I'm sure we all remember School of Rock. You know, the movie from about 10 years ago where Jack Black not only borrows his roommate's identity to scam a substitute teacher job, but then also proceeds to hijack the class and turn it into a full on rock band to capitalize on the kids' talent.
A decade later, the concept doesn't seem nearly as absurd and there are a number of programs both nationally and locally that emulate that model to some degree, albeit in a far less manipulating fashion. Most programs are part of a music school, much like the one that Oklahoma Music Academy runs. Here in Tulsa, however, there's one school that actually incorporates the rock band experience into the academic program as well.
Riverfield Country Day School may take a slightly different approach to its music program, but that's to be expected. As a private school, it approaches many of its programs a little differently in an effort to provide a truly well rounded experience.
When Paul Knight approached Riverfield about establishing a rock program in 2005, the head of the school gave him a cautious green light to see how it would be received. The program has exploded and, seven years later, has two sections in the upper school, two in the middle school, and students down to the 4th and 5th grades establishing themselves in the program. In fact, the program has grown so much it added an additional teacher last year, bringing Scott Jones (the former bass player for Caroline's Spine) on board as an instructor for the rock band as well as other classes.
Over the course of those seven years, the "Riverfield Rocks!" program has become not only the original, but also the largest, school program of its kind within the state. The school holds a few events each year to spotlight the bands and give them performance opportunities, but the highlight of the year is the annual "Riverfield Rocks the Cain's!" show, which is hosted at the Ballroom this Saturday night, Jan. 19.
The night will showcase nine band's from the Riverfield Rocks! program with doors opening at 6pm and the concert starting at 7pm. Bands spotlighted include Bubba Chump, Hayawaka, Big Cat, Sirens, Frantic Freedom, Blue Vendetta, Band of Bronies, Plastique, and Axios; it will give students from the middle school and high school programs a chance to show off their chops and play the most revered stage in town. The main event is all cover material, but it will span everything from the Beatles to Muse and provide a full night of music with little downtime as one band sets up as the other is performing to keep the evening from slowing to a crawl.
Now, I realize this may not seem like an exciting show, but the bottom line is this is one of the best places to see what Tulsa's next crop of young talent will bring us in the future. I don't expect any of these bands to last any extended period of time, but most of our best players started in high school and got a musical itch in their blood that never left. If nothing else, I guarantee you'll see a couple of young musicians over the course of the night who will end up playing a recurring role in the growth of our local music scene for the next two decades. If this is enough to pique your interest, check it out Saturday night. Doors open at 6pm and the show starts at 7pm. Tickets are $10 and 20percent of the night's proceeds will go to The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.
New and Old Collide
On Tuesday night, Jan. 22, busy season commences once again at Cain's Ballroom as Trampled By Turtles plays Tulsa for the first time and brings its own signature brand of bluegrass to the house that Bob built.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with mandolin player Erik Berry last week in advance of the show to discuss the band's development and found that although the group has really started to expand its following over the past four years, it actually formed a little over ten years ago and has been steadily building a loyal following.
Yes, you heard right. Anyone who's not familiar with the band may think it is following the lead of groups like Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. Although the rise in popularity of those acts has undeniably helped raise the profile of Trampled by Turtles, this group is by no means another act jumping on the bandwagon and riding on someone else's coattails. If anything, Berry and guitarist Dave Simonett were inspired by the bands that were spotlighted on the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack when they started playing together in 2002.
When discussing the band's development, Berry said that "If you go back to the first record (Songs From a Ghost Town), you can hear a lot of the traditional bluegrass influences in Dave's writing. By the next record (Blue Sky and Devil), though, I think we had started to find our sound."
In reality, it was likely the band's third effort, Trouble, however, that really helped the group turn a corner and define what it was.
"When we were making the Trouble album that was the first time we used electric guitar and drums. I even ran my mandolin through effects to give it a more aggressive, rock-like sound," Berry said.
"I remember Dave sat us all down and said, 'Some of it [this record] is rock and roll and I want to play it like that,'" he continued. "It didn't feel like a threat at the time because of the way he approached it, but basically he was saying if you don't want to do that on this record, that's fine, but this is the direction we're going and you can come along or step out now."
To my ears, the band's next album, Duluth, is where the group really found its pocket and started to really gain traction in growing its fan base. In retrospect, Berry attributes that largely to being the album that Ryan Young came on board full time and played on every song. He officially became a member with his appearance with the band on New Year's Eve 2007 -- and to many listeners proved to be the final piece that had been missing in the Turtles' puzzle.
All of the band's efforts really seemed to come to fruition with its latest album, Stars and Satellites, which was released last April. Although the band's songwriting and sound hasn't changed drastically, there's a certain space and warmth within the songs that lets them breathe more.
When discussing the latest record with Berry, he shared that his wife had just had a baby girl in August and he wasn't ready to leave his family behind for an extended period of time to record. Instead of leaving for a studio, the band rented a vacation home just outside of Duluth, roughly 10 miles from his house. That allowed him to spend the day recording and return home at night while the rest of the band set up camp in the house to immerse themselves in the writing and recording process.
"It was great, because every guy had his own bedroom, there were trails nearby and they'd all go out to the pub together at night. For those guys, it was like a working vacation," Berry said.
