More so than most bands, Norman Music Festival 5 headliner Portugal. The Man has done a lot of growing. Born from a disbanded hard-core act, it championed a challenging brand of rock in its inaugural years.
At least that’s what critics and listeners called it. Truthfully, it was far less heady than it appeared.
“Our earlier stuff sounded a lot more proggy and experimental. It wasn’t that that’s what we were going for. We just didn’t know how to write songs,” bassist Zachary Carothers said. “People thought it sounded superweird and intellectual. Really, we just didn’t know how to make a song transition properly.”
The Portland-based group isn’t the same today; personnel differences aside, its aesthetic has shifted from bluestinged punk rock to a more colorful, cheery brand of psychedelic pop.
“It wasn’t a good fit for us at all and started to pigeonhole us,” Carothers said. “That wasn’t where we wanted to be, and it took a lot of work for us to get out of that scene and get people to respect us at all.”
Releasing a lot of new material — a studio album each year since 2006 — helped distance Portugal from its ill-fitted roots. The members have seen improvement with each passing disc.
“We keep learning as the band goes. It feels like a natural progression,” Carothers said. “We’ll do different styles and want to play a lot of different music, as long as it stays true to who we are.”
Its latest, last year’s In the Mountain in the Cloud, is its happiest — and, to many, its best — to date, but going into recording, few smiles were had.
“We weren’t playing well or treating each other well. It was a mess, but we overcame a lot of it,” said Carothers. “That record almost killed us, but making it through made it mean all that much more to us now.”
They aim to record another disc this summer, this one revisiting their older sound.
“It’s a lot more aggressive. It’s really fun stuff, and I can’t wait to fine-tune it,” Carothers said. “We’re not going to rush this one. We may skip a year for once, but we’ll do our best.”
Norman Music Festival always has focused on Oklahoma music, but perhaps never more than this year’s incarnation. Saturday’s two main outdoor stages showcase a huge class of local artists in marquee time slots. On the Main Stage, you’ll find Portugal. The Man (9:30 p.m.) joined by fellow national rockers Red Wanting Blue (6:30 p.m.) and Dallas pop outfit The Weekend Hustler (1:30 p.m.).
The rest of the day is dominated by Oklahoma artists. Other Lives play a much-anticipated set at 8 p.m. to put an exclamation point on a year that has included touring with Radiohead. Tulsa jazz mainstay Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (5 p.m.), metal band Rainbows Are Free (3:30 p.m.), rapper and Kevin Durant protégé Privaledge (12:45 p.m.) and indie rock’s Modern Rock Diaries (2:20 p.m.) and Crown Imperial (noon) round out the bill.
The Jack Daniels Stage boasts Americana acts all day, anchored by Austin alt-country artist Hayes Carll at 8:30 p.m. Fellow Texas roots artists Alejandro Escovedo (7 p.m.) and The Possum Posse (2 p.m.) will also appear, as will Illinois’ The Giving Tree Band (4 p.m.), the only other out-of-towner.
Then there’s emerging Oklahoma acts The Damn Quails (6 p.m.), Parker Millsap (1 p.m.) and John Calvin (3 p.m.), who shares the stage with Camille Harp. Catch Krystal Keith — yes, the country-croonin’ daughter of “Red Solo Cup” enthusiast Toby Keith — at 5 p.m.
You’ll find the biggest selection of touring indie acts at Opolis, including The Olivia Tremor Control (12:15 a.m. Friday), Woods (11 p.m. Thursday), New Fumes (9:45 p.m. Friday) and the returning zany Japanese punks known as Peelander-Z (11 p.m. Friday).
Catch psych-rock act Amen Dunes on the Dreamer Concepts/Anty Shanty Stage, at 11:59 p.m. Friday, along with Austin’s Dikes of Holland (10 p.m.) and OKC’s one-man wrecking crew El Paso Hot Button at 11 p.m.
A rare Evangelicals performance at 11:59 p.m. Saturday at the Blackwatch Stage, but the most touching moment of NMF likely will be at 5 p.m. Saturday at Sooner Theatre, when local outfit Caravact pays tribute to its recently deceased guitarist, Jake Monroe.
For hip-hop, Slanga & Breezy Burnz spit at 11 p.m. Friday on the Brewhouse Stage, followed by a hiphop showcase at 2 p.m. Saturday at Red Room and a 9:30 p.m. Saturday after-party at The Garage, which will include Jabee, Josh Sallee, Myke Brown and Beetyman.
Jam bands Bungalouski and Montu play respectively at 6 and 7 p.m. Saturday at Sooner Theatre, with electro-pop from Jacob Abello (11:30 p.m. Thursday), Burning Hotels (9:30 p.m. Friday) and Chrome Pony (1 a.m. Sunday) at the Blackwatch stage.
For raucous and rowdy punk, head to Bill & Dee’s for The Boom Bang (1 a.m. Sunday) or John Wayne’s Bitches (1 a.m. Saturday). Guestroom Records’ Alley Party begins at 4:30 p.m. Friday, featuring Lizard Police, True Widow, The Easy Lovers and more.
Ryan Lawson and the Hack & Saw Nation play at 7 p.m. Saturday on the Brewhouse Stage, while O Fidelis plays that same slot on Thursday. John Moreland spins a 7 p.m. Saturday set at Bill & Dee’s, and there’s Black Canyon at 10 p.m. Thursday at Bluebonnet Bar.
Michelangelo’s Coffee plays host to dozens of remarkable artists over the course of three days, including Russell Kabir (10 p.m. Friday), The Dizzy Pickers (1 p.m. Saturday) and Local Honey (6 p.m. Saturday).
Saturday finds Opolis hosting acoustic sets from the likes of Sherree Chamberlain, Beau Jennings and Carly Gwin, starting at 1:30 p.m.
Debris stands at 11:59 p.m. Friday at Bill & Dee’s, while Traindodge takes the same slot Saturday. The alwayssolid Taddy Porter plays at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday at Bluebonnet Bar, where you’ll also find The Venditos (7:30 p.m. Saturday), Admirals (9 p.m. Friday) and Them Hounds (1 a.m. Saturday).
Red Room hosts a litany of hardrock bands starting at 6 p.m. Friday, including They Stay Dead, Saturday Sirens and BitchWizard, while local power trio The Pretty Black Chains play at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Blackwatch.
For something more old-school, Oklahoma Blues Society’s stage features Ike Lamb, Wink Burcham and more, starting at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
Odds and ends
On Thursday, jokes trump notes. Altcomedy duo and popular podcasters The Sklar Brothers headline a night of laughs at 7:30 p.m. at Sooner Theatre, alongside local stand-ups Spencer Hicks and BradChad Porter.
Beginning 2 p.m. Saturday, Benevenuti’s hosts a classical music stage, presented by OK Mozart, capped off with a performance by Kyle Dillingham at 5 p.m.