Norman Music Festival Picks (Part 1)

NMF 4 Norman Music Festival 4 2011It’s that time of year again, when countless bands we’ve never heard of and 3 and clumps and clumps of bored party people who don’t care about music at all flood the streets of Norman in an attempt to make everyone feel better about our city, in general. The thing is, we are starting to feel some momentum. Compiling this list of exemplary and promising local artists was tough. Coming away from our work, we noticed that Norman Music Festival each year manages to build a stronger throng of streetwalkers than the year before it because the talent is there.

And a lot of it is local.

We’ve stayed up long hours and in deep dispatch with our favorites to help you find some useful picks for your festival itinerary.

Deep in the OKC.NET offices on 23rd Street, where the hobos drive shopping carts, designing firms buy space, Tower marquee languishes and Big Truck does its thing, the staff has rocked out to piles and piles of internet pages of local music. Hot coffee was spilled on faces, personal feelings were hurt, and a real life baby was endangered amid our heated arguments to decide which local rockers made it onto this very list. At one point the security alarm went off and we waited in petrified silence for the cops to come save us from our own musical and animal passions. But they never did. So we went to work calming down, and refining this exclusive list. We are personally happy that we were able to pull this preview together for you.

This year’s OKC.NET picks for The Norman Music Festival…

Ryan Lawson

Ryan Lawson graduated from University of Central Oklahoma with a degree in literature, and now is applying that love of language to his songs. See “You and I’s” potent lament on the timeworn troubles of relationships.

“I’m always thinking about how when people get into relationships and one person is controlling…people aren’t property. If you are with someone you should treat them not like property but as an individual person. Why can’t you just be happy being with someone and let things flow and go naturally?”

And he has hit the ground running on the music scene, planning slews of shows, nonstop, sometimes booking DIY shows at unexpectedly perfect venues like The Blue Bonnet, accompanied by his mentor Shilo Brown (Bloody Ole Mule, Book Beat owner). He recently caught music goers off guard by winning newcomer of the year Woody award from he Oklahoma Gazette.

Hear his lonesome call below.

– Danny Marroquin

Lawson plays the Sooner Theater Friday April 29th at 7 p.m. He’s been playing a lot of bars and is particularly excited about performing at a venue where the audience comes to listen to the music.

Lawson’s video has made it to the top ten of the Norman Music Festival Music Video Picks Contest:

“Twas cold the night and morn we filmed this video. All the folks involved were troopers, and Gage Beavers and Nathan Booth were excellent directors.” –RL

Ryan Lawson, “You and I” from Music Video Picks on Vimeo.

The Penny Hill Party

A longtime fixture on the local folk/rock circuit, Penny Hill makes her main stage debut this year with The Penny Hill Party. The band is recording the set and making it available later in the summer. The prolific writer has been doing a lot of recording with Bradley Fielder (LoFiShit). An album from these sessions is in the works, and certain outside sources who have heard it are calling it spooky good. This usually happens when producer and artist are of such a same mind. “We work together like we were born of the same womb or something,” Hill says.

Hill draws on history for musical and literary ideas. Her voice itself is a lingering soulful instrument channeling older blues crooners. Pianos plunk rainily like they would in an old saloon, the lazy snare drums hint of jazz, and string sections feel like they’re drifting from very old violins. Her song Salem (see below) equates the individual’s choice to project their voice, with the voices of a deeper American past. Penny’s loose handling of history is an act of empathy.

“I like to cut through the historical facts and find the emotions that must’ve been present,” Hill says. “Assuming the human experience to be pretty similar across the board, I write from that emotional state … I mean, I’ve never been persecuted as a witch before, but at times I have stood up for myself in the face of the unfriendly, and received nothing but criticism. Salem is about finding your voice and singing your heart out whether your audience hears you or not.”

Penny Hill’s style settles into a comfort with a traveling, gypsy style. On the road, you can encounter an accidental openness with people you’ve never met. Hillary follows this feeling everywhere, and this sort of seeking can be heard in the music (try Unbutton Your Heart recordings: (

“I thrive in new places and love to fall into meaningful conversations with people I just met … I also have a sincere desire to please people, so bringing my songs to where no on has heard them is also very pleasing to me…A perfect stranger going out of their way to thank me for coming up and sharing. That’s when the world makes a bit more sense.”


Penny Hilary plays solo on Opolis Stage (indoor – unplugged) – 9 PM Friday and the

Penny Hill Party hits the Main Stage 12:30 PM Saturday.

The “Salem” video is directed by Sterlin Harjo.

Penny Hill, “Salem”

Oz Davidson/Lands Bejeweled

Moore, Oklahoma’s Oz Davidson writes some of the most likable songs to emerge from the music scene. One never comes away from a set feeling bored, tired or indifferent, rather piqued and chill. His lyrics manage to think and relax. He is one of the sleeper picks of the festival.

He’s studied an array of songs before coming into his own:

“I’ve been attempting to write songs for about 12 years,” Oz says. “The first ones were exercises in style because all I could do was mimic – so I had a Belle and Sebastian sounding song, a Merle Haggard one, etc.”

Davidson’s low-key, humble cool offers more of an entry point into the songs than his stylistic forebears (Lou Reed a bit in the sing-talk, Neutral Milk Hotel and Cass McCombs in fluid creative imagery). Most strikingly, Davidson’s songs don’t stew around in hardship or ennui, but instead move into a winning kind of slacker journey. He sings on “One for the Tramps:” “I guess I’ll just have to draw my wages and consult my local sages/ and tear out all the Torah pages…I’m walking alone at night/ I’m singing in a key so right/ Tattoo’d pupils on my eyes.”

“I’m always writing about transcendence,” Oz says. “It’s pretty much all of the songs we play are about transcending something, like a bad job or rent, or irony. ‘One For the Tramps’ is kind of a little street urchin with like three or four cowlicks and bad jeans. He’s kind of a dumb kid who’s always got a big grin on his face; he’s constantly ignored on the street. But he’s a transcender.”

“Heatstroke” is another strong tune, especially hearing it roll across a popping $2 drum set in a quiet bar. It’s lo-fi you can dance to, with very slim and tight solos fitting in like a Strokes line, and solid repetition.


Check out more tunes here:

Davidson will be playing the Opolis acoustic stage 8 p.m. Friday. And with his band Lands Bejeweled at Bison Witches, 10 p.m. Friday.

Oz Davidson (Lands Bejeweled), “One For the Tramps”

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