Last April, Urban Tulsa Weekly began a campaign to see who our readers thought should open the BOK Center once completed. Months later, the Tulsa World launched a similar campaign. Similar to our daily counterpart, the overwhelming majority of responses indicated one of three prominent Oklahoma natives: Garth Brooks, Reba McIntyre or Carrie Underwood. While there are compelling arguments for each of these artists, I can't help but wonder... Shouldn't we be thinking bigger?
If the addition of a new, state-of-the-art basketball arena and concert venue is supposed to mark the renaissance of Tulsa's downtown development, shouldn't we kick it off in a blaze of glory? As we've kicked the idea around the UTW office and pondered the situation ourselves, our publisher had an intriguing opinion: Why go the route of least resistance and stick to a predictable, good ol' Oklahoma boy to mark the grand opening of something that's arguably supposed to be a larger event.
Think bigger. How abut a three night extravaganza that would address the tastes of all of our city's residents and address all aspects of the music world that are important to an ever-evolving Tulsa?
Sure, the opening night could feature country, and perhaps Red Dirt artists. For argument's sake, let's go ahead and say Garth Brooks, along with Carrie Underwood and Cross Canadian Ragweed or Red Dirt Rangers. Don't stop there, though. What about a second night that shines a spotlight on the fine arts? Bring in the Moscow Ballet or London Symphony Orchestra for an evening and show that we've evolved beyond the cowboys and tumbleweeds image that many people outside of Oklahoma think of when considering our state. Finally, close it out with a big rock show. Maybe Red Hot Chili Peppers or Van Halen. True, there are a lot of prominent country acts that come from Oklahoma, but we've also got a huge base of rock fans as well.
Personally, I like that idea and the thinking behind it--represent what Tulsa is really about, don't just support the country boy stereotype that we're already associated with. On the flip side, I do see a couple of flaws in the plan. First of all, if this is a grand opening, the BOK Center is going to want to make it grand with a capital "G," as in G-money. If it doesn't sell out, it loses its luster and the venue and associated promoter are not going to want to have to give away half the tickets to do that.
I'll be perfectly honest. I've watched the shows and ticket prices at the Ford Center and I think they're guilty of price gouging. If the same act plays Dallas or Kansas City, eight out of ten times, tickets are about $10 more in OKC. I could be wrong, but do expect we'll see the same thing here, especially if BOK competes with the Ford Center for acts--and it will.
Realistically, we've still got plenty of people reeling from the downsizing of communications companies, airlines and other industries. The only venue in town that has been selling out shows on a semi-consistent basis is the Cain's Ballroom and its capacity is roughly 1,500. When ticket prices start at $50 to $75 ad go up from there, selling out 18,000 seats will be a feat to begin with, much less three nights in a row.
And while we're on a reality check, addressing the fine arts is an honorable idea, but how do we expect to fill an arena when we rarely sell out the PAC, which is what? Only thirty five, maybe forty five hundred seats? Quadrupling that for one show could be a hard sell.
Nevertheless, I do think that we should do something bigger than just play the good ol' boy network. A three-night event covering a variety of styles is definitely looking in the right direction. But what do I know about booking acts? There's more to this than meets the eye. Everybody thinks they could manage a ball club and it's easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but could we actually make the right decisions and deliver in the clutch?
With that in mind, I made a few phone calls to get the opinions of some of the movers and shakers around town that have experience with bringing bands to town. After all, they should have an idea what will and won't work--they're gambling with their own money to put on shows.
If we're talking about a big event, why not talk to someone who has thrown a big event? And what's the biggest event we've had in town in the last, oh, at least five years? I'd count that as this year's Diversafest. When I approached Dfest founder and president Tom Green about the BOK proposal, he was of a similar mindset, but with a little different twist.
"I think they should make it an all-star event focused on Oklahoma artists," Green told me.
He also agreed with the idea of a multi-night event focusing on different genres, suggesting perhaps a rock night with acts like the Flaming Lips and All American Rejects, a country night with Garth and Reba and a classic Tulsa night with Leon Russell, Steve Ripley and the tractors and J.J. Cale.
"I think they could do a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and do well," he shared. He also addressed my previously mentioned concerns about ticket prices by adding, "But they need to make it a 'low dough' show to get as many people a possible in to check out the new arena."
"Let them experience the atmosphere of an event like that. It will get people excited," Green explained. "It's an exciting time for Tulsa, to have a big new arena opening like that. They need to make a big deal out of that and they need to kick it off in the spirit of Oklahoma."
When I spoke with Chad Rodgers of the Cain's Ballroom, he answered without hesitation.
"They should open with Garth," he stated emphatically.
"I just think he's meant so much to the state and the people here that it would be the most appropriate," Rodgers explained. "Plus, I'd think he'd want to give something back. For someone who's doing so much when he's supposedly retired, he might consider it for a special event like this.
"I won't say he's the most important artist from Oklahoma, but he's definitely one of the biggest," he continued. "I mean sure, it would be great to see the Eagles or the Stones, but would that really be reasonable or appropriate?"
When addressing the rumor that Brooks had already been approached, but turned it down, Rodgers mentioned a couple of other prominent Oklahomans as possible alternates and acknowledged that it needs to be a sold out show.
"I think Carrie Underwood is probably big enough to do it. And maybe Toby Keith..."
When I approached Matt "Lip" Stevens about the topic and suggested the three night approach, he responded, "I like the idea. I think it's great. The only thing that's lacking, though, might be the fine arts night. Maybe make it a more family oriented night to get people out with their kids. I don't know, maybe they could do a production of The Lion King or something like that.
"I do think that three nights like that is better than one night of country," Stevens continued. "That way you get three different demographics and all different backgrounds are represented."
Stevens was also thinking bigger on the rock end of the spectrum, and suggested looking outside our little Oklahoma microcosm for artists, stating "...they should focus on getting an act that doesn't even play the (Oklahoma) City."
Now, I like that kind of thinking! Look outside of Oklahoma and look beyond what's been done already.
Sure, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones are legends, but they've already played in OKC during the Ford Center's Inaugural year. If prices are going to be astronomical anyway, why not beat our I-44 rivals to the punch on something?
Make it bigger than big, the hugest band on the planet. Rumors of a true Led Zeppelin reunion and tour for 2008 are looking and sounding more realistic by the day. If that doesn't come to fruition, at least look at someone who's made a global impact, like U2, or an act that hasn't played in Oklahoma for years.
Bruce Springsteen has a great new album out and is expected to be touring well into next year. When was the last time he played in Oklahoma?
All are thoughts to consider. I understand the need to have an Oklahoma focus and agree (perhaps somewhat begrudgingly) that Garth Brooks should play a role. If the arena is supposed to signal something larger, though, and put Tulsa on a national stage, then we need think nationally and look beyond our borders as well. Make it a real celebration and do something that associates us with more than covered wagons and football to truly make Tulsa stand out.
The online polls are still open at www.urbantulsa.com, so let us know what you think. And don't be afraid to dream bigger.
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