In previous years, Norman Music Festival has done an incredible job of bringing acts to town that would rarely, if ever, come here. Of Montreal, Dirty Projectors and The Polyphonic Spree are were headliners that sparked an “oh, man, I can’t believe that they got them” excitement.
This year’s main stage doesn’t feature an artist like that. With the exception of Ty Segall, four of the five national touring acts on the main stage have been in the metro before (two of them in Norman!) within the last two years:
• The Walkmen: Meacham Auditorium, October 2009
• Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears: Diamond Ballroom, June 2009
• Peelander-Z: The Conservatory, October 2010, among other concerts
• Foot Patrol: Opolis, May 2010
Here’s the full Saturday main stage schedule, in reverse:
9:30 p.m. — The Walkmen
8 p.m. — Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears
6:30 p.m. — PeeLander-Z
5 p.m. — Ty Segall
3:30 p.m. — The Fortune Tellers
2:30 p.m. — Foot Patrol
1:40 p.m. — The Non
12:50 p.m. — Penny Hill Party
Headliner letdown aside, I’m relentlessly stoked that The Non finally made it to the main stage, but I’m baffled that they’re opening for The Fortune Tellers on the bill. The Fortune Tellers are an on-again/off-again band based in the metro and, uh, Greece.
I’m also surprised in a good way that Penny Hill is opening the main stage (and a band, I’m assuming, as the “party” bit). Good for her!
Headlining other stages: jam band dude Keller Williams on the Jagermeister Stage, Mississippi indie-rockers Color Revolt (not to be confused with Colourmusic) on Sooner Theater Stage, and Austin indie-pop group White Denim at Opolis.
But the most exciting headliner of the entire festival is on Thursday night at Opolis, as Norman indie-rockers The Neighborhood are re-forming. Philip Rice (now of Visions of Choruses), Matt Duckworth (now of Stardeath and the White Dwarfs), Blake Studdard (also Visions of Choruses) and Eric Mai threw down some of the best rock that the metro has heard in recent years, and it was a shame that it fizzled out a couple years back. And now they’re back for at least one show, and perhaps more. This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, headline of the festival.
NMF4 is scheduled for April 28-30. The Gazette will be there, tweeting and blogging away, just as at SXSW.
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