A series of free music concerts is headed to McAlester — part of a concerted drive to get McAlester hopping by making live music performances once again a vital part of the city's cultural ambience.
Beginning in May, concerts are set for a Saturday night each for the next three months, featuring a series of performances by acclaimed indie-roots and Americana artists with national and international followings.
Called the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival, plans call for the concerts to be held outside on an open-air stage set up between Third and Fifth Streets in Downtown McAlester. Food trucks and beer gardens are planned to add to the street-festival atmosphere.
Internationally-known artist Charlie Parr, who has a large following in Australia, is set to begin the series on May 8, joined by special guest Jake Simpson.
Next up is the June 12 show, featuring John Fullbright and Stephen Speaks, both of Oklahoma. The Grammy-nominated Fullbright is from up the road in Okemah, also the hometown of the great Woody Guthrie.
On July 3, the show is headlined by the Band of Heathens, a Texas band which shared the bill with Elvis Costello during an appearance on Public Television's long-running series "Austin City Limits." Local musician Josh Hass is set to serve as the opening act for the Band of Heathens. With the Heathens having a large following and a national audience, the Dancing Rabbit organizers predict it will be one of the biggest shows in the series.
It all came about through a collaborative effort by a disparate group of individuals who have one thing in common — their love for live music.
Attorney Blake Lynch, of the Wagner and Lynch law firm, joined with Josh Hass, of Hass Insurance; Adam Gronwald, of Spaceship Earth; Kyle Spruce, of Wav 11; and local musician Joey Clark to begin planning the events by meeting at Gronwald's coffee shop. They decided to come together to put together the non-profit show.
They are well aware the first concert in the series is in about four weeks and they have been working to complete arrangements.
"We're getting closer to the deadline — all the decisions that have to be made, such as where will the stage be," Lynch said, noting they were all volunteers doing a music festival of this scope for the first time.
"We'll have food trucks set up on the east side of the Ice House," Lynch said, referring to the building at the corner of Third and Fifth Streets.
People can start gathering for the events at 5 p.m., with the opening acts at 7 p.m. and the headliners following at 8:30 p.m., he said.
In addition to the music on the outdoor stage, Gronwald expects to have some live music afterward at Spaceship Earth. He said other venues in the area are expected to have live music as well.
While the concerts are offered free to the public, there is the option for buying a VIP package featuring a tailgating experience for up to six individuals with seats, drinks and a cooler — with Sam Wampler's Freedom Ford agreeing to supply the pickup trucks for the tailgating event, Lynch said. Also, some select pit and VIP passes will be available for purchase.
Special ticket information is available on the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival Facebook page or at the dancingrabbit.live website.
Lynch said the idea for the festival came about when they were all talking about musical events they've attended in the past. Clark noted that between them they've attended a lot of shows. Hass said that led to them deciding to do one of their own in McAlester.
"We were sitting at a table drinking coffee and Blake pitched the idea," Hass said.
Lynch said the others supported the idea.
"We went from arguing about politics to agreeing on something," said Lynch. Clark said he came on board after the others had started.
"I got in on the middle of it," said Clark. "I'm excited about it."
Lynch said they appreciate a number of local sponsors who have come on board. "Sponsorships are still available," he said.
They also gave a nod to Corey Ford, who is handling sound for the event.
McAlester attorney Jeremy Beaver is among local residents who are enthused about the Dancing Rabbit festival.
"I'm thrilled about it — live music in Downtown McAlester," Beaver said.
Spruce and the others putting together this festival hope this is just the beginning.
"The idea is to take this thing and grow it," said Spruce.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.