NORMAN — The Norman Music Festival is starting to show its age.
The festival celebrated its seventh birthday in downtown Norman this weekend, stretching from its landmark functioning train tracks to the 300 block of East Main Street.
Twenty official stages filled the festival grounds, and they ranged from the patio of a Mexican food restaurant to a towering main stage.
More than 100 bands of local, national and international fame filled the venues and did all that they could to match the noise of the train that barreled through festival grounds on the regular.
But Thursday afternoon, it didn’t look like a music festival was happening at all. Besides the pop-up amusement park and a few road signs, the streets of downtown Norman were bare. Festival organizer Steven White sat in his office and took a break to charge his phone after a couple wandered in to ask for directions.
White said the festival is having growing pains. He’s heard every complaint under the sun about the main stage headliner not being well known enough, struggled with a drastically reduced 2014 budget and yearned to make the festival the best it could be.
White ended his interview with a point and a prediction: the festival is still free and the streets were going to be filled with tens of thousands of people Saturday evening.
Three days into the festival, there’s no shortage of evidence for that case.
After the sun set Thursday, modest crowds started showing up for local bands of all calibers.
Duo Team Nighstand put on a wildly playful shoegaze-inspired set at The Opolis.
Brothels and Brianwasher flexed their own unique psychedelic sounds just a few blocks apart from each other.
Oklahoma City R&B collective Bowlsey was raw and boisterous inside of Tres Cantina. I’d never seen a Mexican restaurant so full without it being a Taco Tuesday.
ACM@UCO student Rachel Brashear played a set inside of the smoky Bluebonnet Bar that was equal parts rocking, brooding and energetic.
Finally, Norman-based band Evangelicals performed a rare set and teased a funkier, more focused rock sound.
Friday’s festival sets only intensified in crowd size, number of stages and general weirdness. If seeing a band performing on the bed of a moving pick up truck doesn’t earn Norman the nickname “little Austin” then I’m not sure what will. Kudos to the band for enclosing the truck in chicken wire for safety’s sake as they drove down Main Street.
It was difficult to stray too far away from the Blackwatch Stage, though. The stage production and sound quality is entertaining enough for its own festival.
The venue is located in front of Chad Copelin and Jarod Evans’ recording studio and the duo curated their stage with bands that associate with Blackwatch.
Tulsa-based acts Afterlights and Nuns both performed their third set in Oklahoma and respectively showcased an overwhelming amount of confidence for bands that are in their infancy.
Oklahoma City-based artist Sherree Chamberlain battled a migraine but still managed to get members of the crowd to dance hand-in-hand to her delightfully country-tinged new material.
Norman Music Festival’s takeover of downtown was completed Saturday afternoon as the streets closed and the main stage attracted early bird music fanatics.
Main stage act Horse Thief entertained a crowd of at least 250 patrons. The band’s pastoral pop performance was breezy, beautiful and only a taste of what the festival had to offer.
As Saturday evening came to a close, Diarrhea Planet came out to the play. The Nashville rock act featured four lead guitarists and the band went above and beyond. Literally. One member scaled the main stage scaffolding and another jumped into the crowd and finished the set on top of a truck. The only thing disgusting about the band is how much the crowd loved them.
Festival headliner Dead Meadow was a heavy dose of psychedelia. The band sounded great but the set was all bark and no bite. The booming, hypnotic sounds would have made for a beautiful, intimate experience at a smaller venue such as Guestroom Records. The main stage was a bit too airy for an impactful experience.
Bright Light Social Hour finished off the night with enough energy for two music festivals. They faced sound problems, and the wind knocking over microphones but the Austin-based quartet still turned up the fun factor. Half jam band and half forgotten, dusty classic vinyl, the band handily won over the crowd. It didn’t hurt that three of the members were garbed in Thunder shirts. A memorable end to the biggest Norman Music Festival in history.