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Find the Center
Now in its second year, Tulsa’s Center of the Universe Music Festival has become one of Oklahoma’s premier cultural events.
By Steve Larese
Published July/August 2014
Tulsans recognize the Center of the Universe as a circular brick design on the Boston Avenue Pedestrian Bridge between First and Archer streets. At this landmark near the renewed Brady Arts District, shin-high walls send voices echoing from all directions while those outside the circle hear nothing. The spot is one of Oklahoma’s quirkier, lesser-known tourist attractions.
So when Tulsans Philip Kaiser and Chris Lieberman were brainstorming what to call a new music festival in downtown Tulsa, they decided to borrow the name of this unusual locale.
“The Center of the Universe is an acoustical anomaly,” says Kaiser, “and that’s what we want this festival to be.”
Kaiser, who owns Laffa Medi-Eastern Restaurant & Bar in the Brady District, and Lieberman, who is executive director of Tulsa’s Williams Route 66 Marathon, wanted to create an event that would not only benefit businesses and bring new visitors but would do some lasting good in their city. Last year’s inaugural festival, with free admission, was projected to have a local economic impact of more than $400,000. This year, proceeds from ticket sales will support the Tulsa Downtown Trolley that loops free of charge through the Brady Arts, Blue Dome, and Deco districts on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the year. Other funds, raised by registration fees paid by bands playing in area clubs during the festival, will benefit Tulsa Public Schools’ music programs, music clinics, and concerts.
“We want the festival to have a year-round benefit for Tulsa,” Kaiser says. “Tulsa’s in the center of the nation, but too often, people only see us from their airplane window as they pass over. We want to attract and retain talent here for our businesses and community, and we want the world to know that Tulsa has some cool stuff happening.”
Last year’s Center of the Universe Festival saw 80,000 concertgoers flow between two outdoor stages and several indoor venues. This year, attendees can choose between three outdoor stages and ten clubs throughout the Brady Arts District. National indie rock headliners AWOLNATION, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Twenty One Pilots will take the Main Stage near Cain’s Ballroom Friday night, July 25, while Saturday, July 26 will bring performances by Young the Giant, Capital Cities, and Cold War Kids. New this year is a third stage showcasing Oklahoma musicians. After the live music ends both nights, an electronic dance music after party will keep attendees moving until 1:30 a.m. All the while, local and regional artists will sell their work from booths throughout the district, and restaurants, bars, and food trucks will keep everyone fueled and thirst-free.
The free-flowing, festive atmosphere—and its resultant economic impact—are just the latest chapter in Tulsa’s downtown renaissance. One of the first businesses that saw renewed potential in the area is Soundpony near Cain’s Ballroom. Since 2006, this offbeat venue has promoted Tulsa’s music scene by featuring local bands such as Lizard Police.
“The Center of the Universe Festival brings together everything we’ve been working for down here,” says Soundpony co-owner Josh Gifford. “It spotlights Tulsa music, art, and the new museums here, and it’s great for business. It’s making Tulsans aware of what we have, and also the rest of the world.”
Get There: Tulsa’s Center of the Universe Festival is in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District July 25 and 26. Gates open at 5 p.m. each day and live events last until 1:30 a.m. Tickets are $35, and weekend passes are $50. centeroftheuniversefestival.com.