As the clock above the front door at the Bluebonnet Bar approached 2 a.m. for last call, The Contraband struck up its version of “Mona” and their lively guitar licks, harmonica wails and drum beats brought the 12th annual Norman Music Festival to a close.
The performance ended three days of a kaleidoscope of music at 18 stages that filled the streets, alleyways, parking lots and bars with everything from country to rap and all genres in between, beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday and ending in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
At some venues, patrons arrived in such numbers that fire marshal occupancy rules kept them lined up on the Main Street sidewalk.
Norman Music Festival organizers anticipate more than 100,000 to attend the now-landmark Oklahoma music event each April. In recent years rain storms or oppressive heat have affected turnout. Not so this year, however, as mother nature cooperated and people came in throngs.
And while music patrons flocked to downtown Norman for this event, the musicians who participated came not only to play for them but to rekindle relationships with other performers and get a boost of creativity.
“It is such a wonderful place to connect with other artists and meet people and enjoy live music,” said singer-songwriter Sophia Massad, who performed on the Gray Street stage Friday.
“I love getting the opportunity to be surrounded by so much talent and love for music. It is the one time of year that everyone who is involved in Oklahoma music is brought together. I am so glad to be a part of it,” said Massad, who will play next at the Speakeasy in Oklahoma City on May 17 and returns to The Deli in Norman on June 1.
For Maggie McClure, who is one half of the duo Imaginaries with Shane Henry, the Norman Music Festival is a homecoming after spending recent years in southern California.
“Playing Norman Music Festival is a great opportunity for us to perform for our hometown crowd, plus new fans alike,” McClure said.
The Imaginaries appeared on the Sooner Theatre stage Friday. After a trip to New York, they will return to Oklahoma and play at Midwest City’s Made in Oklahoma festival on May 11.
Back to the Bluebonnet
Before The Contraband leader and vocalist Tanner Miller started the festival’s last song, he reminded the packed Bluebonnet that while their attendance was appreciated, music lovers don’t need to wait an entire year to come back and see many of the same Okie bands performing.
Miller and his wife, Michelle, own the Bluebonnet. Many of those who came to the festival are recurring customers, he said. But a good number who listened to the 30 bands and soloists who took the Millers’ small stage near the front door were new to the century-old bar.
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“The impact the festival has on Norman is really important. And it’s important to the Bluebonnet,” Miller said. “We like having all these people here this week. But, we’re open here next week too and it would be great to see some of these folks come back then too.”
He said his establishment books only Oklahoma artists, and many of the bands at NMF play the Bluebonnet throughout the year. The Contraband will be recording its next album to a live audience at the bar on June 18.
“Norman is musically popping,” Miller said. “There are so many great singers and songwriters here. It’s time for people to wake up. They can see live music like this every night here.”