OK SWEETHEART, on the other hand, is more into '60s-style pop, although lead vocalist and songwriter Erin Austin was a long way from being born when the Beatles and the Zombies — two of her biggest influences — were still making music together.
“I grew up with secular music being a big no-no,” Austin said of her strict religious upbringing on a Christmas tree farm in upstate New York. “I had a little boom box in my room. In the morning when I would get ready for school, I would sneak a listen to the regular radio station, and it would be like Mariah Carey or Ace of Base and stuff like that.”
Austin's musical taste didn't become fully formed until she moved to Tulsa to study classical voice and opera at Oral Roberts University. And it was there that she met her current musical partner in OK SWEETHEART, keyboardist, vocalist, arranger and producer Rob Gungor. Austin by that time had been writing songs since she was 9, and her first single, “You Let Me Down,” won the international John Lennon Songwriting Award over thousands of competitors in 2008.
OK SWEETHEART's debut album, “Home,” has just been released on the Medallion label, recorded in Denton, Texas, with a little help from members of Midlake, Elizabeth and the Catapult, the Polyphonic Spree and Via Audio. And while Austin and Gungor are now based in New York City, they still think of Oklahoma as home.
“Rob graduated high school in Tulsa, and we both went to college there, and that's where we met and kind of how the band formed and our relationship formed in Oklahoma,” Austin said. “We really like having ties to Oklahoma. All of our friends are there and a lot of the guys we play with are based out of Oklahoma.”
Casey Castille is another songbird who left her heart in the Sooner State to make music in the big time, fronting the Mimsies, who made their hard-rockin' bones as one of Oklahoma City's premier party bands in the '90s. She is now an Oakland, Calif., resident, and the Norman Music Festival is bringing her home as well, for a reunion performance with her old musical partners Jerod Vance (guitar), Ed Van Bufkirk (drums) and Brooks Emory (bass).
“There'll be plenty of sweat and spit,” Castille said of the Mimsies' return engagement. “I have no shame about that stuff. It should just be fun.”
Castille left the band, mainly for health reasons, in 2003, after recording one full-length album and an EP on the Mimsies independent label, performing on the Warped Tour and gigging regularly at L.A.'s famed Viper Room. She worked other careers outside of music — including marketing director at a law firm and as a personal trainer — before getting a Facebook message from Vance last fall to consider reforming the group. That led to a sold-out gig at Oklahoma City's Blue Note in November 2010.
“I decided I'm a musician, an artist. I miss this terribly,” Castille said. “It just seemed like the time was right, no water under the bridge. It was the thing to do.”
The only slight misgiving she has about the Norman Music Festival is the venue the Mimsies have been assigned — the Sooner Theater.
“They told me you can't dance there,” Castille said. “You can't dance in the aisles, which I may have to get myself arrested for.”
Norman Music Festival 4