It's hard to believe that it's been roughly two years since Mercury Lounge opened on the corner of 18th and Boston. There must be something about getting old that punches a hole in the time-space continuum because I find myself torn between thoughts of "How time flies -- has it really been that long?" and "Only two years -- Mercury feels like an old friend that's been there forever."
Granted, that may not seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but it's no small feat for a club that hosts original live music and doesn't cater to trends or commercial radio.
If you want someplace you can settle in, feel at home and participate in the evolution of music, Mercury's the place. And although the attire and attitude is decidedly more casual, you can still stop in to unwind with a drink or two after work with your tie still on and not feel uncomfortable.
Of course, the bartender just may hand you a whiskey instead of a beer to loosen you up, but if you're still wearing a tie, you probably need it anyway.
The thing that's always made Mercury Lounge stand out for me, however, is the decidedly eclectic and non-commercial live music that the club provides. Don't come in looking for Nickelback or any "rump-shaking" crap: the Mercury is all about down and dirty, blue collar rock and country -- and not whitewashed Nashville acts like Kenny Chesney or Rascal Flatts.
No, we're talking rockabilly, hardcore honky-tonk and a little punk rock. A generator of music, not a juke box. The Mercury Lounge has provided a home for local acts like Brandon Clark, Starkweather Boys, Brian Parton and Billy Joe Winghead and brought in a ton of great touring artists like Lee Rocker, Billy Joe Shaver, Wayne Hancock, Dale Watson and The Rumblejetts, to name just a few.
This weekend, Mercury Lounge celebrates its second birthday by throwing a two-night party with a couple of killer bands. Last year's Birthday Bash included a classic car show. This year the auto show is being saved for a date closer to Labor Day, but you can count on at least one classic car club showing up as well as a number of door prizes and giveaways throughout the weekend.
Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash (BSoJC) will rattle the glass on Friday night and the party will get even wilder on Saturday with Back Porch Mary (BPM), a favorite of the Mercury Lounge crowd.
I was able to catch up with BSoJC's Mark Stuart and BPM's Mike Krug for a couple of quick conversations before this weekend's shows to find out what's happening in both camps. If you want a good picture of what the Mercury is all about, these two bands sum it all up pretty well.
When I caught up with Mark Stuart, he was just packing up and preparing to relocate from San Diego to Austin before hitting the road with the (now) all-Austin-based band that will be accompanying him this Friday night.
This year promises to be a busy year for Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash with a "Best of" album being released in Europe, a heavy tour schedule, appearances at SXSW and the Americana Music Festival in Great Falls, Montana, and plans for a new recording all currently in the works.
While many fans consider BSoJC to have a more traditional take on alt-country, Stuart describes his band's sound as "somewhere between Bakersfield and Austin". Instead of taking its queues from Nashville country, the band draws inspiration from west coast role models like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard as well as Texas-based artists like Steve Earle, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely.
The band's label name, Texicali, sums it up fairly well as the band is more representative of southwestern and Bakersfield country.
According to Mark, the band's next album will actually be a double CD entitled Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and will be "as epic and sweeping as the west itself." When asked if we'd get a preview of any of the new material, Stuart said the band might play a couple of cover tunes, Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm" and Steve Earle's "Hillbilly Highway", which are planned for the more uptempo, barn-burner "Saturday Night" disc.
He hasn't worked through much of the new material with the band yet, however, so if any of the other songs come up, it will likely be just him playing them solo/acoustic.
This will be BSoJC's first appearance at Mercury Lounge and Stuart is looking forward to the show and helping the bar celebrate. Mark said he's spoken with Josh previously, but the timing just finally worked out for the band to play here, stating that Martin "definitely is one of the good guys..."
Back Porch Mary, on the other hand, has played Tulsa often enough to become something of a local favorite and a big draw. The band first played at Mercury more than a year and a half ago, shortly after the bar opened.
Lead singer and guitarist Mike Krug says that the band enjoys playing at Mercury Lounge because the regulars are a good example of the band's core audience: people who like both cars and motorcycles, country and punk. "Basically, these are the people we hang out with when we're in Austin."
"If we could play to the Mercury Lounge crowd across the country" Krug contends, "we'd be millionaires. Our music is open and available for everyone, but our main audience is the blue collar guys and girls that just want to drink beer and have fun."
If you haven't seen Back Porch Mary previously, now is the time. This is a band that merges old school country and rock with punk rock aggression -- kind of like Drive By Truckers' first cousin that listens to more Social Distortion and AC/DC than Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
BPM is a true do-it-yourself band that set up its own label, Dry Gulch Records, back in 2002 and just secured a major distribution deal that will help land its CDs in all the major brick and mortar outlets. The group is currently in the process of recording its fourth CD, Time of the Broken Heart, and is looking forward to a fall release.
According to Martin, the last time Back Porch Mary played at the Mercury Lounge it was the weekend of the time change and the band played for three hours and forty minutes: from 10pm until just before closing at 2am, including rolling the clocks back, without taking a set break.
