By now, just about anyone who is familiar with Tulsa's local music scene is well acquainted with Mercury Lounge. Opened in 2005 at the corner of 18th & Boston (1747 S. Boston Ave.) in a converted gas station, the bar has proven to be the most consistent live music venue in the neighborhood, if not all of Tulsa.
Granted, the club does have its own certain niche, although it can be hard to strictly define. The music ranges from Americana and Red Dirt to blues and rock, punk, bluegrass, all-country, country and even a little funk, but it's always delivered with a certain attitude. More than anything, The Merc has that neighborhood vibe that makes you feel like "This is MY bar", whether you're stopping in for the first time or the hundredth.
Over the years (and even with an ownership change a couple of years ago), Mercury Lounge has not only retained that identity, but managed to grow with it. The club is a consistent favorite with Urban Tulsa Weekly readers and has won a stack of ABoT awards, beginning with "Best New Bar" in its first year and continuing with a list that includes "Best Bar at 18th & Boston," "Best Dive Bar," "Cheapest Drinks," "Best Original Music Venue," "Best Small Venue," "Best Bartender," and "Best Happy Hour."
As cool as that list of awards is, for most people, The Merc is simply known as a great little bar with great music. If you're one of the rare few that hasn't become well acquainted, this is great weekend to do just that as the club welcomes a trio of favorites to town that, although each distinctly different, also help paint a great picture of just what Mercury Lounge is all about.
This Thursday night, August 8, sees The Dirty Pesos arrive in town with Jason Eady. Amongst the things that The Merc has been consistent in is being ahead of the curve musically, especially with emerging Texas country acts, and this is a great example. I've lost count of how many bands have started to break into Tulsa at Mercury Lounge only to graduate up to playing Cain's Ballroom, and I'm sure that's not going to change. The thing is, the bands that play The Merc aren't your standard formula bands that blend Texas clichés with pop and country music. These are the bands that deliver something gritty and authentic and truly appreciate it when they move to the historic stage in the "House that Bob built."
Courtesy Chad Sullins
The Dirty Pesos deliver their country with a certain swagger and raucousness that comes from years of playing and working the road. This is a honky tonk band with attitude that fits Mercury Lounge perfectly. The real secret of the night, however, is Jason Eady. Eady has become a regular at The Merc -- and for good reason. This is authentic, old-school country songwriting. Think Haggard and Nelson and a touch of Hank Williams Sr, spun with a modern outlook. Eady isn't afraid to pay homage to the masters, yet address what he sees in his own voice. That's why he's a favorite with the Mercury crowd and also why he's already been tapped to open for larger acts. It won't be long before Eady makes the jump to larger venues on his own, but there's no better way to experience his songwriting than in a small bar with 150 people crowded around, listening for what comes next. If you haven't heard him yet, now's the time to catch on before he's off to Cain's or bigger.
Beyond Texas country, though, Mercury Lounge has also played regular host to a number of Red Dirt artists, both those who are emerging and the classics. Red Dirt Rangers, Randy Crouch, Tom Skinner and Mike McClure have all graced the stage here and blessed it for the next generation of Red Dirt acts. On Friday night, August 9, one of Stillwater's most promising next-gen artists brings his own version of Red Dirt with a rock attitude when Chad Sullins & the Last Call Coalition arrives to rock the block.
Sullins has been paying his dues for years already, moving to Stillwater in 2006 and forming The Last Call Coalition in 2008. The group's band debut, Uphill Battle, was a fine start, but the group really found its sweet spot and capitalized on a chemistry that comes from years of playing together on Incommunicado, the CD that came out in 2012.
The thing that makes Sullins and his band stand out is the fact that they deliver their brand of Red Dirt with a distinctly rock delivery. In fact, the group has been described as "a rock band that plays country music," and that may well be the best explanation for what they do. If you settle in for an evening with these boys, you can expect to hear hints of Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Rick Derringer, AC/DC and ZZ Top throughout the evening; often within the same song.
