Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Current-Feature Story May 2010

Tulsa International Mayfest Brings In the Sounds of Spring

On a beautiful day in mid-April, sunny and breezy with an afternoon temperature a very mild 82, I actually heard a friend complain that it was too hot. What, I thought to myself, the hell is he talking about? How could the depth of his memory be so shallow? Had we not just endured the harshest winter in memory? Did it not snow a freaking foot on the first day of spring? And what’s the deal with all the questions?

My response to his complaint was, for me, wildly out of character. I resisted the urge to relate the story of the time when, in Langkawi, Malaysia, my crewmates and I found ourselves on liberty in a poverty-stricken village where sewage spilled into the dirt streets and festered in the triple digit heat and 100% humidity, our only respite against the oppressive sensory assault a tar paper and bamboo shanty called Adibah’s Spirits and Meats on a Stick, where we sipped slowly on pints of lukewarm formaldehyde-spiked beer while fanning ourselves with the tail feathers of endangered pygmy woodpeckers. Instead, I decided to do something. Make a difference. He needed what we all need in these trying times of a stagnant economy, domesticated animal-associated influenza outbreaks, a president that may not even be a real U.S. citizen, and political action groups that charge $500 so supporters can attend conventions to complain about high taxes. He needed a reason to celebrate.

And what better reason to celebrate than spring? Not the foot of snow spring, either, but the warm, sunny, sometimes rainy spring, with the perfect golf weather, and hummingbirds, and girls in sundresses, and flowers that I’ve always called Easter lilies but according to my mom are not Easter lilies, and girls in tank tops and khaki shorts, and absolutely zero chance of snow. And so I formulated a plan to help my friend (we’ll call him Dave, because that sounds like a complainer-type name), rediscover the beauty of spring by organizing a celebration in downtown Tulsa, a place he works and loves. Since it was already mid-April, I would plan it for May.

Knowing Dave like I do, I thought this celebration should focus not only on spring, but also on music and the arts. Almost like a festival in May. It just needed a catchy name. I briefly considered Spring Festival, after my college polka band, but after years of legal entanglements over royalties and licensing issues, decided it to be in bad taste. May Festival? Too clunky. A catchy name needed no more than two syllables. Short and sweet. With May being short by nature I decided to make a risky move, one I believed had not been previously attempted, and shortened festival to “fest”. Mayfest? It had potential.

So I began making a wish list of artists and musicians that would be perfect for Mayfest. I decided to utilize a method known as “free writing,” in which one simply closes his or her eyes and writes without thinking, a method often used by Stephen King and the writers of Two and a Half Men, in order to tap into my subconscious and discover my innermost thoughts as to who should headline Mayfest. I looked at the words I’d written: Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Perfect.

What better act to bridge the gap between those generations that grew up in simpler times with today’s sometimes understandably cynical youth than the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, a band whose name alone conjures images of spring and rebirth. Or at least the first awkward steps toward birth. With a sound that blends the big band swing era with punk rock, ska and rockabilly, these guys would be the perfect band to bring folds of all ages together in celebration not only of spring but of the power and beauty of the arts.

Doing a little research on the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (I still kind of giggle when I hear the name), I was surprised to discover that they’ve been doing what they do for over twenty years. Twenty years. Are you kidding me? That’s older than some of the girls I try to check out when I’m out with the gorgeous redhead that she always seems to catch me trying to check out and rolls her eyes at me for. When a band’s been together twenty years, you know they know how to put on a show. And they even had a hit song, “Zoot Suit Riot,” which, if you ever listen to the radio, you’ll realize is really hard to do for a good band.

The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies being such an eclectic-sounding group, whose influences cover such a wide range of styles, I immediately began contemplating other musical acts to complement them. I would contact mostly local acts from various genres such as Admiral Twin, Leon Rollerson & Friends, David Castro, Stars Go Dim and Brandon Jenkins to name a few. As my wish list grew longer I realized a festival of this size would need to be expanded to multiple days. Four days, Thursday through Sunday, seemed about right.

But in order to give folks like Dave a reason to attend a four day festival, I would need more than great music. So I began thinking about my favorite artists. My idea was to have a juried showcase for artists from around the world who utilize a variety of media such as clay, jewelry, glass, wood and paint. Names like Anne Vogt, Michael Barnes, Irene Gates, Sidney Flack and Dennis Thompson immediately came to mind. I would also invite the best area artists to showcase in an invitational gallery. And students! I would invite area students to submit their work as well!

Now all my festival would need is food. I decided that 30 seemed like a nice number of vendors to offer everything from traditional festival fare like funnel cakes and meats on a stick (hopefully not the same types of meat as I found in Malaysia) to Greek and Chinese favorites.

With my plan outlined, I was beginning the process of organizing my inaugural festival when Dave called.

“You going to Mayfest?” he asked.


And Dave explained to me that there was already a festival called Mayfest, that it happened every year, and that Cherry Poppin’ Daddies would be headlining and all the artists and musicians I previously mentioned, and many more, would be attending. I was in shock. They had stolen my idea. Could I sue? Probably not, considering this is the 38th year of the festival. With no recourse, I went back to work on my latest idea. It’s exactly like an iPod Touch, only much larger, like the size of a writing pad. Just need to think of a catchy name.

The 38th annual Tulsa International Mayfest will be held May 13-16 in downtown Tulsa. Admission is free for the whole family. For a complete schedule, show times, roster of artists and pretty much anything else you might want to know, go to

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