A race against time will be underway on Main Street in Norman today as organizers scramble to construct concert stages in a five-hour window before this year’s Norman Music Festival kicks into high gear.
Returning from a two-year pandemic-related hiatus, the festival is set to feature 247 bands and solo singers from Oklahoma and around the country, bringing alt-rock, dance, hip-hop, Americana and other genres of music to 12 venues in the downtown area.
For the festival’s all-volunteer organizers, that means a massive logistical challenge planning for and securing the necessary permits, licensing, street closures, portable toilets, fencing, stages, lights and crew, not to mention selecting and making arrangements for the musicians.
Once Norman police shut down Main Street at noon today, the festival must construct the largest stages, including electrical and lighting systems, before Friday night’s card of headlining musicians — Mad Honey, Husbands and Jabee — can perform.
“Most festivals are in some spacious outdoor festival ground with two or three days to build their festival infrastructure. We have five hours. The Norman Music Festival is a very unique creature,” said Shari Jackson, festival director.
Jackson said the two-year gap since the last NMF resulted in many new but dedicated volunteers experiencing their first festival and learning that it is not a simple task.
She said for much of the past year it was uncertain whether the festival could even be conducted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But then, about 90 days ago, it appeared to be a “go” and the organizers had to make swift use of their time.
“Putting this together in 90 days, nothing has been easy or seamless,” she said.
But, any difficulties were not apparent Thursday night, when the first festival performances began without a hitch on nine stages, including Norman’s oldest bar, The Bluebonnet. Three large outdoor stages are to be added Friday.
Headliners Mothica, Wet and The Drums are set to perform on the main stage Saturday night. A full line up and map of the festival can be found on the Norman Music Festival website.
‘I’m not playing for money’
Like in past years, some musicians who show up are not on the official bill.
That included guitar player Teagan Hampton, 14, of Norman, who was strumming away in an alleyway behind a frozen custard parlor as festival goers walked by on Thursday night.
“I’m not playing for money or anything. I just wanted to come down and be a part of this.”
Organizers anticipate a similar sentiment will bring the festival, which began in 2008, its largest crowd ever on Saturday, when the music begins at noon and continues until 2 a.m. Sunday morning.
Norman business leaders estimate the festival brings a $4 million economic boost to the city.
There is no admission charge to any of the festival venues, although some indoor locations which are bars do restrict access to persons under 21 years of age.
Donations to support the Norman Music Alliance, the non-profit organization that operates the festival, can be made here.
In addition to downtown businesses open during the festival, an art market, food trucks and local craft beer and wine vendors will be available on downtown Norman streets.
A partner nonprofit organization, The Depot, which operates an art gallery in the historic downtown train station, is exhibiting concert photography during the festival, some of which was made by Oklahoma photographers shooting previous NMFs. The Depot exhibit On Stage continues through May 7.
“Shooting NMF is like drinking from a fire hose connected to a hydrant mainlined with outstanding musical talent,” said Cody Giles, a local photographer and NMF board member who coordinated photo passes for this year’s festival and also helped curate The Depot art show.
“The lights, the colors and the stage presence from the bands on the four outdoor stages and a handful of indoor venues make it easy to hunt for opportunities that can turn into gallery-level photographs.”
It includes black and white photographs of Jimi Hendrix made by Norman native Neil Kingsley in 1970.
To provide an additional swath of color and activities for festival-goers, the Norman Lions Club’s annual carnival opened Thursday night on South James Garner Avenue along the railroad tracks nearby.
And to make downtown Norman even busier, on Saturday morning the recently relocated Norman Farm Market will conduct business as usual at The Well facility next door to the carnival. Market attendees can park during market hours in dedicated spaces west of The Well on Eufaula Street.
James Garner Boulevard will be closed to auto traffic from Gray Street to Eufaula Street during the festival, and beginning Friday afternoon additional street closures will be from Gray Street to Eufaula Street, Main Street from Santa Fe to Porter, Comanche from Santa Fe to James Garner and Crawford from Gray Street to Main.
Festival goers are encouraged to use ride share apps for transportation to the downtown because of limited parking availability in the area.