As one of the founding organizers of the Norman Music Festival in 2008, Jonathan Fowler recalls a time when nothing about the annual event felt certain — including whether it would come back for a second year.
But Fowler sees nothing but progress for the three-day event in downtown Norman, which climaxed Saturday night with Main Stage performances by Stillwater's Other Lives and Alaskan orchestral rock band Portugal.The Man.
“I have not-so-fond memories of long delays, extra-long sound checks and problems with audio coming up, the controlled chaos,” Fowler said during a Main Stage set by the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.
“That's really minimal these days, just observing what's going on this year. The crowd for the day on Saturday has been tremendous. I guess the way it's changed is, it's more tight.”
Fans, bands and observers might not have noticed the behind-the-scenes anxiety Fowler described: Norman Music Festival gained an early reputation for performances that started close to schedule with relatively few technical problems.
However, Fowler said it was a learning process, and not everything went as smoothly as it appeared.
“Well, whenever we heard somebody say that, we'd just chuckle,” said Fowler, who oversaw the first three years of Norman Music Festival and whose company, Fowler Volkswagen, continues as a lead sponsor. “Year one, year two and year three, there were late, late nights on Saturday nights trying to figure out what was going to happen, if everything was going to be OK and we were going to be able to do it the next year.
“I think if you were to ask the organizers now — or even the city, police or fire folks who help us out and support us — if you were to ask if there was going to be another one, it's always an unspoken ‘yes,'” he said.
Singer and songwriter Sherree Chamberlain said she always looks forward to the festival each year as a chance to connect with fans and fellow artists. A regular performer at the event, Chamberlain played a solo acoustic set of new material Saturday afternoon to a packed room at Opolis, 113 Crawford.
“I've been in a hibernation mode, trying to write the record and chill out a little bit, so I was a little concerned that people had forgotten about me,” said Chamberlain, who immediately went to Blackwatch Studios after her set to support fellow artists such as Beau Jennings at the studio's outdoor stage.
“It's so much fun to me, because in almost every single show, I know somebody who's playing or there's somebody in the audience I know,” she said. “It's like this huge family connection at every show. Totally different styles in every place, but everyone's such a huge supporter across the board.”
‘It's all a big daze'
Feathered Rabbit lead singer Morgan Hartman, who performed with her band outside Blackwatch on Saturday, said she was happy with the crowd her band attracted and the exposure the festival provides for new bands.
“I think it's amazing, it's wonderful and it's all free,” Hartman said. “It's a wonderful way to get ourselves out to people. I think everybody really liked it — it's all a big daze.”
Fowler said that level of exposure for local artists was one of the main reasons he helped start the festival. More than 200 acts participated in this year's event, many of whom got to play the same stage as nationally known musicians.
Fowler said that one of the greatest benefits of Norman Music Festival is the word-of-mouth it generates for Oklahoma artists.
“To hear these bands come in and say, ‘Oh, I've heard Other Lives,' or ‘I know Broncho — I bought their album,' to hear these bands that are successful and touring and making a living talk about bands from our state — that's where I get the most satisfaction,” Fowler said.
It's like this huge family connection at every show. Totally different styles in every place, but everyone's such a huge supporter across the board.”
Sherree Chamberlain, singer and songwriter