Jim Blair: The Man with the Plan
Muskogee- Jim Blair is no stranger to the music world, having grown up with musician parents and being drawn to it at an early age. So it’s no big surprise that he is the executive director of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Blair’s first instinct wasn’t to take on the job though, “I was consulting, and had my own consulting business when they approached me about the job, I had to think about it for a while, my first inclination was to say no, but on second thought, I thought it would be quite a challenge, which it has been,” explained Blair.
I got the privilege of chatting at length with Blair about his involvement in the OMHF as well as their big project going on right now. “I grew up around music, so I grew up playing a lot of music. I always had a strong interest in music. I went to Nashville in ‘89 and spent ten years there before I came back to this area. Coming back to this area was pretty cool, I immediately got involved with the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival and then got put on the board for the OMHF,” said Blair. Blair got involved with the OMHF back in 2000. The organization has always struggled with the goal of building a new museum. They had dealt with some major funding concerns in 2012, and Blair helped with getting it back on track, they were able to become debt free and put some money back as well.
“I had to make a point to the powers that be though, that they were going to find themselves in the same situation if they didn’t create a means of either continued public support or something different that helps create that sustainability. Their response was: ‘why don’t you come run it?’” Blair said with a chuckle.
So that’s just what he did, he stepped in and helped change some of the goals and vision of the OMHF. Blair stepped in full time in the summer of 2013. Previously the OMHF had wanted to build the large new museum, but Blair changed that vision. “I created a whole new strategy than there had ever been before, I wanted to work on improving our reputation around the state, nationwide and worldwide. We developed the current facility that we currently work out of into a venue. We created a weekly TV show there. We’ve taken our induction ceremonies out of town and had successful inductions in Tulsa and Bristow, which increased our awareness, and gotten people’s attention,” said Blair.
The 2013 Gentleman of the Road Festival in Guthrie featuring Mumford and Sons, and the fact that it drew in 35 thousand people, made Blair start thinking about the possibility of doing the same kind of thing in Muskogee.
“As a part of OMHF we realized that after almost 15 years we were still struggling, we’re a state agency trying to get state funding which is almost impossible, and relying on local sponsorships and contributions to survive. So we started thinking about something different and what could we do that’s different that sets us apart from live music venues in Tulsa or Northwest Arkansas or anywhere else. We realized that a music festival might be that, might be an opportunity or might create something unique to Muskogee that helps us maintain our sustainability,” explained Blair.
So Blair went to the Muskogee Foundation in 2013 with a plan for a festival, to seek their financial backing. At first they were intrigued but not quite ready to say yes at the time, so Blair withdrew his request for funding and spent several more months fine tuning the plan. That’s when he came back with an even better plan, and the foundation said yes.
“We got the go ahead in April to move forward with that so here we are, it’s been in planning for about a year and a half, almost 2 years. We started working with Gil Cunningham who has been involved with a number of festivals. What he brings to the table is that he knows a lot of people as far as ticketing and production, running campgrounds and laying out festival designs. So we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make this happen,” said Blair.
Planning and executing a festival of this size takes a lot of knowledge and organizational skills, and they definitely want to do it right so that their vision can be successful.
“In 2012 OMHF was deciding, hey what do we want to be when we grow up- it’s hard to get that support if you don’t have a good plan of what you want to be when you grow up- so we could have pitched the idea of a festival in 2012 but I don’t think we would have gotten anywhere with that, but I feel like our hard work from 2012 through 2014 paid off because once we made the pitch about what we want to do, then everyone was on board; the city of Muskogee, the Muskogee Foundation, the tourism and chamber of commerce,” Said Blair.
Once they got the ball rolling, everything else seemed to just fall into place. Even the perfect venue opened up.
In 1930 Muskogee opened Hatbox air field, and in 2000 it was shut down. The town had done some development of the area, creating a sports complex and water park, but they weren’t able to actually use the runways until they removed all of the aircrafts, which just happened recently. Now they have this great location, located right off the highway, and with the availability to host up to fifty thousand people.
“The timing was just right, there’s the opportunity as far as obtaining the capital that was just right and the facility was already looking for a way to reuse this property. There’s a lot of growth going on in Muskogee, and they are really wanting to grow the tourism aspect of it, so we saw this as an opportunity to create what we see as the biggest event to ever happen in Muskogee,” said Blair.
That’s how the Muskogee G Fest came to be.
“If you don’t name your festival right, your patrons are going to name it for you. We kind of played off the hipster crowd, they refer to Muskogee as The G, or the Gee, so we thought we would just go off that. We decided on the single letter G fest, which has a bit of mystique about it, and that’s really what we were shooting for. You can let your imagination go from there, and everything you can think of about it we’ve already thought of, and it’s what we want them to think of. We still think the patrons will come up with their own kind of take on it, and we want to run with that when it happens,” said Blair.
The festival is set for June 16-18th, with the option of camping available. The initial line-up has been announced; Jason Boland and The Stragglers, Turnpike Troubadours, The Avett Brothers, and the Okie from Muskogee himself, Merle Haggard. These are just the first round of announcements, with many more still to come. They hope to have thirty acts for the festival. The next announcement of musicians involved will come in January. You can buy early bird tickets now, and different camping and VIP packages. They also offer something unique- a payment plan. You can buy now and make five monthly payments to pay it off completely, which is a great way for people to make this festival more affordable in the long run. But that’s only if you purchase the tickets now, giving you the time to pay it off before the festival date. The ticket and camping prices will also continue to go up until the day of the show, right now is the best time to buy them at the early bird rates.
“We kind of feel like we’re in this for the long haul, we want to build this. We want to attract 12 to 15 thousand people in this first year and we feel like we have a really good chance of that. I think we’re surprising a lot of people outside of Muskogee that we are going to do this, but we’ve convinced everyone inside of Muskogee that this is going to be the biggest thing that ever happened to Muskogee. The buzz locally is pretty electric, they know it’s a reality and it’s going to happen,” continued Blair.
The festival looks like it’s going to be something quite impressive, their musical line-up is phenomenal and their organization of it already shows great promise. This could really be the big thing to help bring people and revenue into the town and the OMHF.
“The main thing is that we feel like we’re really going to hit a homerun with this G fest and our mission is to promote and preserve the rich musical history of Oklahoma music. It’s a very simple mission, and this kind of vehicle allows us to really do that and draw in people. We do shows and we do inductions and it’s a draw for people within 50 miles, but for this we’ve already sold tickets to Houston, Corpus Christy, Scottsdale, Idaho; so already sales are coming in from all over the country. So we really feel like it’s perfect for what our mission is, we do have a rich musical heritage in Oklahoma and its puzzling to people outside of Oklahoma on why we have such a rich musical heritage, and that’s what we are hoping to play off of,” explained Blair.