Groovefest began during the Fall of 1986 when a group of 250 people joined Eric Newendorp, Jenn Flygar, and Todd Walker for "Sunday in the Park". The name Groovefest was coined by Jenn Flygar when Eric Newendorp asked her to suggest a 'groovy' name for their new Sunday afternoon music festival. From the beginning "Sunday in the Park" was a celebration of individual creativity and music.
At the end of 1986, University of Oklahoma students Allen Hailey and Tom Decker made a call to a number that appeared on The Conspiracy of Hope and Human Rights Now concert tour television coverage. Several weeks later, they received a call from Sake Herrick, Director of the Southern Regional Office of Amnesty International USA in Atlanta, Georgia. He asked if he could come to Norman and meet with people interested in starting a group at the University of Oklahoma. From that meeting, the OU Amnesty group and Groovefest began their heartfelt work promoting Human Rights in Oklahoma.
In 1988, Allen Hailey asked Eric to put together a benefit for Amnesty International. Eric offered Groovefest as the platform for this celebration of freedom, in hopes of drawing attention to people around the world who have been deprived of the right to express themselves. In the first year of the Groovefest and Amnesty International union, the organizers received The Oklahoma Gazette readers' award for 'Best Music Festival' for 1988. The award was named for legendary Oklahoma folksinger and songwriter Woody Guthrie. Groovefest also won the 'Best Music Festival' award for 1994.
From 1986 - 1992 Groovefest was held in the amphitheater at Andrews Park in Norman, Oklahoma. It was the perfect home for this event, as the amphitheater is a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project completed before WWII. These projects emphasized the benefit for individuals to get involved in promoting the development and protecting the future of their own communities.
Every year, Groovefest grows in sprit and size. In the Spring of 1992, 2,500 people attended "Groovefest". After a soul search and much anguish, it was clear that Andrews Park could no longer hold such a large crowd. The event moved to the University of Oklahoma Duck Pond in the Spring of 1993, and it was the beginning of a new era. The Duck Pond provided new life for Groovefest with its central location to the University, its accessibility to students and greater visibility for the community. As expected, Groovefest experienced an immense surge in attendance with the move, as the first show in Spring 1993 drew over 3,000 people.
Groovefest continues to be successful due to the hard work, dedication, and commitment of promoters, musicians, activists, and the support of the local community. Many people have served as organizers and supporters of the event since its conception. Most of all, Groovefest has been a success because of the people who dance, feel the power of music, become inspired by our speakers, sign petitions, write letters, mail postcards, buy t-shirts or bumper stickers and hang flyers.
The overall message of Groovefest: Human Rights Are For Everyone.
Groovefest is a place where local artists shine, Tibetan monks chant, young people spend hours dancing in the rain to local music, and activists scream about human rights abuses at home in Oklahoma and abroad. Since our goal is to promote and educate about Human Rights in our world, we never charge admission and encourage everyone to attend. Groovefest makes a difference in people's lives! Currently, it is the longest running and largest regular scheduled event created by any Amnesty International student group in the world.
The University of Oklahoma Amnesty International group was proud to host the "father of the youth movement" from Amnesty International, Jack Healey, as their guest at the Spring 1994 Groovefest on Campus Corner, and again at the Spring and Fall 1995 Groovefest. With our extensive work to promote the Spring of 1994 event, a crowd of 20,000 people turned out for two stages of entertainment and continuous performers throughout the weekend. With Jack's 12 year leadership as the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, he is the creative force of the Conspiracy of Hope and Human Rights Now tours which brought human rights into the mainstream of youth culture in the United States and around the world. The tours combined the power of musicians such as Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, Elton John, Bryan Adams, Jackson Browne, Tracey Chapman, Peter Gabriel, U2, Joan Baez, K.D. Lang, and Sinead O'Connor. Jack is a regular at Groovefest because, "it is the strongest, local grassroots, multicultural, human rights festival I have ever seen".
Through such events, Jack Healey quadrupled the membership and activism within Amnesty International. His inspiration and message are responsible for Groovefest and the University of Oklahoma chapter of AIUSA.
On Monday, March 18, 1996, David L. Boren, University of Oklahoma President, issued a proclamation that declared April 8 - 14, 1996 as a "Week of Human Rights Celebration and Awareness." In the statement, President Boren said:
"The Week of April 8-14, 1996, should be recognized by our University community as a week of Human Rights Celebration and Awareness. To achieve a society in which there is no human rights injustice, it takes the active determination of every individual within it. It takes love, sensitivity and respect for one another's heritages and beliefs. If we can find a way to make our diversity our strength, and to learn how to have open and honest debate with mutual respect, our community could truly become a role model for the nation."
The festival in Spring 1996 festival celebrated the 10th anniversary of the event and was held on Sunday, April 14, 1996. A compilation CD was released that focused on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the importance of recognizing Human Rights for all people, and the imprisonment of the Pyitaindaung Drum Band from the Ayeryarwady Division of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma). The seven member Burmese drum band and their driver had been imprisoned on May 17th, 1990 for writing and singing songs in public that support the National League for Democracy in Burma. Even though their location and health were not known, the organizers of Groovefest petitioned the leaders of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma) to allow the band to attend and perform at the Spring 1996 Groovefest as our guests.
The CD contains tracks from 17 local artists whose talent, message, and commitment to the purpose of our event is evident on every single track. In addition, Groovefest was happy to host the talent of Atlantic recording artist Francis Dunnery for the weekend. Dunnery is known for his association with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, his own group "It Bites," working with David Gilmour during the '80's, his own personal commitment to human rights and the deep sense of soul in his music. The following groups performed during the afternoon: Limbo Cafe, The Reverb Brothers, New Tribe, Legghead, The Street People, and Fanny Grace.
Two guest activists spoke about their community at the 10th Anniversary of Groovefest. Ohmar Khin, Student-in-Exile from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and co-founder of Free Burma, related her personal struggle to free people in her country from a repressive military regime where thousands of citizens have vanished or been imprisoned for exercising their basic Human Rights. Finally, Carlos Say, a Guatemalan student activist, discussed efforts to recognize the dignity of people in his country when human rights are not respected by government officials.
The event celebrated "Groovefest at Medina's Coffee House and Gallery” on the evening of Friday, April 12, 1996 in the Paseo District of Oklahoma City. All benefits from the sale of T-shirts, CD's and information supported the work of local Amnesty International groups. The following performers appeared on Friday night: The Green Owls, Francis Dunnery, Atlantic Recording Artist from New York City, Jack Healey, and a performance of poetry by Outlaw Poets.
In dedicating the November 1991 issue of SPIN Magazine to Amnesty International, the editors communicated the purpose of Groovefest best:
"If music has a gut reason, it's to free the human spirit. Rock ’n' roll liberated a generation in America, Europe, and then much of the rest of the earth. It's still doing that. Music drives tyrants mad. Why? Because music unchains minds. Those minds then work to free bodies communities and, finally, nations. Amnesty International is the rock'n'roll of human rights movements - courageous, unrelenting, and effective."
It is time for all of us to ensure that all people enjoy free access to their basic Human Rights, so that everyone can dance and sing. As Archbishop Oscar Romero said in his final sermon before he was gunned down at the alter in El Salvador in 1980, "We who have a VOICE must be a voice for the VOICELESS!"
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