NORMAN MUSIC FEST X MUST-SEE BANDS
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, thousands of people will flood the streets of Norman for the 10th annual Norman Music Festival. NMFX is only my third time attending, but thanks to the handy Norman Music Festival app, I’ve already put together my schedule of must-see bands. Take a walk with me through my list of can’t-miss bands this year.
Thursday, April 27
As someone who lives in Edmond and works in the downtown core of OKC, I’ve always found it difficult to make it down to Norman for the opening night of the Norman Music Fest. This year, though, there are some notable bands that just may make that 45-minute drive, and an extra coffee the next morning, worth it.
Haniwa – 8:30 p.m. (Main Street Event Center)
On their Facebook page, Haniwa credits their musical influences as alt-J and Poliça, among others. It’s hard to disagree with that when you hear songs like “Tesseract,” where the influence is incredibly apparent in the ethereal vocals and blooming instrumentals. Some bands’ live performances make me feel like dancing; Haniwa’s makes me feel like I’m drifting away on a cloud, or driving straight into a sunset. Stop by and see for yourself.
Tonne – 9:00 p.m. (Coop Ale Works Opolis Indoor Stage)
Dark indie band Tonne’s most recent release, December 2015’s Choice, was so well-received that it made honorable mention on “The best Okie albums of 2016.” How’s that for good? The brooding vocals bring to mind Interpol or The National – if you’re a fan of either, Tonne is worth a listen on the strength of that alone. With music that’s hypnotic and surreal, Tonne couldn’t have been placed in a more perfect venue – the dark, intimate indoor stage of Opolis.
Sex Snobs- 11:00 p.m. (Coop Ale Works Opolis Indoor Stage)
If you were beginning to tire before this show, the high-decibel Sex Snobs will jolt you fully awake. The raw, roaring guitars and charging rhythms, played at high volume, aren’t for the faint of disposition. If you want to see what I mean, check out “Pop Songs and Other Ways to Die.”
Your Mom – 11:30 p.m. (Red Brick Bar)
Your Mom is punk rock all dressed up. Literally – one of the members wears a dress. They’re loud, in fashion and in sound. Unfortunately, their music isn’t currently on Spotify or Bandcamp, but for fans of loud punk, or just concertgoers looking for one hell of a show, give Your Mom a chance.
Friday, April 28
TGIF! TGIF! TGIF!
That’s what I’m going to be singing Friday afternoon as I punch the clock and brave the trying rush-hour drive south to Norman. Norman Music Fest’s Friday lineup consistently delivers, year after year, with acts to please any music fan. Packing no punches, the Friday lineup will carry us through to the final night on a wave of even more musical acts than Thursday brought, starting before 5 o’ clock rush hour (for those lucky folks who either live in Norman or don’t work late on Fridays.) Here are some of the shows you’ll find me at on Friday.
Shut Up Matt Jewett- 6:45 p.m. (Jack Daniel’s Gray Street Stage)
Did you, like me, listen to the Front Bottoms way too much in high school or college? Do you therefore, like me, appreciate songwriters who lay bare in their songs not just starry-eyed triumphs but their constant emotional stumbling blocks, crippling self-doubts and embarrassing life missteps? Then this might be the band for you.
A personal favorite is “Hilo,” an unapologetic and arguably incredibly true-to-life ode to inebriated mistakes at the OKC bar of the same name. Or show staple “It’s Not That I Hate You, It’s Just That I Want You To Die,” which consistently sends the crowd members crushing against each other and shouting along to the titular refrain. For the pop-punk fans out there, I’m not saying there’s going to be lots of breakdowns in the set … but that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Carly Gwin and the Sin- 7:00 p.m. (Coop Ale Works Opolis Outdoor)
In “Melted,” from the recently released self-titled EP, Carly Gwin blends a soulful, sultry voice with the country stylings of old ‘drinking songs.’ At the February EP release show at Opolis, she and her backing band (the Sin, of course) performed on a stage adorned with glittering string lights. At that live performance, Carly reminded me somewhat of Acid Tongue-era Jenny Lewis, which may not make sense to anyone but me, but which I mean in the most complimentary way possible.
The Nghiems – 8:00 p.m. (Brewhouse)
They’re back! After a minor hiatus, James and David Nghiem (and friends) are bringing their dreamy indie pop back to Norman. I asked James (who you may recognize if you’re a regular in the comedy scene or at the 51st Street Speakeasy) to describe their sound, since they’re going to be performing all-new songs. “We’ve evolved a lot, I think,” he said. So imagine this, but even better.
