The Joy Formidable brings rootsy energy to Norman Music Festival

By George Lang, glang@opubco.com Modified: April 28, 2013 at 1:23 am •  Published: April 28, 2013

As singer-guitarist Ritzy Bryan said between songs during The Joy Formidable's big and energetic headlining set Saturday night at the Norman Music Festival, the sixth annual event seemed to encompass "all demographics" -- first-rate acts representing nearly every style of modern music. And on Saturday, the crowds turned out to support great live sound, from improvised stages in boutiques to the massive Main Stage where The Joy Formidable held court.



This was a day for local performers to bring their "A" games and rising stars to fill the streets. Afternoon sets by Beau Jennings and the Tigers and singer-songwriters Samantha Crain and Ramsay Midwood brought crowds to the Sailor Jerry Stage near the Norman Depot, and by the time the stage's headliner, Broken Arrow's JD McPherson took the stage, the audience stretched all the way north to Main Street. 

McPherson's rootsy and soulful set was dominated by songs from "Signs & Signifiers," his solo debut which was re-released by Rounder Records in 2012 and achieved critical and commercial success, leading to appearances on "The Late Show with David Letterman" and other high-profile television shows. He started his set with "Fire Bug," leading into other favorites from "Signs," including "Dimes for Nickels," "North Side Gal" and "Wolf Teeth." In an inspired choice of covers, McPherson transformed The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Head On" into a classic R&B rave-up. 

Oklahoma hip-hop was proudly represented by Myke Brown, who delivered a strong solo set at Stash before joining his friend Josh Sallee on the Main Stage for Sallee's skilled set of rapid-fire songs and freestyles. The live hip-hop band ADDverse Effects, a recently started group with a fast-growing fan base, played to an expanding crowd at the Blackwatch Stage, performing tightly constructed jazzy originals and a block-rocking cover of OutKast's "Bombs Over Baghdad."

Main Street continued to fill with fans throughout the day -- by the time the horn-powered New Orleans band Big Sam's Funky Nation concluded its Main Stage set at 9 p.m., downtown Norman was packed, prepared for The Joy Formidable to deploy their muscular, widescreen melodies.

The trio from northern Wales built its 90-minute set on choice songs from 2011's "The Big Roar" and the band's new album, "Wolf's Law," and from the moment she ascended the stage, Bryan was a force of nature, bounding between bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas, blasting guitar distortion and singing in a clear, high voice. The Joy Formidable's sound recalled the great 4AD bands of the 1980s and '90s such as Pixies and Throwing Muses, and majestic songs such as "The Turnaround" captivated the audience. 

All in all, Norman Music Festival 6 featured over 300 performers, mostly from Oklahoma, and the quality was consistently high. Each year, NMF seems to step up its game, and in 2013, despite some calamitous Friday weather that temporarily shut down the outdoor stages in the evening, the festival did not disappoint. 



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