With songs like "Scratch," "Straight to Hell," "Full Throttle," and "Thank God for Jack Daniels," a night with Sullins and his band is a raucous roadhouse experience. Fortunately, we've got a little neighborhood bar at 18th & Boston that makes it that much more personal.
Mercury Lounge isn't always about country influences, though. Punk rock, reggae and funk bands have also graced the stage which has one rule: play something original. Perhaps one of the best examples of the diversity of Mercury's playlist and live agenda is Andy Frasco & the UN. Frasco played here for the first time roughly two years ago, and Tulsa has become a regular stop as he crisscrosses the U.S.
This time through, however, instead of playing on a weeknight, Frasco has graduated to the weekend and is playing Mercury Lounge on Saturday night, August 10, bringing what inevitably turns into a party. Unlike the weekend's others, however, Frasco brings a completely different vibe based in blues, funk and jazz.
Frasco's 2010 CD, Love, You're Just Too Expensive, bounced between dance rock, classic 50's R&B grooves, funk and New Orleans jazz, and a steady diet of touring and playing every club open from coast to coast only distilled that blues-funk-party vibe down to a more potent mix with last year's Road Life Revival.
Not surprisingly, non-stop touring has made Frasco's set even more potent since I saw him first, and the band doesn't take long before it finds its groove. You can count on a sexy blues to emerge from the party, but don't bother showing up if you don't plan on having a good time because you'll be dancing before the night is over. In fact, on most nights Frasco visits, people are dancing on the bar before the evening has ended and personally, I can't think of a better way to wrap up a steamy weekend than getting down with Frasco and his band.
As busy as Tulsa is, it's easy to overlook the little bar on the corner of 18th & Boston that has been a model of consistency over the past eight years, but to do that is a travesty. If it's been too long since you visited The Merc (or if you're new to town), this is the perfect weekend to reintroduce yourself and remember what Tulsa's favorite little neighborhood bar with original music is all about. You might just want to see if you can pay your entire weekend's cover up front, though, because this weekend's lineup covers all the bases and is worth making Mercury Lounge your home away from home this weekend.
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After the last few weeks we've had in Tulsa, this calendar this weekend seems almost slow... Almost. There's still plenty to do and plenty of bands to see and hear, though, so here are a few highlights to get you pointed out the door.
Thursday, August 8
The Shrine continues on with its weekly Steve Pryor & Friends jam session that always proves to turn out some great guitar jams. If you're in a really rocking mood, though, you won't want to miss Boy Hits Car headlining at Vanguard with Brand New Machine and Baron Van Swagger opening the night. And if you're in a country mood, don't miss The Dirty Pesos with Jason Eady at Mercury Lounge.
Friday, August 9
The Joint opens its stage to comedy for a stand up performance by Ron White to mix things up this weekend, but you can get your music fix with Trust Tree at Hunt Club, Lessons in Fresh at Soundpony or "GarciAcoustic" -- a tribute to Jerry Garcia at The Colony. If you're really ready to cut loose, though, check out next-gen Red Dirt rockers Chad Sullins & the Last Call Coalition at Mercury Lounge for a great night out.
Saturday, August 10
You can get your metal fix at Vanguard with "SanityFest" featuring Searching for Sanity, Oldman, Dryvyr, Electric Funeral, Dirty Crush, Stone Crow, and Benny's Little Weasel. If you're looking to dance, head over the The Shrine for Jumpship Astronaut with DJ Robbo, Tallows, and Center of the Universe. Contemporary country (and pop) fans won't want to miss Rascal Flatts at BOK Center with The Band Perry and Cassadee Pope while jam band fans will want to check out the grooves at The Colony with Brad James Band. Meanwhile, the best party of the night will be going down at Mercury Lounge with Andy Frasco & the UN.
Sunday, August 11
Wrap up your weekend by catching some sun and some cool tunes at Guthrie Green as Horton Record presents Milkdrive with Jacob Tovar & the Saddle Tramps and Whirligig. Afterwards, you can slide over to Yeti to hear Delacroix mixing indie rock, jazz and funk or catch you favorites like Brandon Clark at Mercury Lounge and Paul Benjamin at The Colony.
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