The late Merle Haggard put the small town of Muskogee, OK on the radar of country fans everywhere with his song “Okie from Muskogee.” That town showed us again how great it is by putting together G Fest – an impressive three-day summer music festival that featured over 80 acts on four stages. Funded through several different agencies including The Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, The City of Muskogee, City of Muskogee Foundation and Muskogee Tourism, this festival made up of mostly Red Dirt, Americana and Alt Country acts was a major event for live country music in Oklahoma.
The inaugural festival took place at Hatbox Field, a historic airfield opened in 1920, and the only thing hotter than the 100 degree temps were the bands on stage. Each day on the main stage you could get up close with such acts as Old Crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers, Marty Stuart, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Turnpike Troubadours, Jason Boland & The Stragglers, among many others. Various bands from Oklahoma, Texas and surrounding states filled the festival with music all three days. Muskogee’s native sons, The Swon Brothers, even came back to perform for their hometown crowd and during their set they helped a surprise marriage proposal take place between two of the festival’s security guards. The sweltering heat did not hinder any of the acts as they all showed up to entertain no matter what the thermometer screamed.
Merle Haggard was originally slated to headline the final night of G Fest, however, when he passed away earlier this year, Kacey Musgraves agreed to step in and she noted from the stage how honored she was to be asked in his place. Several of the acts, including Musgraves, paid tribute to Haggard during their sets and his presence was felt all over the festival. The opening of the third day included a proclamation by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin officially making it “Merle Haggard Day,” the unveiling of a “Merle Haggard Ave” street sign that will be placed in front of the Muskogee Civic Center where he recorded his live album, and a video of a planned “Merle Haggard Plaza” that will include a life size statue of Haggard. The most touching event was to see artist Richard Hight paint a portrait of Haggard live on stage while “Okie from Muskogee” was playing in the background. To say this town loves The Hag is an understatement.
G Fest included so many things that make a festival great. Along with the four stages filled with music, there were food trucks with different fair-style foods and several vendors selling merchandise including an auction booth where you could bid on signed items and the proceeds went to help local musicians with various needs. You could take a helicopter ride and see the festival from the air or relax in the hammocks set up in the old airplane hangar to get a break from the heat. There were campsites available for those that wanted to make it an all-inclusive weekend and you could even rent your own tent completely furnished with beds, linens, lanterns and electricity. That’s my idea of roughing it!
Despite the heat that kept some of the fans away during the day, once the evening set in the grounds were hopping with festival goers that brought their lawn chairs and sang and danced along with the bands. It was a great sight to look around and see Oklahomans of all ages enjoying time together and celebrating country music. Muskogee should be proud of the first G Fest. They started this event off with a bang and I believe it has great potential to be a premier country music festival in Oklahoma every year.