From May 30 to June 4, 2023, The University of Tulsa will host a national festival of literature, music and ideas called Switchyard. This new annual event, operating in conjunction with the World of Bob Dylan, will feature more than 35 live musical performances, a literary festival and keynote sessions designed to draw some of the world’s most innovative writers, thinkers and artists to the heartland.
During the day, lively panel sessions, talks and cultural events will be held downtown. In the evening, Cain’s Ballroom and other select venues will come alive with headliners and emerging Roots music acts. Organizers expect to draw visitors from around the world, and attendees may choose to buy a pass just for the musical festival or for the full event.
“From Council Oak through the oil boom to Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa has always been a vital meeting point,” said Sean Latham, director of the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities and the event’s lead organizer. “Switchyard will invite people to cross the tracks that once carved this city in two in order to explore our complicated histories, seek new points of connection and explore the transformative power of art, ideas and music.”
During the past decade, Tulsa has grown into an important cultural hub from what many people used to consider a flyover state, explained TU President Brad Carson. “Our city and its flagship academic and research institution – The University of Tulsa – have built a welcoming destination for scholars, creatives, entrepreneurs and others who push the limits. We are a campus and community of explorers who seek to carve new paths and chronicle new adventures,” Carson said.
To help navigate the event, participants can follow a handful of distinct “tracks” that feature topics such as banned books and outrageous ideas; the transformative power of music; and Oklahoma’s Indigenous arts and histories. Since the dates overlap with the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, organizers plan to devote most of June 1 to events that focus on the work of recovery and the opportunity it provides to build a stronger, more inclusive future.
“We’re calling this massive festival Switchyard,” Latham said, “because we want people and ideas from around the world to meet, intersect, collide and maybe even head off in surprising new directions.” He noted that the list of confirmed speakers is growing by the day and already includes Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners as well as other thought leaders from the worlds of music, literature, journalism, economics and more.
Latham, who also directs TU’s Institute for Bob Dylan Studies, said the idea for Switchyard took shape not long after the 2019 World of Dylan event — a three-day celebration of the singer-songwriter that unexpectedly drew 500 people from around the world to Tulsa and sold out two months in advance. “It was clear we had an opportunity to grow this into something even bigger and, as we return to in-person programming, our aim is to create a unique occurrence — maybe something like a distinctively Tulsa version of South by Southwest.”
All events will take place in and around Downtown Tulsa with a variety of ticketing options ranging from single-event admission to music festival and full-event passes. Bands and keynote speakers will be announced in the coming months with early-bird pricing available on Oct. 1.
For more information, visit switchyardtulsa.com and follow along on social media (@switchyardtulsa) to learn about programs, events and performances.