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After a two-year pandemic hiatus, Norman Music Festival makes its triumphant return

This is Songwriters & Tour Riders, a music podcast from KOSU and Oklahoma State University and hosted by Matthew Viriyapah.

Norman Music Festival is returning this week after two years of a pandemic-spurred hiatus. The festival brings hundreds of musicians and thousands of fans to the city of Norman, Oklahoma.

Shari Jackson is the executive director of Norman Music Alliance, the organization that throws the free festival that Jackson calls the 'best annual party in the state.'

Listen to hear her talk about the festival's impact, what the last two years have been like, and how an all-volunteer board put together this year's festival in 90 days.

Impact of Norman Music Festival

We proudly generate about four million dollars or more in economic activity on that weekend that benefits mostly our local businesses.
Shari Jackson/Executive Director of Norman Music Alliance

And we’re really happy about that. But not having it for two years, everybody missed that. Not just the financial impact, but the fact that you’ve got this beautiful independent music festival focusing on mainly Oklahoma music, with every genre of music imaginable represented at the festival. There is a real sense of community, and I know we all felt that these last couple of years.

Shutting down in March 2020 and realizing that things were too uncertain in 2021 for us to be able to try and safely pull a hundred thousand people together wandering around downtown. It hurt. We missed it.

We wondered at times, ‘do we really get to come back? Is it really going to happen again?’ And we spent a lot of time talking. It was a really nice thing to maybe have a moment to pause and take a breath.

So we talked and plotted. And as soon we saw the omicron variant roll out of town as quickly as it had rolled in, we said ‘alright fam, let’s go! We have 90 days. We can make this happen.’ And we literally put this one together in about 90 days.

It really speaks to the dedication of the board of directors. They are all volunteers, this board. I’m the only one that gets paid, and I’m technically part-time… The rest of the folks, they own businesses, they work jobs, they have lives, they literally all have taken on a part-time job in the last 90 days to make this happen.

On scheduling a festival in 90 days

It’s been a mix of good and bad. The good is walking around and getting the street closure, informing all the folks downtown. Letting all the people know that it was happening again, we were just met with cheers and hugs and happiness. The community support has just been terrific

The hard parts are, unlike a lot of other festivals who have maybe a festival grounds where they’ve got two or three days to build out their festival and put things together. This one gets built out in about five hours, and it has to be a really clearly planned, this is when things arrive, this is how things happen. And trying to get those nailed down, I’m still not there. And we have to execute ... Thursday.

And the other thing that has been difficult is the fundraising piece in 90 days.

It takes now close to a quarter of a million dollars to put on the Norman Music Festival.

If we were paying everybody everything that they deserve, it would be about half a million [dollars].

We’re here. We’re close. But we’re not where we want to be. But that’s another thing that’s stressful. It’s a lot of asks in a very short period of time. Because this is a free festival.

We don’t make money. We don’t sell a lot of things. We are really just trying to cover the infrastructure it takes to give Oklahoma the best annual party in the state.

Music featured in this episode:

  1. Fire In Little Africa - Shining
  2. Skating Polly - Ugly
  3. The Drums - Money
  4. Kat Lock - I Like You, But

Subscribe to the Songwriters & Tour Riders podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get podcasts.
Find out more about Norman Music Festival at normanmusicfestival.com

Matthew Viriyapah is KOSU's production assistant and host of the music podcast Songwriters & Tour Riders.
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