A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Plaza District Festival celebrates Oklahoma art, music and food
The once-blighted, now-bustling area also will showcase its growth during Saturday’s event.
The annual Plaza District Festival will celebrate Oklahoma art, entertainment and food from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday in the once-blighted, now-bustling arts, commercial and residential district in the 1700 block of NW 16, just west of N Classen.
“It’s really a day to showcase what we have in the district and the progress that we’ve made as well as highlighting local creativity,” said Kristen Vails, executive director of the Plaza District Association.
Admission and activities are free at the festival, which will include 40 visual arts exhibiting in tents along NW 16, a vast children’s interactive zone, live music and dance performances in three outdoor areas, a Bigfoot Calling Contest and more. Local food trucks will park in the Plaza, and district restaurants, galleries and businesses are planning special activities.
An estimated 4,000 patrons attended the 2011 festival. About 5,000 are expected this year.
“Last year’s was just packed the whole day. Our businesses had like double-record sales and triple-record sales that day. It was definitely the biggest year,” Vails said.
Growing the district
In the 1930s, the Plaza District was a thriving commercial area featuring shops, restaurants, bars and the landmark Plaza Theatre. Decades later, the declining district was plagued with crime and urban decay. In the past few years, Lyric Theatre’s renovation of the Plaza Theatre, a streetscape paid by a city bond issue and the opening of several studios, galleries and businesses have transformed the once-decrepit neighborhood into a city hot spot.
“It’s just such a sense of community. … There’s a huge sense of pride from all those folks. They’re really excited to see some of their hard work pay off,” said Jonathan Fowler, general manager of Fowler Volkswagen of Norman, the festival’s presenting sponsor. “The culture down there is so DIY that they can do so much with just a little bit of help.”
The festival started as a modest neighborhood block party but has bloomed into a full-blown celebration as the district has blossomed, Vails said. Monthly Live on the Plaza art walks have established the district as a cool place to be.
This year, the festival will showcase more musicians as the event shifts from a single, central stage to three outdoor performance areas. While Everything Goes Dance Studio will provide an actual stage for its performers, who will dance in an array of styles from ballet and tap to hip-hop and flamenco, the musical acts will play at crowd level.
The east performance area at NW 16 and Blackwelder will showcase singer-songwriters, while the west area outside the Coin Laundry will spotlight full band performances. Music lovers won’t find a formal stage in either spot.
“The stage, in the past, it’s just kind of become background to everything else that’s going on, and that’s not fair to the performers,” Vails said. “So why not bring them out into the crowd a little more where it’s a little more intimate? That’s what we decided to go with. … We’ve got all these wide sidewalks, we might as well use them.”
Bad Granny’s Bazaar will host live music inside its backroom, Velvet Monkey Salon will have an outdoor fashion show, and the global Before I Die Project will let people share their hopes, dreams and bucket list goals on a giant chalkboard.
For the second year, the Fowler VW Tent will invite festival-goers of all ages to let loose their wild side with a Bigfoot Calling Contest. Participants can watch the 1987 film “Harry and the Hendersons” for inspiration or devise an original Bigfoot call.
“I think the Bigfoot call really is more in spirit than it is a specific call. I think it’s a feel that’s given off by the caller, you could say,” Fowler said playfully, adding that the allegedly mythical creature again will be lurking at this year’s festival.
“Last year, the call actually brought him out. So I will say that if somebody gets the call right, he’s probably gonna pop up.”
Plus, the festival’s Kidapalooza will feature the Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s musical instrument playground, interactive art activities by Norman’s Firehouse Art Center, Metro Library System activities, a photo booth, face painting and sidewalk chalk. Children will get to contribute to a community mural that artist Dusty Gilpin has designed as a sort of giant coloring book, Vails said.
“The festival’s really our opportunity to provide lots of art activities for the neighborhood and for anyone who comes down,” she said. “It’s just like a big party. And it’s fun, every year there are new businesses to highlight.”
Showing off new businesses
This year, an artisan sandwich shop known as The Mule will be among the newcomers. Another district restaurant, Urban Wineworks opened for the 2011 festival, but executive chef Jonathan Turney didn’t come to the neighborhood until July. He has been working an outdoor grill in front of the restaurant during the past few Live on the Plaza events, and he looks forward to getting outside to share his passion for pork, produce and other locally sourced food during the festival.
“My first Live on the Plaza, the first thing I saw was all these kids running around with chalk and making our sidewalks beautiful with their art,” Turney said. “I love the district here. … I’m all about developing this district and watching it grow.”
Plaza District Festival
When: Noon to 10 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Plaza District, NW 16 between Indiana and Blackwelder.
Street closings: NW 16 and some of the side streets through the district will be closed during the festival.
See the full music and performance schedule for the festival after the break
Plaza District Festival 2012 Live Music and Performance Schedule
Everything Goes Dance Stage
Dance performances at the top of every hour
East Performance/Singer-songwriter Area (NW 16 and Blackwelder)
12:30 p.m.: Weeko
1:30: Allie Lauren/Lauren Clair
2:30: Kaitlen Butts
3:30: Grupo Afro Caribeno
4:30: Zach Winters
5:30: Beth Isbell
6:30: Kaylee Losawyer
7:30: Chelsey Cope
West Performance Area (Coin Laundry, 1734 NW 16)
Noon: Erik the Viking
1 p.m.: Blake Fischer
2: Grupo Afro Caribeno
3: The Rockettops
4: The Grown Ups
5: Kyle Reid
6: Zach Teller Trio
7: Porch Mice
8: Otis Watkins
9: Wurly Birds
Bad Granny’s Bazaar Backroom (1759 NW 16)
12:30 p.m.: Alan Peters (OKC) (Singer/Songwriter)
1:30: Mikael Olof Junderwater (Tulsa) (Singer/Songwriter)
2:30: Joe Sixpack & The Americans (Norman) (Alt/Hip-Hop)
3:30: Maria Fantasma (Tulsa) (Singer/Songwriter)
4:30: Sticky Stranglets (OKC) (Alt-Rock)
5:30: Movements (Tulsa) (Alt-Rock)
6:30: Deadweight (Lawton) (Voodoo-Reefer Rock)
7:30: Risk On Da Disk (Tulsa) (Reggae/Hip Hop)
8:30: Alan Doyle and The Outsiders (Tulsa) (Hip-Hop/Rap)
9:30: Brother Gruesome (OKC) (Alt-Rock)
Special events schedule
Noon to 10 p.m.: Bomb Shelter gallery, 1609 N Blackwelder Ave. No. 2, presents its entire “Elements Series” in one day.
Noon to 6 p.m.: Central OK Humane Society pet adoptions.
7 p.m.: Revolutions BMX Trick Show jam session.
8 p.m.: Velvet Monkey Salon outdoor fashion show, 1701 NW 16.