For singer-songwriter Kyle Reid, the Norman Music Festival has special significance. It was here — seven years ago on a tiny stage at Michelangelo’s coffee bar — when the mainstay of the local music scene was “forced” to become a singer.
Until then, Reid had only been a guitar player in his college band. But after college, the band broke up and its vocalist left town. If Reid were going to continue performing, it meant he would have to sing. During the annual festival, Reid took the plunge.
“I’ll never forget it. It was a big deal to me,” Reid said. “All my friends were there. I was like, yes, I can do this.”
Reid is among 327 musical acts performing this weekend at the 12th version of NMF. The event features 18 indoor and outdoor stages on and around Norman’s Main Street.
One might say the Norman Music Festival — a smorgasboard of musical genres ranging from hip hop, to rap, to Americana and rock and roll — was designed for Reid, who has developed into one of the most prolific musicians on the Oklahoma scene.
His presence will be felt at the festival perhaps more than any other. He will be performing with his own band, The Low Swingin’ Chariots, at 5:45 p.m. today on the Gray Street Stage, but also as a “sideman” for five other acts who are eager to have his talents accompany them.
You may find him playing the keyboard, pedal steel guitar, banjo, a cigar box guitar or whatever else works for this multi-talented musician.
Legendary Oklahoma sideman Terry “Buffalo” Ware said Reid’s contributions make the bands he plays with better.
“Kyle brings a broad musical pallet to the table,” said Ware, also a Norman resident. “In sideman world, the most important thing is to always serve the song. It’s not about showing off your chops. It’s about adding texture. Sometimes that texture can be silence. Kyle understands that.”
A go-to ‘sideman’
Reid began sitting in with other bands years ago when another Norman music legend, Bob Moore — commonly known as “Spacedog” and credited for establishing The Deli as the central music space in Norman — asked him to play bass with his band.
“I didn’t actually play bass at the time. I had a bass, but I didn’t really play it. But, I said, ‘Oh yeah,’” Reid said.
He then began studying the chord sheet provided by Spacedog to learn the chord progressions, and, consequently, launch a career as a go-to “sideman”.
Kyle Reid’s NMF schedule
• 7 p.m. Friday with “Mr. Magnificent” at Guestroom Records;
• Midnight Saturday with Ken Pomeroy at Bluebonnet Bar;
• 1:30 p.m. Saturday with Abbigale Dawn and The Makebelieve on the Gray Street Stage;
• 5:45 p.m. Saturday with his band, The Low Swingin’ Chariots, on Gray Street Stage;
• 10:45 p.m. Saturday with Carter Sampson on the Gray Street Stage.
But Reid’s musical beginnings were as a teenager in Edmond when his grandmother gave him a guitar in exchange for his promise to complete piano lessons.
Around then, a movie influenced his future. When Marty McFly wowed the 1955 kids in “Back to the Future” with his power chord rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” it also wowed Reid. And it began a change in the way he saw the world of music.
“Before seeing Back to the Future and getting that guitar, music was this mechanical thing,” he said. “The teacher teaches you to read notes off a page and put your fingers in the right spot. Getting the timing right and playing it. But then I had several experiences hanging out with friends and it was like, ‘Oh, you play, and I play.”
‘So many different kinds of music’
At age 15 Reid listened carefully to classic rock tunes on local radio station KRXO and reverse engineered the chords — sometimes one string at a time. He began to learn the patterns of music that elevated him from being not just a music player but to being a music creator.
He continued learning chords one note and one string at a time by studying The Band and Van Morrison’s performance of his special arrangement of Tura Lura Lural (an Irish lullaby) on a CD of the concert documentary The Last Waltz. Reid said it was a formative experience.
By the time college came, although Reid was an engineering and physics student at the University of Oklahoma, he found himself in the OU Jazz Band and learning jazz theory from OU music professor Jay Wilkinson.
Reid’s experiences have produced a musician with eclectic talents and musical tastes. That makes it easier for him to sit in with different styles of bands of divergent genres.
“I like doing that. It stretches me. And there are so many different kinds of music I like to do,” Reid said. “At the Norman Music Festival I get to play guitar with some people. I get to play pedal steel guitar with Carter Sampson. I get to play keys with Abbigale Dawn.”
Reid said he enjoys supporting other artists.
“There is something in my brain that feels really good trying to figure out what are they trying to do. What are they trying to say? What is there in my tool box to help them express that in an emotional and impactful way,” he said.
‘My brain is in producing and my heart is in performing’
In recent years, Reid has added “producer” to his titles, including producing the recordings for the rising folk star Ken Pomeroy. He said surrounding himself with pre-amps and tape recorders can scratch an “engineer’s itch” from college.
But, in the end, for Reid, it is still all about the live performance. And so, he will be also be accompanying Pomeroy at the Bluebonnet Bar at midnight Friday for NMF.
“I think my brain is in producing and my heart in performing. I always love performing,” Reid said. “I have to talk myself out of walking down to The Deli and just sitting in with whoever is there. And drinking beer and having fun with my friends. That’s what I love to do.”
Reid said for Norman musicians the lead up to this week is like “dead week” at OU and the performances at the festival are the final exams..
“It’s a point of pride to show off our town. And to show off the musical projects everyone has been working on.”