Last September, when Tom Barlow looked out from the stage at the crowd attending the third annual Art of Living Festival, the die was cast for future events.
“Elvin Bishop and his band were tuning up when I looked up and saw teenagers and college kids down front, people in their 30s and 40s, and older folks in their 60s, all settled into lawnchairs across the park, enjoying themselves and the music,” said Barlow. “Then, I heard this noise, and looked over at the playground. It was teeming with little kids! It looked like an ant hill. That’s when I knew this was the vision. It would be our festival, Tahlequah’s festival.”
Barlow, publisher of The Current and coordinator of the event, has teamed up this year with Tahlequah Main Street Association.
“Joe Mack, Current editor, and I are taking care of booking the bands, and [TMSA Director] Drew Haley is handling the art, food and logistics,” said Barlow. “I think since we’ve doubled up on the number of people working on the event, it will help it grow.”
Barlow said attendance at the festival has doubled annually since its inception four years ago, and last year, it drew about 2,000 people.
This year’s two-day event will take place at Norris Park, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28-29. Friday festivities begin at noon and run through 11 p.m., and from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday.
Bands will take the stage beginning at 6 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m., Saturday, and feature a number of local artists. Friday bands include Jason Coffelt and The Swagger, The Purpletraders, Randy Crouch and Flying Horse, and Elephant Revival. On Saturday, bands include Derek Webster, Dirty Mugz, Meandering Orange, the Pat Moss Big Band and headliner, The Damn Quails.
“We had the Turnpike Troubadours last year,” said Barlow. “The Damn Quails [play similar music]. We really hit the jackpot getting The Damn Quails booked this year, and we’re very excited about having them. They’re headlining festivals all over the place right now.”
Barlow said this year’s event will also feature a new sound system and digital light display. He said he also fielded a number of requests from other local artists to play the festival, and has coordinated a venue for them.
“A bunch of people in town were asking about putting together an acoustic stage,” said Barlow. “I got with Lyle Dieter, and he’s going to work with them. Before the first band takes the main stage, we’ll have acoustic artists playing at the gazebo stage, and they’ll also fill in between bands, except between the last two bands. We want the headliners to maintain that energy and play back to back.”
Barlow said while the event has drawn attendees from all over, he believes Art of Living to be a local phenomenon.
“I’d say, last year, 80 percent of the people attending were from around here,” said Barlow.
“We want it to be a hometown thing. We want this to be Tahlequah’s festival.”
The event will also feature 20-30 art vendors, along with food vendors. Wine will be available from two Oklahoma wineries, and beer will also be served.
Haley said he’s excited about Main Street’s involvement in this year’s event.
“Ever since back in the ‘90s, I always wanted to have a downtown music festival, so for Main Street to partner to do this festival is exciting,” said Haley.
“We’ll probably have 20 art vendors, and we’re always looking for more. It will be a mix this year. If the weather holds up, it will just be beautiful. Come listen to the free music and hang out downtown.”
The Art of Living Festival will be held Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28-29, at Norris Park. Friday events begin at noon; Saturday events begin at 9 a.m. For more information, visit www.tahlequahartofliving.com.