On June 16-18, some of the biggest names in country, rock and Americana music will gather in Muskogee for a festival estimated to bring in between $5 million and $8 million to the area in its first year. And it all started with an abandoned airport.
“There are a lot of moving parts, and you wait for the stars to line up,” says Jim Blair, executive director of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
The event is being held at Hatbox Field, an airport built in the 1930s and closed for landings in 2000. Part of the area was then used for walking trails, and the City of Muskogee built a water park and a sports complex on the grounds. But the city continued to look for new ways to use the area, and a team brought in from the University of Arkansas suggested working with the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame to host a music festival on the grounds. The suggestion was a natural fit, and work began on organizing the festival two years ago.
“We set out to be more of an eclectic music festival, and we see this as an opportunity because of the venue, which is hard to find if you’re in Tulsa or Oklahoma City.”
Blair says the event wouldn’t have been possible without the City of Muskogee Foundation, which city officials created in 2008 from funds raised by leasing the Muskogee Regional Medical Center to Capella Healthcare for 40 years. The foundation has already used around $38 million supporting and promoting programs and facilities in Muskogee.
Net proceeds of G Fest will be used to further the goals of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and to continue to develop the infrastructure of the Hatbox complex for future festivals. The festival is funded through a joint effort by The Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, the City of Muskogee, the City of Muskogee Foundation and Muskogee Tourism. Blair says he expects the festival to continue to grow, noting that Bonnaroo, a music festival held in Manchester, Tennessee, brings around $50 million to the area each year.
The festival has sold tickets to people from across the U.S. as well as Canada and the U.K. The lineup and location both help factor into the appeal of G Fest.
“We set out to be more of an eclectic music festival, and we see this as an opportunity because of the venue, which is hard to find if you’re in Tulsa or Oklahoma City,” Blair says.
The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Kacey Musgraves and Turnpike Troubadours are headlining G Fest, which has around 85 different musicians and bands in the lineup. The festival showcases many Oklahoma and regional acts, including The Swon Brothers, John Fullbright and Jason Boland and the Stragglers.
Blair says the festival will pay tribute to Merle Haggard, originally scheduled to be a headliner before his death on April 6. The California native cowrote and performed “Okie from Muskogee,” one of his biggest hits, and was part of the inaugural class for the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
“That shook some people up, because he did have such an influence on so many of even today’s young artists,” Blair says.
Tickets and more information on G Fest are available at gfestmuskogee.com.