June 26 – The organizers of the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival hope they will start their journey to make McAlester a major musical destination once again.
Blake Lynch, one of the festival’s organizers, said he and the others who had organized the festival were thrilled with how the initial festival event turned out at the May 8 event highlighting starring Charlie Parr and special guest Jake Simpson, with more scheduled throughout the summer.
“It exceeded our expectations,” said Lynch. “There were more people than expected.
The event’s organizers and sponsors have come together to offer the Dancing Rabbit Music festival concerts for free to the public, except for those who opt for one of the VIP tailgating packages. Food trucks, cafes and bars along Choctaw Avenue between Third Street and Fifth Street make sure there is plenty to eat and drink during festival events, with a special outdoor cafe set up outside in a tent. Musicians perform on an outdoor stage spanning Choctaw Avenue near the Third Street intersection, with Choctaw also being closed to Fifth Street for the event.
It was one of the first major public events in McAlester as COVID-19 restrictions began to lift, preceded by the Armed Forces Day parade and related activities the weekend before.
Those who worked together to present the Dancing Rabbit Musical Festival concert series say they are so happy with the initial outcome that they are already talking about plans for next year.
“We put it all together in a few months,” Lynch said of this year’s festival, thinking of the possibilities with a whole year to plan for it.
Parr proved particularly popular as the headliner of McAlester’s very first Dancing Rabbit Music Festival. For the last song of his set, he did something unexpected.
“For his finale, he’s put all his guitars down and he’s going a cappella,” Lynch said of Parr’s unaccompanied performance.
“I knew he could sing. I knew he could perform. I knew he could tell stories,” Lynch said – but he hadn’t expected Parr to deliver a song without accompaniment from his musical instruments.
To conclude his set, Parr performed a catchy version of “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down”, with the only musical accompaniment coming from the percussion effects of his hands and feet.
The Jake Simpson Band, Parr’s opening act for the opening night of the Dancing Rabbit Festival, rocked the crowd.
“They were very energetic,” said Lynch, adding that Simpson is a violin player for the group Lil Smokies.
The first concert of the Dancing Rabbit Festival does not have an official attendance count as tickets have not been sold – but organizers estimated that around 600 people attended.
The public reaction to the first Dancing Rabbit Festival event featuring performances by Parr and Simpson has resulted in some changes for the upcoming show.
“One of the cool things about John Fullbright’s show is that we added a 5 o’clock show,” Lynch said.
The response to the three-concert festival opening led organizers to add a third act to the June 12 show, the second in the Dancing Rabbit series. In addition to headliner Fulbright, from Okemah, and opening act Stephen Speaks, also from Oklahoma, the organizers added Taylor Atkinson, who is described as a songstress with a Red Dirt vibe and Americana. They scheduled Atkinson to open the performance trio at 5 p.m., followed by Speaks at 7 p.m. and headliner Fullbright at 8:30 p.m.
Lynch and the other organizers are eagerly awaiting the last show of the summer series, the July 3 show led by Band of Heathens, a Texas band with a dedicated audience. The group shared the billing with Elvis Costello during an appearance on longtime iconic public television series, “Austin City Limits.”
Josh Hass is the opening act for Band of Heathens, something he is already looking forward to. He said he would be joined by Joey Clark on lead guitar, with Clark’s son Conner and Micky Lloyd completing the group for the evening. When asked what he was going to play, Hass replied “From Bob Seeger to Jason Isbell to Midland”.
Dancing Rabbit Music Festival is the result of a collaborative effort of a disparate group of individuals who may have political and other differences, but who have at least one thing they all agree on: their love for music. live music.
Lynch, a McAlester lawyer from the Wagner & Lynch law firm, has partnered with Hass, of Hass Insurance; Adam Gronwald, of Spaceship Earth; Kyle Spruce of Wav 11 and local musician Joey Clark. They started talking about the possibilities of a music festival when they met at the Gronwald café.
It started when they remembered musical performances they had attended in the past. Clark noted that between them they attended many shows.
Hass said these discussions led them to decide to have their own festival at McAlester. They were sitting at a table drinking coffee when Lynch pitched the idea, Hass said. Others around the table readily agreed.
“We went from discussing politics to agreeing on something,” Lynch said. It is fortunate that they were able to come together for the project, although they can evolve in different circles in other areas.
“The defense attorney and the Hass family are going to be running in different circles,” laughed Lynch.
Besides working together, they also decided to look for other sponsors.
While the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival concerts are offered free to the public, those who wish can opt to purchase a VIP package that includes tailgating experience for up to six people in each truck, as well as drinks and a cooler. Sam Wampler’s Freedom Ford agreed to supply pickup trucks for the tailgating event, which sold out for Charlie Parr’s performance.
Special ticket information for VIP offers can be found on the Dancing Rabbit Festival Facebook page or on the dancingrabbit.live website.
Spruce said he and his others who hosted this year’s Dancing Rabbit Festival hope this is just the start of a series of concerts that will continue to grow.
Not only did the first six organizers and sponsors come together for the project, but they also sought out other sponsors. They began to make contacts with the aim of having sponsors representing different businesses and industries in the McAlester area, with an encouraging response.
“Nobody turned us down,” Lynch said.
Sponsors of the Dancing Rabbit Festival for the inaugural events include:
Prairie Artisan Ales, law firm Wagner and Lynch, Auld Family Dentistry, The Yardbird at 1896, Sam Wampler Freedom Ford, First Realty, Bud’s Craft Cannabis, Happy Design Co., First National Bank, AmericInn, Kennedy Eye Care, Josh Hash Insurance, Wav 11, Vyve Broadband, K101 Rock 105.1 McAlester Radio and Oklahoma Shirt Co.
For the first event, even the cleaning turned out to be unproblematic.
“The cleanup went well,” said Lynch. “People did a pretty good job of picking up their garbage. “
Other changes discussed after the first concerts included moving food trucks to be closer to the stage and increasing the number of trucks for the event.
“We had the food trucks all the way to Fifth Street,” Lynch said. The organizers also plan to move the beer tent closer to the stage. With a warm evening for the May 8 show with Parr and Simpson, they didn’t necessarily need the tent for the first event.
“The weather was fine,” Lynch noted. “He figured the shade provided by the tent will be more needed as the concert series continues into the summer, when the weather is likely to be warmer.
“We’ll need it in June and July,” Lynch predicted.
What is Lynch’s main impression now that the Dancing Rabbit Musical Festival concert series has begun?
“The main impression I got was that McAlester can support a music festival,” Lynch said. He noted that Wold, of Spaceship Earth in downtown McAlester, started bringing back live performances on the weekends between festival performances.
“We can support the festival,” said Lynch. “We can attract big names to McAlester.”
Hass hopes that the other concerts in the series go as well as the first ones.
“The people were friendly and happy to be there,” Hass said. “People were really grateful.
“I just want to see people go out and have a good time.”
Contact James Beaty at [email protected]