Bill Graham's spirit presides over the Downtown Airpark. Graham made the best aspects of San Francisco's Summer of Love a staple of the concert scene beginning in the 1960s.
Howard Pollack is going for the same vibe on the Oklahoma River, where he's opening the city's newest outdoor music venue Thursday with a festival featuring the West Coast ska punk band Sublime with Rome.
Promoters of Oklahoma City's music scene and of the downtown renaissance see music under the stars as a key piece in development of the Oklahoma River corridor.
Concerts at the Downtown Airpark — with its close-ups of the downtown skyline at night — could be a catalyst for growth along the riverfront, providing a steppingstone between busy “anchor” destinations that bookend the seven-mile corridor.
Pollack, the veteran concert promoter who booked the Zoo Amphitheatre until last year, said the 80-acre Downtown Airpark “will help connect the dots between the east part of downtown and the west part of downtown.”
“Once the dots are connected, everything will grow,” he said.
Frenzy to finish
Pollack's crew was hard at work in this week's heat erecting a stage that backs up to the river. A large green entrance tent will offer shade and live music on a second stage; smaller white tents will have merchandise, misting stations to cool off and more shade.
Vendors lining the perimeter will sell food, including vegetarian options, cold drinks and beer. Fans can bring folding chairs and blankets — but no coolers — and spread out on the expansive Bermuda grass lawn, which was greening up after Wednesday's rain.
The Downtown Airpark can be used for concerts for up to three years under zoning provisions approved May 28 by the city council.
A group led by Kirk Humphreys bought the former airstrip for $7.2 million in 2006 with long-term plans for a mixed-use development.
Pollack has a lease with Humphreys Partners 2006 requiring that each side agree to renew the deal before a second concert season can go ahead.
Vacant a long time
Ward 6 City Councilwoman Meg Salyer noted in May that the Airpark — with the exception of a small police helicopter base — had been vacant a long time.
“I think it's a great opportunity to see something beginning to happen down here on the river,” she said.
Pollack has another riverside site in mind for a permanent music venue — a modern amphitheater, state-of-the-art with indoor and outdoor stages — to keep music on the river. While Pollack is sketchy on the details, Scott Booker likes the idea.
Booker heads ACM@UCO, the University of Central Oklahoma's Bricktown academy that schools students in the fine arts of performance and production — and in the business of the music industry.
‘Writing on the wall'
Booker also manages The Flaming Lips, the internationally popular psychedelic alternative rock band from Oklahoma City.
“I don't think the music industry would take our market very seriously without this type of venue,” Booker said Wednesday.
Booker said the “writing on the wall” tells him the Zoo Amphitheatre — which is under the direction of a new promotion company this summer — is going away.
The Flaming Lips played the farewell concert last year at the zoo. Now the downtown river district is becoming the hip place to be, Booker said, and musicians and their fans want concerts to be outside in the summer.
“I love the idea that Howie (Pollack) has moved forward on this and is trying to make something happen down there,” Booker said. “I thought he did a great job with the Zoo Amphitheatre. I believe in Howie. He has a vision.”
Back on the river, the party is expected to go on through about the third week in October.
Motley Crue will headline an Airpark show Sept. 13.
The Lumineers — Denver folk rockers who had a hit album earlier this year — are the headliners Oct. 3 at a show Booker plans to catch.
Pollack said he's working on three to five more shows — a classic rock lineup among them.
Thursday's party begins in the green tent at midafternoon and will continue past midnight for fans who want to continue rocking once Sublime with Rome has wrapped up and the main stage has shut down.
“It's not the Taj Mahal but it's the coolest vibe you're going to have,” Pollack said.