If you haven't kept track of the All Souls Acoustic Coffeehouse concert series this past year, you've missed out on some great shows. Now in its 12th year, the series has certainly evolved. It started out as a series for coffeehouse artists. Anitra Lavanharm, wife of All Souls pastor Marlin Lavanhar, called in a few personal friends like Chris Smithers and Peter Mulvrey to fill a void in Tulsa's music scene, and the concerts led to something more.
As Scott Aycock and Richard Higgs of the Folk Salad radio program became involved and Dennis McGilvrey came on board as part of a small staff, All Souls developed a series not unlike those that Anitra was familiar with from the East Coast. As Lavanhar stepped back in the sixth season for personal reasons, Julie Watson came on board and has proven to be a key player in steering an ever-growing series.
Over the past few years, the series has seen a stellar lineup of artists and occasionally even stepped out of the acoustic format for full band shows, such as an impressive appearance by Malford Milligan roughly two years ago.
When the 12th season kicked off last September, All Souls had drawn together an eclectic lineup with a few relatively-unknown names and a few that would grab pop fans outside of the normal series audience. Shawn Mullins, in particular, put on a strong performance in April, showcasing two decades' worth of songwriting and a great sense of humor, as well as his big radio hit, "Lullaby."
This month, however, All Souls raises the bar yet again by welcoming Pokey LaFarge to the Fellowship Hall at All Souls Unitarian Church at 2952 S. Peoria Ave. on Saturday evening, May 4.
Although LaFarge's name and his retro-sounding Americana roots music may be unfamiliar to some, landing this show has proven to be a small coup for All Souls. After all, LaFarge and his band, The South City Three, took a full house at Cain's Ballroom by surprise when opening for Jack White on October 12 last year. LaFarge's mix of ragtime, country blues, Dixieland jazz and Western swing stood in contrast to White's rock set, but won over an entire room with a swagger and confidence rarely found within that movement. LaFarge was welcomed as a breath of fresh air.
COURTESY/JOSHUA BLACK WILKINS
Of course, Tulsa isn't the only place LaFarge has gone over incredibly well. A series of showcases at SXSW this past March won rave reviews, and LaFarge played a St. Patrick's Day show in Bartlesville -- a show that was moved to a larger venue due to overwhelming response.
When chatting with LaFarge last week in advance of his return to Tulsa, I asked him about that October show at Cain's
"That was a magical night," he said. "Some nights, we're just a little more on than others, kind of like Michael Jordan in the playoffs or Reggie Jackson in the World Series. Just to be able to play that stage was something special and took it to another level."
Lafarge released his first album in 2006 and began touring with the South City Three in 2009, and his career has taken off. After Riverboat Soul (the first album recorded with the South City Three in 2009) won an Independent Music Award for Best American Album of 2010, the group's stature started rising.
In 2011, the group released Chittlin' Cookin' Time in Cheatham County, produced by Jack White on Third Man Records. This June, LaFarge will release his latest disc, a self-titled work on White's Third Man Records, produced by Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine show.
When asked how the partnership with White came about, LaFarge said, "It just kind of happened. After our record came out in spring 2011, we were getting better, and we just got to do various things with Jack.
"We got to play a couple of show with him and his band, The Raconteurs, at the Ryman in 2011 and ended up doing some stuff with him and touring with him. It just evolved," he shared.
Now, after a fall tour that saw White take LaFarge out for a number of shows, he's back with Third Man Records for his latest album release. When explaining that move, LaFarge put it plainly: "He just liked my music and decided to put it out."
Granted, the exposure from working and touring with White has helped expose LaFarge and his band to a wider audience (for which he's grateful), but it's business as usual as they prepare for the album release and continue to tour.
Looking to the summer, LaFarge said he wanted to focus on festivals, and they're pretty popular these days.
"But doing this record and having it come out in June, there's a lot to do to set it up properly and be ready for its release, so we have to continue to tour pretty hard," he said. As a result, LaFarge and his band have dates set at a variety of different venues into June and will mix headline dates and festival appearances throughout the summer.
"Our focus has always been on playing live," LaFarge shared, "and as things tighten up and we get better, we just continue to do more. For this new material, I've got a coronet player and a clarinet now, so I'm able to add a lot more layers, and we're able to do more live.
"Now, if I can just get a fiddle player, a lap steel and a piano, we'll really be hopping," he added with a laugh.
Anyone who goes out of their way to see LaFarge and his expanding band at All Souls this Saturday night won't walk away disappointed. Yes, it's the "Acoustic Coffeehouse Series," but his sound doesn't step outside the boundaries of anything All Souls has hosted in the past, and as LaFarge has pointed out, he plays all kinds of shows at all kinds of venues -- some electric and some acoustic, so he and his band will adapt easily.
More than anything, music fans of all genres will want to check this one out as LaFarge bring his blend of ragtime blues, western swing, early jazz and "riverboat music" to All Souls' concert series this Saturday night to spin all of those elements into something that's both classic and fresh at the same. Just get your tickets early at Café Cubana, Starship Records, or online at ticketstorm.com for $20 before they sell out.
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Yet another week has rolled by and amazingly, May is finally upon us. You should already be in the swing of things by now, and the schedule doesn't slow down as we move forward, so here are a few choice highlights from the week to help get you out the door and pointed in the right direction.
Thursday, May 2
The big show of the night is Metric with The Colourist at Cain's Ballroom. If you're looking for something a little less glossy and a lot more rustic, check out Lucky Tubb & the Modern Day Troubadours at Mercury Lounge with John Moreland opening, or get your bluegrass vibe on with Grayless at The Colony.
Friday, May 3
The Joint continues on its hot streak with Jewel headlining one of the best rooms in town, while Cain's Ballroom hosts a dance party with Funtcase, Cookie Monsta, Drumaddic and Roj Mahal beginning at 8pm. Meanwhile, The Yeti hosts the return of Adam Lopez, David Castro Band plays Hunt Club, and Vanguard welcomes November Lily with Kristin Nicole opening the night. If you swing down to 18th and Boston, you can catch the jam vibes of Bungalousi at Shrine or join Andy Frasco & the UN for the best party in town at Mercury Lounge.
Saturday, May 4
If modern rock with pop hooks is your thing, you can catch Chasing Pictures at Vanguard with South City and an opening set by Dustin Storm. Afterwards, roll next door to Hunt Club to check out All About A Bubble and FM Pilots. Mercury Lounge keeps it gritty with J.P. Harris & the Tough Choices and the hot show of the night is Pokey LaFarge at All Souls Acoustic Coffeehouse.
Sunday, May 5
Guthrie Green is the place to be and for this week's show, Horton Records presents Andy Frasco & the UN with Travis Fite & What's That? and Adam Lopez beginning at 2pm for a great day of music. That evening, the rock hounds can get their fix at Vanguard with Fight the Fade, The Call Awaits and Even the Dogs.
Monday, May 6
Cain's Ballroom is the place to be as Ra Ra Riot returns with The Lighthouse & The Whaler.
Tuesday, May 7
It's a great night for punk rock at Vanguard with Barb Wire Dolls, The Shame, Streetlight Fight and The Swingin' Dicks.
80's fans rejoice and wrap up their week with the "Rock Never Stops" tour at BOK Center with Ted Nugent, Styx and REO Speedwagon.
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