydston, current chairman of the board of Norman Music. Festival.

After 2008, the festival lasted three days and spanned several stages in downtown Norman. In 2020, with the date of the festival set months away, the growth came to a screeching halt.

Shari Jackson, executive director of the Norman Music Festival, recalled the days and months after their cancellation with a strained voice.

“We were so scared,” Jackson said. “We were like, ‘Is this it? Is it over?'”

As Jackson recalls, the people behind the festival were determined to wait despite their fears. Jackson said they were “can’t wait” for the festival to return. The annual event disappeared for two years before, around January 2022, the board made the decision to bring it back.

Many of those early meetings were on Zoom, Boydston said. Despite working remotely, new and old board members have been tackling the monstrous festival ever since.

“All the volunteers have families, have jobs,” Jackson said. “They give hours and hours, and the new ones, they just dive in with both feet.”

Jackson attributes the dedication of the board members to the unique nature of the festival. Completely free to the public and entirely reliant on donations, the festival only takes place with the support of the community.

“To work for something like this, you have to feel like it’s a force for good in the world,” Jackson said.

However, getting back to planning the festival was not easy for all board members. New members had to quickly learn dozens of intricate details and aspects of festival planning, while old members had to adjust to changes in the process over the past two years. Things that felt natural, Jackson said, left people confused as to how they did it.

Lead guitarist Richie Tarver of Norman band Rainbows are Free performs April 29 at the Norman Music Festival 2017.

“It’s like riding a bike,” Boydston said. “But you have cinder blocks tied to your feet.”

One of the challenges came in reconnecting with venues and businesses involved with the Norman Music Festival, Jackson said. Some sites they partnered with have closed, while new ones have grown in size. Yet when she reached out to old venues, she was greeted with “cheers and happiness” at the news of the festival’s return.

With the festival taking place in the bustling town center of Norman, the festival board had to get permission from 75% of the businesses involved to close the streets. Jackson and the board virtually went door-to-door telling every business owner about the event.

While the task seemed monumental, many businesses were happy to agree to close the street for the weekend. Jackson said the owners were more open to this as she spoke with them about questions and concerns they had, promising to help them in any way she could to make things easier for businesses.

“You’re never going to be everybody’s best friend with something like that,” Jackson said. “Nevertheless, even the (companies) who are not so enthusiastic about the festival… could recognize that “maybe it will not be such a big day for me, but it will be a big day for us. “”

In addition to having access to downtown Norman for three days, the council also had to plan where each part of the festival would take place. From the main stage to the blockades, there were dozens of cards involved with every little detail spelled out by the volunteers.

Preparation for the event was also done faster than in previous years, Jackson said, also mentioning that she was “nauseous just talking about it.” Tasks that would normally start the previous year had to be completed within a few months. The fact that many volunteers also have full-time jobs has not escaped Jackson either.

“I think all of us on the board need to have a panic attack in April, Boydston said. “Or maybe a few panic attacks.”

However, Jackson cited a sense of camaraderie on the board during planning. They were all experiencing the process together. Boydston agreed, saying it felt good to work with others on the festival.

The physical set-up on the day the festival begins also happens quickly, Jackson explained. They usually have about five to six hours to set up all the stages and equipment before the start of the first performances. By the time they are completed, downtown Norman looks completely different.

“You won’t recognize space when we’re done,” Jackson said.

NMF Polly Skating

Skating Polly performs April 27 at the 2019 Norman Music Festival. The band will be featured in a documentary shown at the 2022 festival.

Another important part of the planning focused on the bands that would play at the festival. Shortly after the council posted the request for potential groups, they received hundreds of responses.

Boydston led the music team in choosing bands, ensuring that each contestant’s music was listened to and considered. The team focused on choosing “stage-ready” musicians, Boydston said, and was a good mix of young and old bands with a variety of genres.

The Drums, a band from New York who have been performing since 2008, will headline the final day of the festival. They were supposed to perform at the 2020 festival before it was canceled. A more established group than some of the other artists at the festival, many people are excited about their Norman appearance.

One of those people is Jackson’s daughter. Jackson said she was picking her daughter up from school one day while listening to The Drums and when her daughter hopped in the car she was thrilled to hear the band play. Delighted, she asked her mother if she liked them too.

Jackson replied ‘yes’ before telling his daughter she could meet them when they come to the Norman Music Festival. Her daughter was more than happy.

“My ears were bleeding from the screaming,” Jackson said with a laugh.

Many of the other bands selected are considered “indie” bands, Boydston explained. Because they’re always trying to find new bands, they “operate ahead” of what’s popular with the masses and try to find bands that “people like now and we think they might like tomorrow”.

The festival will begin on Thursday April 28 and continue late Saturday evening. For some, it will be their first participation in the festival. For others, it will be just one of many.

“It’ll knock your socks off anyway,” Jackson said.