Western Avenue Association might be transitioning directors, but the third annual WestFest is on course to be as big as ever.
The free street fair and music festival began in 2015 and has established a strong reputation and following in a competitive local market for live music fests. This year’s event is noon-10 p.m. Aug. 19 along N. Western Avenue between NW 41st and 43rd Streets.
Norman rock and Americana band Beau Jennings & The Tigers headlines a talented bill of Oklahoma performers. Other draws include art and creative vendor booths, food trucks and an expanded children’s area. Organizers are preparing for a crowd of around
Former Western Avenue executive director and WestFest organizer Rachael Taylor announced in July she was leaving the position to move back to California, her home state. While the significant change so close to the festival date might sound like it has the potential to disrupt the event’s planning, WestFest is in capable hands as former event consultants Jennifer Easley-Maynord and Kindt Steven Myers move into co-producer roles.
Easley-Maynord is creative director at Cellar Door Music Group. Myers runs Kindt Events, a premier event production company.
Myers said while planning WestFest has been a little hectic since the two stepped into a direct organizational role with the festival, most large-scale community events get busy in the weeks before they launch.
“I think it’s inevitable to experience change like [Western Avenue Association] is experiencing,” Myers said. “I think it’s nominal on the scale of the overarching plan that they have.”
WestFest’s main stage is on 41st Street between VZD’s Restaurant & Bar and A Date With Iris. Jennings, who once fronted the band Cheyenne, was a featured performer during the street festival’s inaugural year.
This year, the Americana/rock singer-songwriter and filmmaker won first place in the prestigious Woody Guthrie Folk Festival Songwriting Contest. His band The Tigers released the single “Back in Town” in October, which KOSU The Spy’s The Oklahoma Rock Show later listed as the best Oklahoma song of 2016. The band is currently working on a new album.
“The band and I are very excited to return to WestFest to headline this year,” Jennings said in a media statement. “It’s always great to be part of events that go a long way toward enriching the community.”
The main stage’s other acts include bluesy three-piece KALO, new-wave/pop project Saint Loretto, rapper LTZ, psychedelic indie rock act Roots of Thought, Norman ska quintet The Big News, soulful Tulsa rocker Fiawna Forté and more.
This year’s event marks the debut of WestFest’s indoor stage inside Will Rogers Theatre, 4322 N. Western Ave. Indie folk band Vonna Pearl, featuring the beautifully cohesive dual vocals of The Wurly Birds’ Taylor Johnson and Elms’ Chelsey Cope, headlines the roofed and air-conditioned stage that also features a full cash bar. Nashville-based, Tulsa-formed rock ’n’ roll band Twiggs and singer-songwriter Katie Williams will also perform in the theater.
WestFest offers more than music. An expanded selection of food trucks — including Murphy’s CookShack, Yum Yum Bites, Thunder Dogs OKC, Ice Cream Delight, Zebra Snow and Sizzle N Spice — will congregate near 43rd Street. Local business booths and creative vendors will line Western Avenue between WestFest’s main stage and food truck areas.
New Belgium Brewing Company’s Fat Tire is the fest’s presenting sponsor. Western Avenue Association is selling the Belgian-style ale on-site as a fundraiser.
Myers said WestFest also features an enhanced children’s area, including more shade and cooling options with a wide variety of fun activities and inflatables.
“We know it’s a family-friendly event,” he said. “We know there’s a lot of families and people raising children in that area and district. We want them to feel welcome.”
Easley-Maynord and Myers have worked together to put on past events like Exchange on Film Row. Easley-Maynord was a committee member for the first WestFest in 2015.
“This was just kind of a continuation of my partnership [with Myers], which we felt has been a good fit,” she said.
Easley-Maynord called Western Avenue one of Oklahoma City’s most historic districts, which she said presents both positive and negative aspects when organizing a major community event.
“I think a challenge of that is that you constantly have to reinvent yourself in different ways,” she said, “especially with other districts coming up and having different events and festivals.”
The coproducers are working to strengthen bonds between WestFest and the surrounding Crown Heights and Edgemere Heights neighborhoods.
“That’s one of the big hurdles we see in festivals when they are hinging on residential neighborhoods but it’s technically a business district,” Myers said. “The buy-in from those residents is huge — not only their welcome, but their participation.”
Reception from the surrounding communities has so far been positive. Myers said both neighborhoods are working to pass out fliers and promote the event.
Easley-Maynord said a close partnership between the area’s businesses and community members should be positive for everyone involved.
“You really grow with something like this,” she said. “Returning to the festival and working with committee members and neighbors and business owners, there’s that journey together.”
noon-10 p.m. Aug. 19
N. Western Avenue between
NW 41st and 43rd Streets
Print headline: Street smarts, A new team of organizers rally for Western Avenue Association’s third popular WestFest.