There’s a brand-new live-music experience rolling out this summer, and Oklahoma’s right in the big middle of it – both figuratively and literally.
“Rifftime Music is producing the industry’s first mobile, interactive music festival – the Rifftime on Route 66 Linear Music Festival. Bands will tour and perform along historic Route 66 from July 25 to Aug. 8, 2014,” according to the website route66.rifftime.com.
“For every style of music, there’s a place where the music is big, where it came from. And for me, because of my love of western-swing music, to go to Tulsa and play there takes on a whole other level of importance for me and for my place in the continuity of the music.”
The innovative nature of the fest has a lot to do with the adjective “linear,” as noted West Coast jazz guitarist, California-based Bruce Forman explains.
“You know how music festivals – like Woodstock or Coachella or Newport – originally started with people going to a place and hearing music,” says Forman, the music director of the event. “Then, as things evolved, there became what I call metro music festivals, where whole cities became festivals. The biggest one of those is South by Southwest, where the entire town of Austin becomes this music festival for a week.
“Well, my invention and dream was to create this linear festival, where all of Route 66 becomes a festival, including all the cities along the way, and what keeps it a centralized hub is that everybody is posting information online, and they’re also streaming concerts and stuff to a single place so that people all over can go out and convoy and get involved, or they can sit at their computers in remote places like Finland or Guatemala or Indonesia and still be a part of things,” Forman says.
To that end, he’s working with the new Internet company Rifftime, which is launching itself internationally with the event. As of press time, dozens of acts have already visited the website, signing up for some or all of the festival stops.
Among them are Tulsa native Pat Kelley – like Forman, a well-known West Coast jazz guitarist – the Tulsa-based string-jazz band Mischievous Swing, and Forman’s own cowboy-jazz outfit, Cow Bop.
“Rifftime is a new website that’s dedicated to the music community, to help musicians and bands utilize technology and social media to get their music out to the fans and create a big music community, where we can all sort of be there and stop being so fragmented,” he explains. “That’s the whole point of Rifftime. That’s their mission. And they love the idea of Route 66, which is my idea.”
It’s also his idea to make a big deal out of the Oklahoma part of the festival. To that end, he plans what he calls a Route 66 roadshow revue at the end of July, featuring Cow Bop and at least a couple of other acts, including the award-winning all-city jazz band, the Tulsa Jam’Bassadors.
“We’ve got an East Coast band, kind of a new version of [the 1920s and ‘30s act] the Boswell Sisters, coming in from New York. We’re coming from the West Coast, and then we’re hoping to have Mischievous Swing from Oklahoma,” he says. “We’re going to do it at the [Oklahoma] Jazz Hall of Fame [in Tulsa] for sure, and we’re hoping to do it in Miami, Okla., and Oklahoma City.
“It’ll just be a big show, and the focal point of the entire tour,” Forman adds. “Of course, you’ve got the departure [from Chicago] and the arrival [in Los Angeles]. But to me, Oklahoma is such a central aspect, since the whole idea of Route 66 was conceived in Oklahoma by Cyrus Avery, the man who made it all happen.”
Avery, as Mother Road fans know, was the Tulsa-based oilman and member of the Joint Board on Interstate Highways whose efforts earned him the title “Father of Route 66.”
Although this is the maiden voyage of the Rifftime on Route 66 Linear Music Festival, it’s not the first time Forman and Cow Bop have made the trip. In 2004, the band – which includes vocalist Pinto Pammy, Forman’s wife – embarked on something they called the Route 66 Challenge. Beginning in Chicago with exactly $100 and no gigs booked in advance, the group set out to traverse the entire 2,500 miles of the road, earning their way by playing as they went.
“We did it, too,” recalls Forman. “We played our way out to the Santa Monica Pier.”
One of the many Route 66 jobs they played was at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, where they were joined by such local luminaries as fiddler Shelby Eicher and banjo player Rick Bentley. That show began a relationship between the band and Tulsa that continues to this day.
“You’ve got to understand that for me, not being a Tulsan, Tulsa has always been kind of hallowed ground,” he says. “For every style of music, there’s a place where the music is big, where it came from. And for me, because of my love of western-swing music, to go to Tulsa and play there takes on a whole other level of importance for me and for my place in the continuity of the music.”
The Route 66 Challenge that first brought Cow Bop through Tulsa 10 years ago, he adds, came about because he was afraid the road was in its death throes.
“I had been out at this old roadhouse outside of St. Louis,” he remembers. “It was a bar and restaurant, and it looked kind of like Bonnie & Clyde, but it was still operating. The motor court next to it, though, was completely dilapidated, with weeds growing up through the roofs and everything. And I said to myself, ‘I want to see this Route 66 before it all goes away.’
“I realize now, in hindsight, how cynical that statement was,” he adds. “Once I got out on the road, I met all these people who are committed to making it work,” he says. “They’ve been through hard times, and they’ve been through good times, but it’s a commitment to a life and a lifestyle, to family and home, that makes Route 66 endure.”
Then, he says, he realized what he found on Route 66 was a metaphor for the music community at large.
“Our parents tell us not to be musicians, that we’ll never make a living. We hear that there’s not going to be any live music anymore. We hear that you can’t sell records anymore. People are always saying that it’s going away, it’s going away,” he says. “Yet, I know, as a creative musician who teaches and mentors young musicians, that it’s not going away, that there’s this indelible American spirit to it all that’s a testament to our culture and our lives – just as there is on Route 66.”
So, says Forman, the Rifftime on Route 66 Linear Music Festival gives him, along with thousands of other musicians, music fans and music writers, a chance to “go out and celebrate American culture” on the nation’s Mother Road.
“Rifftime’s philosophy behind this is the asphalt highway meets the digital highway,” he notes. “And there’s another metaphor: The interstate freeway – the corporate model – is one way to get there. But there’s also the community model, which is Route 66. A lot of jazz music and swing music and Americana music generally deals in the Route 66 style, and it’s going to stay alive mostly because of its quality and integrity, but also because of the caring commitment of its people. It may be a lofty goal, but we want to bring these two communities, Route 66 and the music, together, so that they can celebrate and help each other.”