On the verge: The Dfest void
The 2007 Dfest featured a rousing performance by Oklahoma band The Flaming Lips.
In summer 2007, The Flaming Lips descended upon downtown Tulsa with all of the pomp and circumstance that we’ve come to expect from the Oklahoma-born band.
The Lips were the headlining act at Dfest, or Diversafest, as it was originally called in 2002, when 12 bands and around 150 attendees had what appeared to be little more than a well-organized block party at East 18th Street and South Boston Avenue.
As I stood in the crowd that night four years ago, shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and strangers, all of us feeling as if something important were happening, we had no idea that it would all soon be over.
Dfest’s last hurrah, in late July 2009, was its biggest yet. The Black Crowes, Cake and Citizen Cope were just a few of the big names that appeared that weekend. Restaurants were full, downtown shops were busy and the streets were buzzing.
By spring 2010, with no announcements or news about lineups, some of us started to get worried. Speculation about the future of the enterprise began to spread. In less than a decade, this little idea had become an essential Tulsa experience, poised to take the place of Mayfest for the younger generations. The silence was deafening.
When official word finally came from Dfest founders Tom and Angie Green, our worst fears were realized. Dfest was gone. The word used in the official statement was “hiatus,” but we knew what that meant. Frankly, with the tanking of the economy in 2008, it’s quite impressive they even made it through 2009.
With people out of work and houses going into foreclosure left and right, a music festival does seem a bit extravagant in retrospect. However, I can’t say enough good things about the Greens for what they accomplished and the hard work and courage necessary to realize this idea. Where many people (including myself at times) just talked, they actually did.
It’s been two summers now without Dfest, and its absence is apparent. A few attempts were made in 2010 to fill that void, although none was as thought out and/or successful. I held out hope that the promise of a “hiatus” would be just that.
A few months ago, I shared my “wish list” for downtown. The revival of Dfest was near the top. As we all know, nature abhors a vacuum. It was only a matter of time before someone or some organization filled the space left by Dfest.
In late July, the second annual FreeTulsa! festival showcased more than 100 local and regional bands in several downtown venues.
Last month, the first annual Brady District Block Party was set to fill the streets again. Topping off the list were big-name acts, including Primus, Mutemath and none other than The Flaming Lips. However, Mother Nature had other plans. A quick yet ferocious storm swept through the Brady District, with high winds and heavy rain. The stage was trashed, equipment was ruined and the event was called off. Not an ideal beginning for what many hoped to be Dfest’s heir apparent.
However, there is something both somber and poetic about this. Where Dfest built a singular event and an audience from almost nothing, these events are able to stand on its shoulders, splitting the responsibilities between smaller and larger acts.
I suppose that’s how it always is for those willing to take a chance and try something new. Being a person who prides himself on never saying never, I can’t totally rule out the possibility of Dfest coming back. But I do have to ask: Do we still need it? I have some wonderful memories of my times at Dfest, sweating in the evening heat, experiencing something I never expected.
In the end, though, more than the music, the commerce or anything else, Dfest’s most important contribution to Tulsa was showing us what we are really capable of.