Ambitious festival launch brings together Americana-rock ’n’ roll hybrids in Guthrie 

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Shirley Clifford will never forget the unnamed older woman in the Buddha shirt who danced and watched bands play at a recent block party.

Who could, really?

In many ways, that image — and that mystery woman — embodies the very aesthetic that this weekend’s Queen of the Prairie Festival and Guthrie itself represents: vintage America with a twist.

For quite some time, Shirley and her mom, Christie Clifford, organized Make Guthrie Weird block parties. With this festival, they took that theme and blew it up with sets from 21 music acts, two late-night sets with DJ outfit Electric Western and two nights of camping.

“Word got around and we got a really good reputation in Nashville so now it looks like we’re bringing Nashville to Guthrie,” said Shirley.

That sounds easy enough, right?

Fans should expect a mellow crowd and a lineup with “no filler.”

“We feel like we’ve got a killer lineup,” Shirley said.

click to enlarge Lera Lynn (Jeremy Ryan / Provided)
  • Jeremy Ryan / Provided
  • Lera Lynn

Weird folk

The town solidified its quirky, folk- and Americana-infused reputation back in 2013 when Mumford & Sons landed there with its successful Gentlemen of the Road extravaganza. Tens of thousands of visitors flooded the area — many of them for the first time.

“We didn’t want to lose the momentum of Mumford & Sons,” Shirley said. “We could never really do anything as huge … but we wanted to keep it going.”

Soon, town leadership joined them to court and secure the event’s growing music lineup and its blend of new and established acts, including JD McPherson, Parker Millsap, Lera Lynn, Jonny Fritz, Whiskey Shivers and Escondido.

In fact, alt-country crossover act Escondido, which hails from Nashville, was the first band confirmed for the first Make Guthrie Weird block party, and Shirley said its members, Jessica Maros and Tyler James, facilitated key music industry connections with Queen of the Prairie organizers.

Another Tennessee musician, Memphis singer-songwriter Valerie June, isn’t shy about her love of Oklahoma’s idiosyncratic former state capitol.

“Basically, all the people we got for Queen of the Prairie, they’re friends or they’ve played together,” Shirley said. “It’s just been snowballing … because we just get more and more connections.”

The festival takes its name from a nickname it earned shortly after the Land Run of 1889 flooded the area with about 10,000 settlers and water, mass transit and even parking garages that sprung up almost overnight.

click to enlarge Whiskey Shivers - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Whiskey Shivers

‘Boutique festival’

Shirley, who grew up in Piedmont and has lived in Guthrie for two and a half years, said she thinks the personality and history of her new hometown attracts artists and fans alike.

As the rookie festival organizers work with a relatively small crew, Shirley said they took inspiration from other music festivals, including Pickathon in Oregon and WinterWonderGrass in Colorado.

“We want to be the ones that are respected, kind of like Newport [Folk Festival] (a Rhode Island music festival),” Shirley said. “That’s iconic, but I think that would be a good model to shoot for.”

In its initial year, however, Queen of the Prairie will be more of a “boutique festival” that’s a bit more intimate in size. The most important thing for this year, Shirley said, is making a good impression on guests and artists for future Queen of the Prairie festivals specifically and for the future of music in Guthrie in general.

“We hope people around here see it that way and are open to coming and visiting Guthrie and kind of checking out what we’ve got going on,” she said.

Like the pioneering legacy of its host town, Queen of the Prairie boldly charges into unchartered territory with its first event.

“As long as the fans have a good time and the artists have a good time and there’s good music, I don’t see how it could go wrong,” Shirley said.


Print headline: Quirky Queen, An ambitious festival launch in Guthrie brings together Americana-rock ’n’ roll hybrids for a two-day music and camping celebration.

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