Thousands of country, Americana and bluegrass music fans invaded the Myriad Botanical Gardens in downtown Oklahoma City on Saturday to enjoy the first OKCFest music festival.
The music began Friday afternoon with performances in the old Ford parking lot by musicians such as Dierks Bentley and country legend Merle Haggard, who performed for more than ten thousand fans.
The music resumed at noon Saturday with the Oklahoma City-based country trio Air Line Road. At the start of their set, the Great Lawn in the Myriad Gardens was scattered with about 30 listeners, which gradually grew to over 40 by the end of the performance.
Solo acoustic act Jesse General Thompson started the lineup of Americana artists on the Plaza by Cox stage. Over 50 festival goers chatted and got lunch at the Ice House under the tent while he performed.
“I wrote this song a week ago so I might just completely blank on the words,” Thompson joked between two tunes. “Or I might nail it.”
Rain halted the performances on the Rotunda by ITC Holdings Stage and on the Great Lawn around 1:30, but music resumed an hour later. Travis Wackerly & Honey Creek Pass played some bluegrass under the rotunda, and Jennifay Joy and Diamond Grit played a cover of “Better Dig Two” by The Band Perry on the Great Lawn.
Crowds started to thin as the lines to get into the main stage grew, but Oklahoma City singer-songwriter Chase Kerby kept the party going at the Plaza by Cox stage.
Acoustic, folk or otherwise less-country acts were limited to the Plaza Stage. Kerby said he thought the festival would benefit from expanding the number of non-country artists in coming years.
“Pop country leads way to other things and a lot of people who like pop country also like Red Dirt, which probably means they like Americana which means they like folk which means they like singer-songwriters,” he said after his 3:00 performance. “So you can really branch it out quite a bit.”
Despite coming on stage the same time fans were gathering in the old Ford parking lot to hear Lucas Hoge perform, Mike Hosty gathered an almost full audience at the Plaza stage. His humorous lyrics and banter between songs had the entire audience engaged and laughing the entire time.
Kix Brooks, half of the notorious country duo Brooks & Dunn, performed second on the main stage. His setlist included songs he wrote since pursuing a solo career, as well as some Brooks & Dunn favorites, including “Red Dirt Road” and “Mama Don’t Get Dressed Up For Nothing.”
Next up was the Randy Rogers Band, which was welcomed by a packed crowd. They opened with the tune “Fuzzy,” followed by “Interstate.” Lead singer Randy Rogers flicked guitar picks into the crowd between songs, and the Texas natives played as the sun set and the venue cooled off.
Scotty McCreery, winner of American Idol season 10, took the stage next. He played some songs off of his latest album See You Tonight, such as “See You Tonight,” “Buzzin’” and “Forget to Forget You.”
But the country heartthrob mixed it up a little too. He played “Check Yes Or No,” by George Straight, “Hey, Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams, a couple Johnny Cash covers and even an Elvis track.
He told his fans he was an old soul, and was passionate about these country classics. He told a story of the American Idol producers urging him to play more pop songs to increase his chances of winning, but he stuck to his roots (and it obviously worked out well for him).
Lady Antebellum was the last band to take the stage, starting their setlist with the track, “Compass.” A few songs later, they played “Bartender,” the first single off of their upcoming album.
There was barely enough room to move in the crowd, but fans still managed to dance and take plenty of pictures and videos to remember the show later. A female fan wearing her partner’s cowboy hat sat atop his shoulders, singing along to every lyric into her beer bottle microphone.
“This is amazing that all this has come together in four months and the first time we’ve ever tried to do it,” OKCFest founder Fred Hall told The Oklahoman on Friday. “I think Oklahoma City will all unite, from every area of Oklahoma City, behind music. Let’s bring Oklahoma City together more and more, and this could be a great way to do it.”
Organizers of the festival plan to do it again next summer, with more acts and genres. Hall said he wants to add more rock music for next time. Chase Kerby said he thought continuing the festival would be a good idea for the city.
“I think Oklahoma City is at this point where it is just blowing up exponentially,” he said. “We’re getting our districts back. I think something like this is important for the city because, for one, it just brings focus to Oklahoma City from big acts. They could be like, ‘Oklahoma City rules.’”
For anyone craving more live music, on Sunday afternoon the Myriad Gardens will be full of the sound of Gospel and Jazz music on the Plaza by Cox stage and Rock en Espanol near the Great Lawn.