Dfest: The best of the fests?
Young professionals on the state of the city.
It’s sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees and realize just how fortunate we are here in Tulsa. Dfest is a phenomenon that continues to evolve at an almost exponential rate. In the last five years, the attendance has grown by more than 10 times. In 2004, 6,500 attended, whereas this year’s expected attendance was 70,000. Five years ago, if you wanted access to dozens of bands in one day, your closest destination was Austin for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Lollapalooza didn’t even happen that year.
Today, Dfest has outgrown both of those festivals in terms of the number of bands playing, costs about a quarter of the price for two days and offers something that neither of those festivals do — the ability to get out of the sun and sip a beverage of your choice at one of downtown Tulsa’s many air-conditioned establishments. That’s pretty hard to beat.
When promoting the festival to friends, I would always mention the fact that one day at Coachella costs about twice the admission of both days at Dfest. The response was typically something to the effect of, “Well, we don’t have the same lineup.” True, but any music lover knows that simply because you may not have heard of a band doesn’t mean it isn’t amazing, and the fact still remains that Dfest is bringing more well-established bands every year while still promoting artists on their way to becoming household names, which brings me to my next point.
Dfest is also a music conference and, beginning with this year, a yoga conference as well. I had the privilege of serving as a panelist last year on the recording panel with Jon Shroeder and Ryan Williamson (both engineers for Hanson) and local drumming legend and studio owner David Teegarden Sr. Before moving back to Tulsa last year, I spent my previous years in Hollywood working on albums such as Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ “Raising Sand” and the “Walk the Line” soundtrack — both of which won Grammy Awards. Dfest brings industry professionals from all scopes of the music business to Tulsa so artists and musicians can meet with them and discuss what will take them to the next level. It’s an amazing opportunity of which every local artist or musician should take full advantage.
I’ve now had the opportunity to sit in on three “Demo Derbies” at the conference, held at the downtown Crowne Plaza Hotel. Here’s what happens: An artist/band submits a song to be played and a panel of professionals — the same people who sign major acts — listens to the song through the first chorus and then offers constructive criticism. In some cases, it can be pretty brutal — like having Simon Cowell on “American Idol” tell you what he “really thinks.” In some cases, the panelists are so impressed, they make plans to come see the artist/band play live later that night. What ambitious musician in his/her right mind would let this opportunity slip by?
I continue to preach the good word of Dfest throughout the year to my music friends. While the focus by these artists is usually on CMJ (College Music Journal) or South by Southwest (SXSW), my point is that at those conferences, there are 10 times the amount of bands vying for the attention of these same industry folk.
I want to make one more point: The 2008 SXSW, in Austin, brought in an estimated $110 million-plus in revenue for the city. In addition to being an artistic and cultural event, Dfest is a real economic engine for Tulsa. Dfest is truly a gem amongst music festivals/conferences and I hope that you tell everyone you know about it as we watch it continue to grow with our fine city.
Jonathan Bolzle is a Platinum album-earning audio engineer, commercial real estate broker and developer for KMO Development Group Inc. in downtown Tulsa. He is also an active member of TYPros.