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Parallel Universe

Center of the Universe fest brings millennial nostalgia and homegrown talent

Greg Bollinger

Let’s first acknowledge the obvious: The lineup for this year’s Center of the Universe Festival is confusing. Early aughts Top 40 staples Panic! at the Disco and Three Days Grace share the bill with disparate acts from various genres—everything from NOLA big brass and Seattle indie rock to Oklahoma red dirt—plus a few dozen of our state’s finest rock, rap, folk and electronic acts. I’m not sure which universe we’re in here, but I feel pretty good about being at the center of it. With tickets running a steep $87.55 for the weekend, you’ll want to get your money’s worth, and we’re here to help with recommendations.

View the full schedule and purchase tickets at centeroftheuniversefestival.com.

Here’s our shortlist for the weekend: 

Friday, July 24

6:30 p.m. at Guthrie Green 

Horse Thief: The coherence and consistency of its songs makes Horse Thief seem well beyond its years, but this young band is the recent product of OKC’s Academy of Contemporary Music. Vibrantly psychedelic in places and hauntingly dreamy in others, Cameron Neal’s folksy, melodic croon carries the rest of the Horse Thief outfit through drum-driven cadences that roll over one another like waves.

7 p.m. at Main Stage 

Misterwives: Misterwives’ hit single “Reflections” sounds like Ryn Weaver, Joanna Newsome and Zella Day had a karaoke battle at a skating rink (possibly while on drugs). Why not? Bring your dancing shoes!  

9 p.m. at Oklahoma Showcase Stage 

Taddy Porter: After spending the past six months hopping between Oklahoma and Nashville, Taddy Porter is looking forward to performing on familiar turf. The Stillwater quartet recently finished recording their third album, Tame the Wolf. Though details are hush-hush, drummer Doug Jones promises the work will be a nod to the “good ol’ days.” Expect the same hard-hitting, southern-blues rock‘n’roll you’ve come to know and love from the homegrown band.

10 p.m. at Main Stage 

Panic! at the Disco: Let’s be honest: If you remember Panic! at the Disco’s infectious, vaudevillian pop-punk hit, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” you’re probably a little curious about what these guys have been up to the past 10 years. As the only remaining founding member, Brendon Urie has managed to keep the band going through all the genre hopping and lineup changes. And truth be told, the horns on latest single “Hallelujah” are pretty catchy. 

11 p.m. at Guthrie Green 

Big Sam’s Funky Nation: The name says it all. Big Sam’s Funky Nation is New Orleans soul, funk and jazz rolled into one big groove-centric brass band. Few things are better than a slide trombone, and Big Sam handles his like a pro with rapid-fire pulls and wails. There’s no way you’ll stay seated for this one. 

Midnight at Soundpony

Verse & the Vapors: Derek Clark, AKA Verse, beckons to socially conscious greats like Mos Def and Common, with the same tight confidence and smooth flow. Verse & the Vapors are leading Tulsa’s hip-hop renaissance at the moment, and from the samples and beats to the thoughtful, evocative lyrics, Verse’s sound is the real deal. 

Midnight at Vanguard

Deerpeople: Deerpeople’s hefty roster of uniquely talented musicians gives their sound a strange edge, and their use of unusual time signatures and chord structures lends itself well to intense, high-energy tunes. Violins, flutes and horns collide with guitar riffs, booming drums and weird toy instruments. Oh, and costumes, confetti and general merriment. Paste Magazine named them one of the “10 Oklahoma Bands You Should Listen to in 2014.” Whatever your take on their zany sound, one thing’s for sure: Few local acts put on a live show as punched up, quirky or fun as Deerpeople. 

Saturday, July 25

7 p.m. at Main Stage 

Minus the Bear: Now in its 15th year as a band, Seattle-based indie rock act Minus the Bear has ushered us through multiple phases of music and life. There’s something exquisite about indulging Minus the Bear for an hour or so—breezy but beat-driven, and savvy with electro-touches. Do so, and you’re likely to walk away with a big, nostalgic grin on your face. 

9 p.m. at Vanguard

Skating Polly: OKC’s Skating Polly is everything you love about Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, ‘90s grunge and ‘70s punk smashed together. Stepsisters Peyton Bighorse and Kelli Mayo formed the band back in 2009 before either of them was old enough to drive (or land a learner’s permit, for that matter). Raised on heavy-hitting punk classics, the two started messing around with a drum kit and bassitar, and awesome noises were born. After six years of making music together, they’ve carved out a sharp sound that is at once gritty, thrashing, tender and youthful. Self-described as “Ugly Pop,” Skating Polly are true riot grrrl descendants, young feminists who aren’t afraid to get political (see their recent Vice interview). They’ve managed to squeeze in a stop at COU between national and international tours with punk icons Babes in Toyland. 

9 p.m. at Oklahoma Showcase Stage

Paul Benjaman Band: A fixture in the local music scene, Paul Benjaman is a product of the classic Tulsa Sound and has worked with the likes of Nickel Creek and T Bone Burnett. He is as much a part of Tulsa’s musical past as he is its future. Soak up the band’s bluesy rock riffs, jazzy piano jams and country swing this weekend.

For more from Megan, read her short-order showdown between Dilly Diner and Bramble Breakfast & Bar.

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