This week I got to experience the first ever Center of the Universe Festival here in Tulsa, OK. Now how exactly do we get a “center of the universe” moniker? Well, let me ‘splain it to you, Lucy. The Center of the Universe is a well worn concrete circle in Tulsa that is an acoustic…anomaly. When you stand in the center of the….circle, any noise you make is reflected back at a greatly increased volume. So, imagine dropping your earring and expecting to hear a little ping, but what you really get sounds more like a gong. Oh yeah, already planning a trip with my niece and nephew, just so I can freak them out. Why would that freak them out? I’m not TELLING them what happens when they stand there. I’ll let them figure it out on their own. The reason this would work with both of them…and maybe a few select friends who don’t read my blog, (let this be a lesson to them) is because, when you’re standing outside the circle you can’t hear anything. Well, they can’t hear anything but a really distorted voice. I’m sure there are some sciency types out there that can explain, but I am not a sound wave expert.
The Center of the Universe is located in the heart of downtown at the top of the Boston Street bridge that spans the railroad tracks between 1st Street and Archer. Seriously, it isn’t hard to find. There’s a brick path that leads to the pedestrian bridge that goes over the railroad tracks. It is accessible from the corner of W. Archer St and N. Boston Ave. The old Union Train Depot is there, although it is more recognizable now as the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, just south of the Williams Tower.
The festival took up a little more than two square blocks in downtown and was comprised of two stages, vendors, food trucks, shops, bars…it was a fun time to be had by all. The main stage was right outside the scene of last week’s escapades, Cain’s Ballroom. The main stage was located on Main Street, and that’s handy. After a few drinks it is best not to confuse people. Downtown does that to enough individuals with all their crazy one way streets and such, or it could be a happy coincidence. Based on this quote from the Festival’s webpage, I’m thinking it is probably not an accident, “Where do you drown a hipster? In the mainstream. Where do you drown your eardrums full of hip music? On Main Street.” The second stage was just a couple of blocks away at Guthrie Green, so named for Woody Guthrie.
They had arranged it so you were able to purchase VIP Passes, BOK Zone tickets, or you could just print off the free passes…I opted to pay nothing. It isn’t that I’m cheap, but I couldn’t see the appeal of paying that much money to get that close to the stage, when they had LED screens and a decent view of the stage from the free area. Damian Kulash of OK Go referred to it as the “fancies” and the “non-fancies” I was definitely a “non-fancy”, but back to the music…again! The lineup was fantastic. There were nearly 70 bands that played over the course of two days. Mutemath, OK Go, and Neon Trees played on the main stage on Saturday. These were the bands I was there to see. Tulsa has some great acts, but quite frankly, it was too dang hot to be walking back and forth between the two stages. (Walking from a viewing spot to an air conditioned bar? That was super easy!) Although many of the bars were only supposed to be open to VIP Pass holders, I think they took pity on everyone, because did I mention it was hot? The heat index soared to 100. Personally, I think it felt hotter than that, but once it hits the triple digits does it really matter 100, 101, 105…freaking hot. The sun was relentless, because although we were downtown, this section of Main Street is flat on the West side. No protective buildings to provide shade, minuscule trees, pretty much nothing to relieve the heat…well, the scissor lift for the camera crew provided a bit of shade.
My friend and I arrived about halfway through the Mutemath performance (it didn’t help the temps go down any) grabbed a frosty beverage and got to watch the inflatable crowd surfing…right, just let me show you. He crowd surfed on an inflated square with lights around the edges. It was kind of awesome. It would be the kind of crowd surfing I would enjoy. Have you ever crowd surfed? They were fun, energetic and definitely kept the masses engaged despite the sweltering temperatures and soaring humidity.
Next to take the stage was OK Go, and I have to say this was my favorite performance of the day. Damian Kulash was engaging and funny. He talked to the people in the crowd more than most. There were questions about which section was which, was Tulsa always this hot in the summer, who could play guitar….wait, what? Yep, he asked who in the “fancies” could play guitar. Then he pulled a guy from the crowd on stage to play. There was even a warning that if he was lying he was going to look like an idiot. (I may be paraphrasing a bit, but you get the idea.) There’s the concert goer, playing guitar with OK Go on the left. You can tell it’s him because a) he’s not actually a member of the band and b) he’s wearing a bright blue shirt…actually his shirt kind of matches the banner at the side of the stage too, although you’ve probably already figured that out by now.
Mr. Kulash also came down to the fencing that separated the “fancies” from the “non-fancies”and sang there for a while. There’s a picture, but all you can see are a bunch of people holding their phones aloft…I’m just not that tall, even standing on a curb. They also did an entire song with handbells. It was a really cool concept, but I don’t know that it translated well for an outdoor event. The sound of the handbells didn’t project well (at least not to us “non-fancies”), and how do you get sound set up for that outside? Damian Kulash actually took a picture of the crowd and posted it on instagram….what do you think? I’m told there were 20,000 people at the Center of the Universe Festival, and I think I agree with that.
In between OK Go and Neon Trees we took the opportunity to wander a bit. There were food trucks to check out, t-shirts to buy and vendors to explore. Also, my friend had a craving for nachos and cotton candy. (Completely gross combination, in my mind, but whatever floats your boat, my friend.) Unfortunately for her, although there were a multitude of food trucks offering a plethora of tasty treats, none of those treats included cotton candy, and we forgot where the nachos we saw were located…Does stuff like this ever happen to you? Maybe it is just us. Anyway, to make a already long paragraph shorter, I spent more money than I intended. I needed a festival t-shirt…yes, I do mean NEED. Then I checked out a new shop that will be opening downtown, The Bookerie, and they had pendants made from bits of maps. I found one with Dublin, which is probably tops the list places I’ve been…I had to buy it.
We moseyed on down to Guthrie Green and listened to a brass band there for a little while. Watched the kids playing catch, and playing in the splash pad. I did not join the kids in the splash pad, although I did think about it, for a while…quite a while. The evening was actually really pleasant now that the sun was going down, and I really appreciated the chance to explore a bit. This space is really cool. They have Fitness on the Green with Tai Chi, Zumba, Boot Camp, etc. out here. They have a Sunday Market, Guthrie Green hosts a lot of musical acts and they even show movies out there as well. Luckily they have a webpage, because when they reopen August 2nd, I’m going to have to come back…like a lot.
Neon Trees took the stage around 9:00 pm, and we were not feeling the crowds anymore. However, the festival organizers had done a fantastic job by providing a LED screen for those of us who decided to hang back a little. They were really great. Hopefully, the crowd was more responsive closer to the stage, because they were working hard to get everyone pumped up and engaged in their show. I know, I was singing along…I may have been the only one in at least a 20 foot radius, but I was having a great time. Admittedly, I didn’t stay for the entire set, I wish I could have but there were people to meet, nachos to find…
‘Til Next Time,
P.S. I learned how to take panoramic pictures this weekend…could you tell?