TULSA — The "D” in Dfest stands for diversity, and Diversafest Music Conference and Festival founders Tom Green and Angie Devore-Green are working overtime to live up to the name’s claim. Tulsa’s eighth annual gathering of unsigned and emerging musicians and big-time international acts will fill the canyons of downtown’s Blue Dome District with every musical genre imaginable today and Saturday, ranging from Southeast Asian pop to greasy Atlanta rock. "It’s definitely more diverse,” Devore-Green said. "If people will research a little, they would realize just how diverse our lineup is this year.” And a little research turns up Los Angeles-based Khmer rock band Dengue Fever (7 tonight, Triton Stage), a band fronted by Cambodian singer Chhom Nimol that started out covering pre-Pol Pot lounge pop from the vocalist’s native country before branching out to encompass more Americanized styles of ’70s rock that the Kinks’ Ray Davies recently likened to "Blondie meets Led Zeppelin.” Guitarist Zac Holtzman, formerly of eccentric alt-country band Dieselhed, is nothing but flattered, especially considering the source. "Oh, I love that comparison,” Holtzman said from his Echo Park, Calif., home. "That was really nice of him to say something like that. Yeah, ‘Parallel Lines’ was one of the first albums I ever kind of grew up on.” The last time Holtzman played an Oklahoma gig, the audience pelted his band with small change, he said. "It was kind of a rowdy crowd, and we were just the opening band, and they were kind of anxious to see Cake,” the guitarist recalled. And as luck would have it, Holtzman precedes the Sacramento-based Cake once again, as John McCrea and company headline the day’s events at 11:30 p.m. Saturday on the Poseidon Stage, churning out their deadpan, acoustic guitar and trumpet-driven renditions of "The Distance” and "I Will Survive,” a hilarious cover that will forever overshadow the Gloria Gaynor original. "Festivals can be a drag, but there are festivals that are exceptions to that,” McCrea said from his Oakland, Calif., home last week. "And it is quite refreshing when there’s a festival that you can tell that the organizers care about it.” Apparently the Greens, who founded Dfest in 2001, have left just such an impression on the Cake front man, who picked the Tulsa event as one of a handful of dates to test out some new tunes. "Right now we’re working on an album, trying to finish it up, so we really shouldn’t be doing shows,” McCrea said. "But we’re doing a few here and there, and we’re trying out a few new songs on audiences, which is actually good for the recording process, just to get us an idea of how songs work and which songs don’t work.” Also testing new material is the Black Crowes, topping the bill at 11 tonight on the Poseidon Stage. The Atlanta-bred rockers spent three weeks last winter recording at the Woodstock, N.Y., studios of The Band’s drummer/vocalist Levon Helm, coming away with enough material to fill two albums. "We set up not exactly like a live show, but with an audience in the room,” said Crowes’ drummer Tom Gorman from a tour stop in Dayton, Ohio. "It’s actually a live album of new material, so we’ve never done anything like that before.” "Before the Frost ...” is due out Sept. 1, with a free download code for a second album, "... Until the Freeze.” Gorman said the Crowes might preview as many as three new numbers tonight. "I think with every record there’s always a Tulsa or an Oklahoma City (tour stop) in there somewhere,” said Gorman, who will return with the Black Crowes on Sept. 24 at the Oklahoma State Fair. But events such as Dfest offer the band broader exposure, Gorman said. "We get to play to a lot of people who don’t normally come and see us,” he said. That might include fans of New Orleans brother act the Knux (6 p.m. Saturday, Triton Stage), whose debut album, "Remind Me in 3 Days,” is marketed as hip-hop while their sound defies categorization. "We’re like the Strokes if they could rap,” said Krispy Kream of the music he makes with Rah Almillio (aka Kentrell and Alvin Lindsey). And then there are the indie rock aficionados who show up to catch such gifted acts as Oklahoma City’s the Uglysuit, (6 p.m. Saturday, Poseidon Stage), who made their Dfest bow in July 2008, just before releasing their self-titled debut album on the Chicago-based Quarterstick label, with a track called "Chicago” that ended up on the soundtrack of an "E.R.” episode. "It was a lot of fun,” singer/guitarist Israel Hindman said of the band’s first Dfest show. "We had a bigger crowd than we expected. We didn’t expect hardly anybody to come because we were playing at the same time as some other big bands, but all the local people came out and supported us. It was awesome.” Indeed, Tom Green and Angie Devore-Green hope to someday make Dfest as awesome as Austin’s South by Southwest music conference, which showcases rising stars alongside established talent and puts recording industry professionals together with struggling musicians in an educational setting. Music workshops will be held today and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., along with a newly established yoga conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Festival hours are 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. both days, with more than 160 acts performing on 13 stages. "I think it’s made a significant impact on the music scene,” Devore-Green said. "When we started this thing, our music scene was generally blown off by the industry, and now they are at attention, and bands are getting noticed. I see that the new bands coming up are better and better each year. And I see bands and musicians actually starting to care about their careers and starting to realize they can actually have a career in music and live in Oklahoma, which is huge that we don’t lose that group of creatives to other places in the U.S. "It’s hip to be a musician from Oklahoma now, and it’s actually a good thing instead of something musicians try to conceal or pretend isn’t true by moving to Dallas or Seattle or Portland or L.A., etc. Wayne Coyne is loud and proud about it. It’s good to see the new bands up and coming are loud and proud as well.”
Diversafest Music Conference and Festival
→Featuring: The Black Crowes, Cake, Gogol Bordello, Blue October, Citizen Cope, Bassnectar, Ozomatli, Metro Station, Rooney, Delta Spirit, Dengue Fever, the Cool Kids, Carney, Mates of State, Dusty Rhodes & the River Band, Ra Ra Riot, Other Lives, the Uglysuit, the Knux (more than 160 acts in all). →Musical performances: 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. today and Saturday at indoor and outdoor venues in Tulsa’s Blue Dome District, between First and Third streets and Cincinnati and Greenwood avenues. →Conference sessions: Noon to 5 p.m., Crowne Plaza Hotel, 100 E Second, Tulsa. →Festival admission: One-day pass, $45 plus $5 service fee; two-day pass, $60 plus $5 service fee. →Conference and festival admission: $111 plus $9 service fee. →Information: www.dfest.com. →Video: Watch video coverage of Dfest online at NewsOK.com.