Oakland Music Festival unites cultures in a diverse city

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Christopher Van/Staff

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The Oakland Music Festival came into fruition for the first time Saturday. When a city acquires a music event of its own, the region becomes a birthplace of music. This has a great deal of significance for areas with growing art and music scenes, as the festivals become representative of the area and its culture a symbol of the local community.

Oakland’s incredibly diverse musical talent has long sought such an outlet, and the first annual OMF achieved precisely that.

Perhaps what was most unique about the OMF was the block-party-style setting. Located at 19th Street and San Pablo Avenue, the festival consumed a little more than a square block and was fenced in so attendees could roam freely throughout the streets, shops and bars within that area.

OMF created a concentrated microcosm of Oakland’s arts and culture. Local cuisine, brews and vendors selling Oakland-based art and apparel lined the streets. The site offered plenty of delicious unconventional festival eats, ranging from Jamaican jerk chicken on a raw kale salad to tacos and Argentine grub.

Despite the morning downpour, the show went on, and the sky was bright blue and sunny by the time the afternoon sets came on.

On the main stage, groups such as the Kev Choice Ensemble displayed incredible versatility, performing everything from rap tracks to indie jazz and R&B.

Each song added a new layer to the experience and a new story to the group’s numerous sounds — each piece was a narrative about relevant issues facing Oakland and its people. Kev Choice’s songs spoke of his childhood growing up in Oakland, where he lost a close friend in a shooting, and always staying strong no matter what challenges one must face.

While the music on the outdoor uptown stage utilized solely live instruments and spanned the genres of rap, R&B, rock n’ roll, indie jazz, Afro-American fusion and Latin American music, the two other stages at the festival had an electronic edge.

The Rocksteady DJ patio, a small wood-paneled room opening to an outdoor patio tucked within a bar, offered a fresh blend of moombahton and retro electronic music hand-spun on vinyl 45s. The little room and patio became quickly packed as tracks such as Diplo’s “Butters Theme” were dropped amid a clutter of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and knit cardigans.

On the third stage, in a larger, loftier space, dark lighting set a mood for a more intimate concert. I caught up with James & Evander after their performance to get an inside look at Oakland’s influence on their music.

The duo, whose real names are Adam Myatt and Glenn Jackson, started making music together in 2007, when they had their first gigs “at Mama Buzz, which is this old cafe at Telegraph and Grant that used to let anyone play,” Jackson said.

When asked to define their sound, Myatt described it as “Oakland stoner pop,” and Jackson agreed. “We went through a few phases,” he said. “(Now it’s) kind of stony and slow with a heavy melody.” Jackson’s favorite song by the band is one of the tracks on the album Bummer Pop titled “Living the Dream,” which is about becoming successful and the surrealism involved in the experience.

Most attended with particular artists in mind, and closing act the Coup was one of the highly anticipated. Due to a slightly late start time, they were cut to finish about 8 p.m., and the crowd was outraged, yelling “unfair!” as the evening drew to a brisk close.

Apparently, the event had to end by a certain time because of to noise permits, and thus the Coup’s set could not have been further prolonged.

Every aspect of the festival reflected the unity of so many different cultures and creeds, from the wide range of food and drink available to the diverse crowd of all ages, races and incomes.

Each artist at the OMF was different from the next and contributed something unique to the composite identity of what it means to be a musician in Oakland.

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