Tahlequah's growing reputation as a small town with big arts, music and entertainment scene is set to add a new festival next weekend.
Billed as a family-friendly event, Reggae in the Park will take place 5-11 p.m. in Norris Park on Saturday, May 18. It will feature the music of three reggae groups: Local Hero out of Tulsa, The Big News from Norman, and Franke Lee of Tahlequah.
Activities for children include chalk art, soccer juggling, and a bouncy house.
This is a free event, rain or shine, with the Leoser Pavilion reserved as a backup.
"We're over-the-top excited about this new music event. It's adding an extra splash to what Tahlequah already has to offer: fun events, family activities downtown in the park," said Tahlequah Tourism Director Gena McPhail. "Reggae in the Park brings a new genre of music to what Tahlequah has had in the past. This added dimension will entice even more people to visit and revisit our beloved Tahlequah area."
As a co-sponsor, the Arts Council of Tahlequah welcomes the opportunity to help bring more live music to a downtown park.
"I'm very excited to for this reggae showcase" said Callie Chunestudy, ACT vice president. "Tahlequah is known for its variety of entertainment and this will be a new genre for the whole town, and family, to enjoy. ACT is honored that the organizers have dedicated a portion of the proceeds to [us] so that we can continue to support the arts and humanities in Tahlequah."
Reggae music - with an island, calypso-style rhythm and message of love and peace - was performed in the 1960s and 1970s by the late Jamaican singer songwriter Bob Marley. His likeness is still found on clothing, caps and marijuana accessories in yellows, lime greens and oranges.
Doc James of Local Hero grew up around reggae in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He came to Oklahoma as a student, planning to be an aviation instrument technician, and has called Tulsa home since.
"I started putting music together and people liked it, so we've kept doing it," said James. "And now we've played with reggae greats, all the big names in the music."
James has had songs in movies, like "Underclassman" with Nick Cannon, and one of his songs was on Fox Network and other stations. He said they have had fun playing clubs from Florida to Chicago, Colorado to Mexico, and always enjoy meeting new people.
This won't be his first time in Tahlequah.
"I always like playing with the cool people. I've performed in Tahlequah; it's been a while," said James, who likes the appeal and art of reggae. "Like I'm waking up to a tune and the consciousness of the music and how it brought people together. That's what started me out, then more conscious people, it just gave me a voice."
He first found that voice with poetry, then put it to music.
"Mostly, when I started out, I was more of a poet. Rhyming music was the kind of music that spoke mostly to me," he said.
The music at Reggae in the Park will not be strictly reggae, but each band represents subgenres, according to the event founder.
The idea for and energy behind the project is Daniel Franke.
"Big News represents the punk-ska sub-genre. Local Hero is the headliner and represents traditional Caribbean music because they actually have roots in the Caribbean," said Franke, who discovered the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers in college on the Big Island. "I just gravitated to it. I love the rhythm, the melodies. For me, it is meditative. Reggae tends to have a positive message of overcoming struggle, rising above hardships, equality, peace and love. It moves me, literally."
Franke Lee has been a band since 2008 and includes Franke; his dad, Mike; brother Michael; and friend Aaron Lee.
"We pull influence from rock, blues, songwriter, jam, and reggae," he said. "Reggae has definitely been an evolution for us as a band and although we enjoy all genres, reggae is our favorite."
Franke believes music is universal.
"All the genres are related," said Franke. "And what makes Oklahoma music unique, and Franke Lee is the type of music we bring out."
Franke would like to see Reggae in the Park become an annual festival.
"We hope to raise some money for the Arts Council of Tahlequah, establish a foundation to build on for next year, and raise awareness about cultural diversity," he said. "We are hosting this to build community, support a local nonprofit and create an opportunity for some awesome bands. And we wanted to create a epic event showcasing reggae music that is open to everyone in the community."
What is needed right now is a few more volunteers.
"We are organizing activities for children, and are seeking volunteers for recycling, kids activities, videographer, and stage work," Franke said.
Vendors are being accepted. Signed up so far are: Cowpoke Print Shack with custom T-shirts; Royalty Jewels, offering jewelry, handbags, and accessories; Urth Gems with handmade jewelry; Kroner & Baer, selling locally sourced microbrew; Soulage Medical Dispensary will have a booth; and NDN Inkworks will sell T-shirts.
"We are still working on food vendors and hope to get some Jamaican-style food there," he said. "Two vendors are donating festival T-shirts as a way of supporting the festival."
Keeping the event family friendly is a priority for Franke.
"This festival is about reggae music, community and culture," he said, "I would hate for the stigma of an herb to limit that. I believe that medical legalization will help with the negative stigma associated with this plant."
As a first-time event planner, Franke has found the outpouring of donations of time, funds and various other assistance heart-warming.
"Everyone has been so supportive, it really has that feel of a small town coming together to do something really special," he said. "[Cody] Caldwell Electronics donated an acoustic guitar and amp repair, and Paceline donated a unicycle, so we'll be holding a raffle for those. Tickets are $5."
Donations to Reggae in the Park are being accepted and can be dropped off at Oasis Health Food Store, or made payable to the Arts Council of Tahlequah with a memo for Reggae, and mailed to: P.O. Box 784, Tahlequah, OK 74451.