Concert review: Hop Jam Beer and Music Festival 2017
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
I’m not a festival person.
By that, I mean the crowds, the chaos, the parking, the sheer length of time people stand outdoors in a constant barrage of smells and sounds. I once watched a row of portable bathrooms catch fire, the resulting plume of black smoke curling through the sky behind the stage. None of that is for me.
On the other side of my first Hop Jam — Sunday’s craft beer and music festival founded by Tulsa pop-rock band Hanson four years ago — I’m happy to report I might’ve met my festival match. In the vein of Nathan Poppe’s Hop Jam recap from last year, here are a few observations from the fest’s fourth edition:
- When I spoke with Taylor Hanson before this year’s Hop Jam, he said the festival had no specific inspirations, only that they wanted it to be “world-class,” of the caliber of other festival events with longevity like Coachella and Bonnaroo. Hop Jam is tiny by comparison, and that works to its advantage. I arrived shortly before the official public start time of 3 p.m. to see a line from the craft beer area stretching all the way to the main stage at the other end of the festival. But only a short time later, everyone had gotten where they needed to go, in a shockingly orderly fashion. I revel in that level of organization. (Hanson bingo: I spotted all three brothers at different times, carrying radios and appearing to deal with various festival management ins and outs.)
- Sixty-five breweries is a lot of breweries. Ticketed beer patrons were given a small Hop Jam tasting cup on a detachable lanyard, and word has it the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission was out and about watching the size of the beer vendors’ pours. That’s probably for the better, since theoretically, one could sample 200-plus types of beer in the five-hour tasting window, were he or she methodical about it. (I did not do this. But for the record, my favorite new beer I tried was the Anderson Valley G&T Gose.) Taylor Hanson noted that many of the craft breweries they contact for the festival are only now looking into distributing their goods in Oklahoma because of the industry’s brief tenure here. Hopefully Hop Jam proves the existing market for them.
- When you’re standing in a parking lot for three hours, 76 degrees might as well be 90.
- Props to whomever is curating the Hop Jam main stage lineup. It’s a healthy mix of local talent (this year’s Oklahoma artists were Count Tutu, John Fullbright and Johnny Polygon) and national acts. This year’s offerings, South African alt-rock band KONGOS and neo-soul act Mayer Hawthorne, are famous enough to draw a crowd and polished enough to entertain festivalgoers unfamiliar with their music.
- Hanson fans love Hanson. Hop Jam fell on the fourth day of a long Hanson.net member weekend, where “fansons” from across the country flock to Tulsa to participate in a number of private events, including a Hansonopoly tournament, karaoke and a concert only available to fan club members. Even though their Hanson cups had runneth over at this point (just kidding, ABLE!), dozens of dedicated fans parked it in front of the main stage hours before the music actually started, in order to get a prime spot for Hanson’s headlining set over five hours later.
Hop Jam drew an impressive crowd on a Sunday when downtown Tulsa had at least two other concurrent festivals nearby. Despite a sanctioned five-hour drinking session for many attendees, the crowds remained fairly tame, and many of last year’s complaints about long lines seem more or less resolved. As Hop Jam continues, it’ll be interesting to see how and if the festival affect the craft beer industry in Tulsa and elsewhere in the state, and whether it takes on a life more its own and less connected to Hanson, the band.