And that special, hard-to-describe warmth on the record? "That probably has a lot to do with the 500 pound, two-inch tape machine that we hauled into the house to record on," he said with a laugh. "We recorded this album the old-school way. All analog, to tape with no digital editing."
So basically, as is typical for Trampled by Turtles, the new album is the best of both worlds: new music and a fresh attitude, married with classic recording techniques. As Berry best described it to me: "We're a rock band that plays bluegrass music."
If you like Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons, you should dig Trampled by Turtles. If you're into bands that throw caution to the wind and follow their hearts, trends be damned, you definitely need to check them out because you'll love this band.
And a Little Old School
Finally, if you're looking for a truly special and intimate show to kick off your year the right way, you won't want to miss Johnette Napolitano as she plays a rare solo gig at IDL Ballroom this Sunday night, Jan. 20.
As the leader of Concrete Blonde, Napolitano has quite a history of rock behind her and she continues to pave her own way within in the indie and alt-rock world.
Although Concrete Blonde hasn't been at the forefront of the alt-rock movement in the States since the early and mid-'90s, that doesn't mean the band has been inactive. The group took a short, three-week run in the Northeast to wrap up 2012, but the past few years have seen the band tour extensively, visiting new markets like China and South America.
For this show, however, Napolitano will revisit a concept that she first visited with a performance at Der Spiegelent in Melbourne, Australia in 2011. A combination of songs, artwork, storytelling and projections, it allows Napolitano to dig a little deeper into her catalog and share the inspiration behind a number of her songs.
When discussing what went into the development of this show, Napolitano said that she was reflecting on how "music really saved my life. My dad had died and I was in a very retrospective place and saw how music came into my life at five years old and has always been there for me."
When asked why she's recreating the show this weekend, aside from an invite from an old friend that is producing the show, she said, "I really like the idea of doing it in Tulsa. Leon Russell was one of my first and central inspirations. He was one of the first who really made me go: Wow. You can give your entire life to your art, for better or worse, and devote yourself to music.'"
While our conversation spanned the breadth of Napolitano's music career, her struggles with performing in an age that's dominated by digital gadgets and people spending the entire show on their cell phones and the state of live music and the need to support live music venues and artists, we eventually got back around to the current show, which is loosely structured around readings and songs from her "Sketchbook" series.
When distilling down what to expect, though, she said, "A lot of people ask what's behind my songs. ... So there will be a lot of songs [both Concrete Blonde and solo material] on acoustic guitar and probably a couple on piano -- and a lot of storytelling."
If you're looking for a truly intimate show with and amazing songwriter that gives you a view into the creative process and mind of an amazing artist, you won't want to miss this one. But do us all a favor and put the cell phones and video gadgets away and soak up the vibe for a couple of hours to just truly enjoy the show. And as Napolitano shared as we wrapped up: "I'd really appreciate it if you can turn your drunk off. I want people to enjoy themselves, but I know how to be quiet when I'm drunk and I hope you can too."
Tickets are $18 in advance or $23 when you arrive and doors open at 7pm for an 8pm show.
We told you it was about to get busy again on the local scene is waking back up this week with a stack of live shows. Hopefully you've been resting up, because it's back to a sprint and full on craziness this week, so without further adieu ...
Thursday, January 17
Kick things off easy with Wink & Beau at The Yeti or Archer Trio at The Colony. Better yet, get an early glimpse of Meggie McDonald as she's starting to make her name on the local scene as she plays an acoustic show at Hunt Club to ease into your weekend.
Friday, January 18
The big show of the weekend is the return of Rascal Flatts to BOK Center with The Band Perry opening, which is a blockbuster gig for pop-country fans. Elsewhere around town, Sammy Hagar brings his party to The Joint on Friday night while Junior Brown celebrates his latest CD release at Cain's Ballroom with Dustin Pittsley opening. The Vanguard is rocking as well with the Tulsa "Nu Mu" (New Music) showcase featuring Oceanaut, Ill Fated, K-Sides, Johnny Badseed and the Rotten Apples, The Decomposed, and more for only $8 at the door.
Saturday, January 19
Cain's hosts a flock of young bands with the Riverfield Rocks! showcase and The Joint goes old-school Vegas with Wayne Newton. The Vanguard goes bluesy with Shawna Russell headlining and Cole Porter supporting with November Lily opening the night. Just down the street, Foreign Home headlines The Yeti with The Hope Trust and Missing Siblings on the bill while The Hunt Club hosts The Danner Party and Dachshund, giving the indie crowd a couple cool choices. If you're looking for some up and coming Red Dirt, check out Parker Millsap at The Colony. And if you just want some straight up rock, check out Phil Marshall at The Shrine with All About a Bubble and Bruce Flea opening.
Sunday, January 20
Johnette Napolitano plays an intimate solo-acoustic show at IDL Ballroom that longtime fans of Concrete Blonde will not want to miss. Meanwhile, Algebra and Steph Simon give you some indie hip hop at Soundpony.
Monday night is quiet, but don't miss Trampled By Turtles at Cain's Ballroom on Tuesday, Jan. 22, with Carl Broemel (of My Morning Jacket) opening the night.
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