When asked about that night, Krug just chuckled "Yeah, that was a record for us; we don't do that too often. A lot of bands don't have that much material, but whenever we come here we know there are songs we just have to play.
"Josh has our CD in the jukebox and it's always playing, so people know our stuff and have songs they want to hear."
By now the band counts Josh, Bryan and the rest of the Mercury Lounge staff as friends. "We talk to them all the time" says Mike. "...That's who I call when I'm working on my car."
In regards to the birthday weekend, Krug commented "We just want to say congrats to Mercury for two years of bringing good music to Tulsa. You ain't gonna hear it on radio or TV, but that doesn't make it invalid..."
Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash will be playing Friday night, March 2, and Back Porch Mary will take over on Saturday night, March 3.
It's sure to be one heck of a party each night and cover is only $5 for some of the best hard rockin' country you'll hear north of the Red River. Drinks are cheap, so be sure to tip well and send a drink the band's direction.
More Birthdays and big shows...
Thursday night's Moody Blues show at The Brady Theater is now sold out, so you can mark it off your list, but All Souls Acoustic Coffeehouse still has tickets available for Texas folk singer Terri Hendrix with Lloyd Maines.
This is a make-up date for the January 18 show that was postponed due to the weather. Tickets are available at the door and are $15 for adults and $13 for seniors and students.
The Mercury Lounge isn't the only one celebrating a birthday this weekend. The Cain's Ballroom has both Friday and Saturday evenings set aside to pay tribute to dancehall legend Bob Wills' birthday.
Wills, of course, was the man with the band who put Cain's on the map, so it is a fitting tribute by the current Cain's management.
The annual celebration includes performances by The Texas Playboys featuring Tommy Alsup and Leon Raush and support act The Roundup Boys on both nights. Eddie McAlvain and the Maverick Western Swing Band opens the show on March 2, while Bobby Flores Band opens on March 3. Individual tickets are $22 in advance or $25 at the door and two night passes can be had for $40.
Friday night's big rock show is at The Hive and features A Heartwell Ending. Lights of the Aurora, Vito Ninefingers, Central Tragedy, The Pilot Phoenix, First Lady Assassins, Downstate and Vegas to Verona are also on the bill for the all ages gig on March 2. Doors open at 7pm, the music starts as 7:30pm and the cover is $8.
Elsewhere around town, Jeff Shadley Group jazzes it up at The Continental, Optimistic to a Fault rocks the Blue Dome Diner, and MWK goes acoustic at Boston's -- all on Friday March 2.
On Saturday evening, March 3, Pillar's "Days of Reckoning" tour has a night off, so openers Showbread and Tyler Read will be doing their own show at The Otherside. Local acts Tigereye Lily and The Forward will serve as opening acts. Doors open at 6:30 for the 7pm show and tickets are only $10.
Pillar will actually be appearing right down the street (at the Mabee Center) as part of the Acquire the Fire youth conference the same night, so there's a possibility that they might show up later in the evening. Keep you eyes peeled while you're out.
Further north, at 18th and Boston, Citizen Mundi is holding the CD release party for its new disc, No Translation, at Liquidz. (see page xx) Doors open at 8pm, Sam and the Stylees kick off the show and there's no cover. What more could you want?
Looking downtown on Saturday night, the other big show worth checking out is at Dirty's Tavern with Red Dirt hot shots No Justice. Last year's self titled CD is right on par with Ragweed, so show up early with a ten spot for cover because it should be a full house.
On Sunday, March 4, the Jazz Hall's spring concert series continues with local jazz trio SCORE, featuring Chuck Gardner, Sandee Gardner and Tony Yohe at 5pm. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and college and $3 for students. Also on Sunday evening, The Soundpony keeps flying the indie-rock flag with Mad Happy and no cover.
How Blue are You?
Monday, March 5, is a great night for blues-rock lovers. The only bad part of the evening will be deciding just how much to spoil yourself. Here in Tulsa, The Petroleum Club is hosting a posh gig with guitar slinger Chris Duarte. Tickets are $50 a head, but include hors d'oeuvres at 6:30 before an intimate show with the master behind Texas blues classics like Texas Sugar Strat Magic and Tailspin Headwhack. A limited number of tickets are available for advance purchase only by calling 585-9121.
The only good reason to not indulge yourself with the Duarte show would be if you're road-tripping to OKC on Monday evening to see Eric Clapton at the Ford Center. Slowhand is burning up the stage and sharing the spotlight with Doyle Bramhall II and Derek Trucks.
Word is they've been busting out a ton of the old stuff and Trucks is slaying the crowd as he handles all of Duane Allman's slide parts on the Derek and the Dominos material. Robert Cray opens the show at 7:30, but has been showing up again later in the evening for a group jam on "Crossroads" to close out the evening. Tickets are $65 and $85 and available online via ticketmaster.
Finally, if you find yourself out and about next Wednesday night, make a stop at The Continental to check out Erin Austin, as she starts her Wednesday night residency. Also, don't forget that Tom Skinner's Wednesday Night Science Project is now setting up shop at the Cimarron (25th and Memorial).
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