Bowlsey – 11:30 p.m. (Coop Ale Works Opolis Indoor Stage)
I’d like to just put it out there that Bowlsey is one of my favorite local bands. There’s the bluesy allure of Cid’s cheeky but soulful vocals, paired with the lyrical acrobatics of Shraz’s rapping, with a little ivory-tickling and funky percussion. All of it blends into soulful hip-hop that you’ll find it impossible not to dance along to. My favorite live performance is almost always “Snow in Texas,” but in all honesty, each of Bowlsey’s songs are as satisfying as the homemade tamales you may have seen Cid selling around the city.
Saturday, April 29
You might notice the even longer gaps in set time between my Saturday must-see bands. That’s because the fun of Norman Music Fest is in the wandering. My Saturday at NMF last year consisted of sitting under a shady tree across from Opolis to enjoy my food truck fare, then walking along all of Main Street, ducking into every third venue or so when I heard strains of music from within.
Jarvix – 12:30 p.m. (Jack Daniel’s Gray Street Stage)
Jarvix just might be the MacGyver of music, expertly crafting songs with origins from unlikely sources and looping them together into experimental delights. To clarify what I mean by that, I once witnessed Jarvix loop the music of Smash Mouth’s “All Star” into his own catchy, folk-y tune, and have seen him weave random claps, stomps and other sounds into a endearing, onomatopoeic adventure at open mics around town and at recent shows. I’m excited to see what surprises he has in store for NMFX.
Softaware – 6:30 p.m. (Sooner Theatre)
Remember when I said half the fun of Saturday is discovering new bands? Softaware is a band I discovered in exactly this way last year. I was sitting on the hot pavement behind Opolis, with a wilting food truck taco and Dr Pepper in my lap, when Softaware took the stage. Their ethereal electronic stylings are oddly fitting for music that explores the breakdown of romance in an increasingly digital age, where connections are fleeting.
Softaware approaches this concept with intrigue and gentle affection –at their performance last year, one audience member weaved in between crowd members, handing out red roses. For a band that explores deepening interpersonal disconnection, they do an excellent job of closing the rift with their intimate, hopeful performance.
OKC Comedy – 8:00 p.m. (Sooner Theatre)
Yeah, I know. It’s called Norman Music Fest, not Norman Comedy Fest. But if you’ve got some time between bands, or even if you’re just passing by, it’s worth it to stop by the OKC Comedy showcase and listen to the 11 area comedians that will take the stage. Each of these comedians makes regular appearances at various open mics and comedy showcases in Oklahoma City (if your funny bone needs a tickle, follow them on Twitter to keep up with their events) but at NMF they’ll be in rare form. You could probably use a laugh – whether that’s with them or at them.
Jabee – 10:00 p.m. (Coop Ale Works Opolis Outdoor Stage)
Thee Oh Sees – 10:00 p.m. (Fowler Automotive Main Stage)
Here’s one (but most likely not the only) tricky time conflict of NMF.
On one hand, if psychedelic garage-rock with heavy-hitting drums and guitars gets you going, or if you (understandably) want to catch as many headlining acts on the Main Stage as possible, make your way as close to the Main Stage as you can (please, no elbowing or shoving) and catch Thee Oh Sees. Personally, fingers crossed that they’ll play “Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster.”
Conversely, the delight in Norman Music Fest, and in my opinion what makes it so great, is the insane amount of talent displayed by the many local bands who perform. Jabee’s Black Future was one of my favorite local releases of 2016, and after seeing him perform at last year’s WestFest, I can honestly say the live experience is just as good, if not better.
LCG and the X – 1:00 a.m. (Coop Ale Works Opolis Indoor Stage)
The first time I saw LCG and the X perform was when they opened for BRONCHO at the [email protected] Performance Lab in December. The four-piece of “girls who want to have more than just fun” plays songs with sass and grit. “You bring the meat, we’ll bring the bite,” proclaims frontwoman Morgan Hartman in “Shark Week,” but it’s Hartman’s bold and alluring vocal prowess – alternating between sultry and snarling, often within the same verse – that bring the bite. This show might be past your bedtime, but trust me – you won’t want to sleep on this.
While this is a good sneak peek of the bands I’ll be clearing my schedule for at NMFX, it’s also important to clarify that I have about twice as many bands saved on my tentative schedule in the app. And, by no means should you feel obligated to stick to your schedule even if you’ve made one.
Some of the best memories of the handful of times I’ve attended are those that wouldn’t have been possible without keeping an open mind and keeping myself moving. Hear the soft strains of music from inside a shop along Main Street, on your way to somewhere else? Duck in, even if for a few minutes, and see what it’s about. You just might find your new favorite local band.
Didn’t see one of your favorite local bands on this list and think I’d be a fan? I’ll be looking for new bands to listen to throughout Norman Music Fest weekend, so feel free to tweet them at me, now or even during the festival, at @brtnypls.