Friday's NMF started out with a disappointment: Football, etc. canceled their set because their drummer broke both his feet (what?!?). Instead, I caught Thee Bad Newes on Opolis' inside stage, where I spent a surprising amount of time throughout the festival. I'm becoming sedentary, and this is proof.
Nevertheless, Thee Bad Newes were fun to watch. I'm all about the DIY attitude and aesthetic, and TBN has both in spades. The duo releases music on cassette tapes (definition) and sings lyrics about working to build a life in community. The acoustic guitar/cello duo's songs were a blend of the gentle and the harsh, as the nylon-stringed acoustic guitar was most often played in a fingerpicking style reminiscent of both The Tallest Man on Earth and Bob Dylan. The cello provided lithe, swooning accompaniment.
Similarly to both aforementioned artists, the vocals were somewhere between a bray and a bark, bringing a raw element to the sound. It was a unique and interesting set, which was sad in light of the comment "This will be our last show for a while."
Rolling on out to Sooner Theater, I caught the back half of FRMR's set, which just about blew my mind and eardrums. The bizarre, carnival-esque tunes that erupt from the many members of FRMR are dizzying in their volume, erratic changes and general chaos. The bass (held down by local staple John Calvin) powered a lot of the tunes, as well as the army of keyboards. The vocals were oddest of all, making me marvel at the fact that some people's musical brains just work so much differently than mine. It was a fascinating set, and I would suggest anyone interested in experimental pop to check out FRMR's variety of it.
Norman Music Festival 4 is officially in the books. It came, it saw (metaphorically), it conquered (also metaphorically).
It had a lot of new things: a third day, more stages, new locations for old stages, a weird laser-tag thing, a Friday day stage and more. Many of these changes had pros and cons.
The addition of Thursday to the slate gives the fest the ability to grow into a heavy hitter, but this year, it made things spread a little thin on Friday and Saturday. It felt as if some of the bands were stacked toward Thursday to entice people to go to the new thing: Opolis blew it out with tons of talent on the first night, then had an abbreviated day on Saturday.
Still, despite this enticement, Thursday attendance only hit 3,500 (35,000 people attended Saturday, with 9,000 hitting up Friday). This could have been due to the distance between stages, lack of advertising (several people told me they didn't know it was on Thursday) or the fact that people are busy during the week, but only toward the end of the evening at Opolis did the night really feel festival-esque.
Still, I like the move, and I hope that people get adjusted to a Thursday/Friday/Saturday schedule. I think that as the fest grows in prominence, talent will fill out all three days. The same is true of the new stages; as the festival grows, stages will both be able to fill out their schedules and secure only the best of the best. I sincerely hope that there is at some point a cap to stages, however, lest NMF become like SXSW and get far, far too big to maintain quality.
On that note: Laser tag? What the heck?
The new location for the Main and Jägermeister stages was excellent planning. Main Street was much less crowded, which was necessary. Last year felt like human pinball, and it was quite uncomfortable. The new stage locations make a lot of sense and open the festival up. Super high-five for that.
Speaking of location, putting Dust Bowl Market across from Opolis was a neat move. I liked it there. Whether or not it's been there in the past, I have no idea; I've only recently been getting appreciative of crafts.
The one big complaint I have with the fest is that I still have no idea what it wants to be. There was an upsurge of Austin bands this year (Football, etc.; White Denim; Black Joe Lewis), which could have been due to money constraints or a decision to focus on regional and local talent. The Walkmen are from New York City, which doesn't help either theory. Is NMF a local music festival? Is it going to try to be full of national acts, like Austin City Limits? There has always been a huge amount of local acts, and the presence of Montu so late on the Jägermeister stage provides ammunition for the idea that this will be a continuously local thing.
This confusion is partly due to a lack of clarification in their ad campaigns, and partly because it's still being worked out. And really, I don't care which one it is; I'd love to see an all-local festival, and I'd love to see The Mountain Goats, Sufjan, Radiohead and the Pixies all kicking it in Norman. I doubt the fest will swing to either of those extremes, but it would be nice to know which direction it’s heading. This knowledge would make judging its success and growth easier: I tell a person that the local aspect is the big deal instead of the headliner, there will be less expectation placed on national headliners.
If the headliners are the deal, then NMF should take pains to get bands that would not ordinarily come to Oklahoma. If organizers want it to be a festival about exposing Oklahoma to the outside music world, we need to make a splash every year. This year's headliners weren't a splash: if you search "Norman" at Pitchfork.com, a listing of 2010's headliners comes up, but no 2011 lineup. Seeing as we don't really know if the headliners were intended to be a big deal or not, it's hard to judge the effectiveness of this year's fest.
It was a boatload of fun, however. That can't be knocked. I'm looking forward to NMF5. —Stephen Carradini