UPDATED: Interviews, photos and video: Former Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Peter Markes opening downtown OKC Festival of the Arts today
Updated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday: The opening ceremony of the 2019 Festival of the Arts has been canceled due to inclement weather. Peter Markes also is scheduled to perform tonight with his bandmates in Kyle Dillingham & Horseshoe Road as well as solo Sunday afternoon at the festival.
A version of this story appears in Tuesday's The Oklahoman.
Continuing musical mission: Former state teacher of the year Peter Markes to open Festival of the Arts
Peter Markes punctuated the sentence that changed his life with a smiley face.
The Oklahoma City musician was exchanging emails with his lifelong friend and bandmate Kyle Dillingham about a possible regional showcase for their acclaimed Americana outfit Kyle Dillingham & Horseshoe Road, with Markes struggling to fit the promising prospect into his busy schedule as Edmond North High School Orchestra director.
“In the last line, I said, ‘Sounds like I need to resign.’ Smiley face. Like you’ll do in an email. And he responded with a … very eloquent, bulleted list of ‘here’s what’s possible.’ And there were things that I hadn’t thought about or was not aware of as a band about the opportunities we had,” Markes recalled.
“For me, it was just the next thing. In my teaching career, I always did what the next thing was … to continue just making teaching better, making education better for the students. And this thing became the next thing. I felt like I had more to offer in the performance realm.”
Two years into his career as a full-time musician, Markes has released his debut solo album, “I Have a Dream,” toured with Horseshoe Road in China, Kuwait and Kosovo and added loop-pedal violin to his one-man-band repertoire along with his guitar-and-voice performances.
The 2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year will give a solo performance at 11 a.m. Tuesday when he helps OKC Mayor David Holt, local Boy Scouts Troop 4 and Academia open the 53rd Annual Festival of the Arts in Bicentennial Park. He and his Horseshoe Road cohorts also will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on the festival’s Main Stage, and Markes will return on Sunday to play solo from 2 to 4 p.m. on closing day of the six-day event.
“So, I’m bookending the festival,” he said. “As a solo artist, this will be my second year to play, and it’s actually my second year as a solo artist. So, sort of fitting.”
Known as Oklahoma City's “rite of spring,” the 2019 Festival of the Arts will feature an array of visual, performing and culinary arts — and people eager to partake in them — from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at Bicentennial Park between the Civic Center and City Hall, Colcord and Couch drives, and the City Hall lawn.
Admission is free for the event, which draws hundreds of thousands of patrons each year, depending on the weather.
An eclectic lineup of performers will be showcased on three stages, with local favorites like Markes and fellow guitarist Edgar Cruz, Lynda Tarpley Tappers, Yumare Mexican Folkloric Dance, R&B band Shortt Dogg, Americana outfit Beau Jennings and the Tigers, rockers the Wise Guys and many more.
“Peter’s an absolutely delightful person, and his playing is spot-on,” said Peter Dolese, executive director of Arts Council Oklahoma City, the nonprofit organization that produces the festival. “And he’s got a new album out, which is awesome.”
A new ‘Dream’
The inspiration for his first solo album, “I Have a Dream,” hangs on the wall of his home office and depicts him in his old office at Edmond North: A caricature of Markes wielding a conductor’s baton with the inscription “You made a difference! Pursue your dreams!” It was a parting gift from his students when he decided to leave the classroom after 15 years of teaching with Edmond Public Schools.
“It’s been very positive both for me personally (and) as a musician. I feel like I’ve had a lot of space to grow; it takes a lot of space to be creative, I realize. As soon as I left the classroom, I immediately started writing music. I hadn’t written a song in about 15 years,” he said.
“I enjoyed teaching very much. That last year was by far the best, just so much fun. … I decided to take that chance and leave teaching, although it never felt risky. It never felt like I was jumping off a cliff. It just felt like the best next thing to do.”
Dillingham said he didn’t set out to lure his friend and bandmate away from the classroom. The well-known fiddler and songwriter said he didn’t realize that was even a possibility.
“That thought hadn’t even crossed my mind, but I said, ‘If you were to leave the classroom and become a full-time performer, here’s short list of things just off the top of my head … that we could pursue that we don’t currently pursue because I know that my guitar player is a full-time music educator.’ And he wrote back and he was like, ‘Oh, geez, wow, well, this is something for me to think about,’” said Dillingham, who leads Markes and upright bassist Brent Saulsbury as Horseshoe Road.
Within a matter of days, Dillingham said he was stunned when Markes had discussed retiring with his wife, Kris, and was ready to make that leap of faith.
“I thought Peter was in the classroom for life. … Peter is this incredible teacher and to rise and have the kind of achievements that he made and at such a young age, it’s just unheard of,” he said.
“Then it began dawning on me that it’s not just that Peter’s a good teacher: Peter is good at whatever he sets himself to. He’s a very focused and talented and intelligent and loving person. He cares … so whatever he’s doing, I don’t know where he finds more than 100 percent. But he finds it somewhere and he gives it.”
Along with learning new musical techniques, penning new songs and playing new places, Markes, 39, said he is enjoying more time with his wife and their two sons – Patrick, 10, and Vincent, 7 – since leaving public education. He still has the opportunity to teach private music students as well as help school orchestras prepare for concerts and contests.
“I definitely could have taught the rest of my life. That’s not to say I won’t go back to the classroom. I enjoyed it very much. But it was a very physically and mentally demanding job – and I had no idea that it was,” he said.
“I just want to see what’s possible. … And my mission (has) remained the same: It is to change lives through music.”
53rd Annual Festival of the Arts
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Bicentennial Park, Colcord and Couch drives, and City Hall lawn.
Admission: Free. Pets are not allowed.
Angels & Friends fundraising party: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Civic Center Atrium, 201 N Walker. Tickets range from $65 to $2,500.
Information: 270-4848 or www.artscouncilokc.com.