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OU alumnus, associate director of Norman Arts Council sits down for Q&A ahead of Norman Music Festival

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Joshua Boydston

Joshua Boydston is the associate director of Norman Arts Council.

Editor’s note: Joshua Boydston refers to working at The Daily’s Life and Arts desk while at OU. The desk is now referred to as the arts & entertainment desk.

Japanese Breakfast. Ra Ra Riot. Portugal. the Man.

These three artists have headlined the annual weekend celebration of local and national music known as the Norman Music Festival, where people come from all areas of town to listen to new artists and current favorites.

The man who booked two of these artists got into the music industry sort of by accident.

Joshua Boydston, an alumnus of OU with a degree in psychology, is the associate director of Norman Arts Council and a member of the Norman Music Alliance.

Although he does not use much of his psychology degree, the opportunities that were given to him in college led him to his current job: planning the touring artists for Norman Music Festival, he said.

The Daily sat down with Boydston to ask him about his job, what prepared him and what makes Norman Music Festival successful:

Q: What was your major at OU?

A: Psychology, so nothing that I wound up using in any direct sense. But while I was there, I worked at The Daily and my senior year, 2011 to 2012, I was the concert series chair (for OU's Campus Activities Council), so that’s kinda how I got into booking concerts.

I immediately started working at Norman Arts Council right after I graduated, and the first couple years I worked independently, booked some smaller shows at Opolis and at Mainsite, which is where Norman Arts Council is housed. Eventually, they transitioned me into (Norman Music Festival) and I went from newbie to taking hold of the touring band part, which was pretty cool because it is something I never thought would happen.

Q: What challenges have you faced when planning Norman Music Festival?

A: Having a limited, non-profit budget is kind of a blessing and a curse because it makes you think outside the box a little bit, but also you don’t have a blank check to go and get whoever you want out there. It’s a very curated festival in the sense of we have an idea of who we want to showcase. We really do want to produce the best festival we can within the constraints we’re given. We’re active.

Q: Are most of the headliners open to playing at such a small festival?

A: Yeah, that’s a big part of it. We try to book bands that have never played in Oklahoma before. We can’t say who our headliners are until January, but two of the top three headliners have never played in Oklahoma before.

Q: What is the target audience for Norman Music Festival?

A: It’s impossible to appeal to everyone, and I think we had to reconcile with that at some point. There were years where we tried to make it a festival for every single person, but it’s one of those things where you start to make it for everyone and then it becomes for no one.

For us, the spirit of Norman is in the college town. We think of it as a really adventurous place. We want it to be more diverse, both in terms of the sound and the performers. We don’t want it to just look like a bunch of white guys playing folk music — that’s not everything that’s going on in Oklahoma. We want it to be as reflective of the community as possible.

Q: Who have been your favorite acts you’ve booked?

A: The first band I ever booked was Natalie Prass and I thought her performance was great and I love both of her albums.

The year we had Thee Oh Sees headline, they were great, but it was raining and kind of miserable in a sense, but it was also super fun. The crowd that was there was fully there because they loved music. Last year  was probably my favorite lineup to date; it was very serendipitous.

Q: Who have been some of your favorite artists you have interviewed?

A: I really liked interviewing Mac DeMarco. He was really personable, super funny and at the time I don’t think me or he knew he would be as big of a deal as he would become.

I was a gigantic fan of Twin Shadow and Washed Out, and interviewing them was a little daunting. Keri Lewis is always just funny, and Barry Manilow. So often I’ll interview these bands and my grandparents and uncles will be like, “Who are you even talking about?” and then it’s like, “Oh yeah! We know Barry Manilow!”

Q: What prepared you for your job?

A: I was deathly shy. I could warm up to people, but it was hard for me to talk to strangers. In the very first meeting (at The Daily), I volunteered for Morgan Spurlock coming here, the “Super Size Me” guy, and the editor was like, “Who wants to talk to him?” and no one was raising their hand. I was just like, “OK. I’ll do it.” Exposure therapy.

I can’t even imagine how cringey my first interviews were. I didn’t study at Gaylord (College of Journalism and Mass Communication) or journalism in a direct sense, but I had great editors, and then I went to The Gazette and interned there. I had a lot of good guidance.

Q: What was your position while at The Daily?

A: I started off as a reporter for about a year and then I became the Life and Arts editor. I think I designed for one day. I was in the last year of editors who had to design our own sections, which is funny because primarily what I do now is a lot of design stuff. If I hadn’t done The Daily, I wouldn’t have the job I have now.

Q: How does your schedule differ from fall to spring, when Norman Music Festival happens?

A: We start brainstorming for the festival in late July and August, thinking about where we want to go with the lineup. By September, we start sending out offers. All confirmations happen early October.

Then we have the open call and accept about 300 local bands in total. We’ll listen to all of those by January into February. What’s kind of nice then is it’s mostly just kind of set.

Q: What lessons have you learned planning Norman Music Festival that you wish you knew when you started?

A: Making sure to be open to criticism and listening more. Some people might not fully understand our limitations — “Why can’t this band be bigger? Why can’t Father John Misty headline?” Keep an open mind and take it all in.

Q: If money were no object and you were to plan your own festival, what 10 artists would you book?

A:

  1.  Frank Ocean
  2.  Kacey Musgraves

  3.  Kendrick Lamar

  4. Tame Impala

  5.  Incubus

  6.  Beck

  7. Unknown Mortal Orchestra

  8.  James Blake

  9.  Flying Lotus

  10. My 10th one is actually on this lineup, so I’ll leave that as a mystery. I’m not saying they’re the biggest band in the world, but it’s one I’ve loved for a very long time.

Norman Music Festival is free to the public and will be April 25-27 in downtown Norman.

Correction: This article was corrected at 10:50 a.m. Nov. 26 to reflect that Joshua Boydston did not book the band Portugal. the Man, but did book Japanese Breakfast and Ra Ra Riot.

Alma Cienski is a modern dance performance and public relations junior and a culture reporter for The Daily.

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