And the locals light it up, too
Anyone who doesn't believe in serendipity and the American Dream would do well to avoid studying the career of Graham Colton.
Colton said that he finds irony in the fact that he became a musician after growing up in Oklahoma because "it's like religion to play football here" and he had "pretty much the ultimate 'Friday Night Lights' experience" in high school, including winning a state championship, playing with best friend Wes Welker at Heritage Hall in our sister-city to the west. Still, Colton says that music was always a passion of his and his standard routine was playing football on Fridays and music on Saturdays.
"I thought my freshman year of college, I'd play football," Colton told me recently. "I wanted to play with my best friend, Wes, but he went to Texas Tech. He was signed on the last day and he was the Oklahoma player of the year."
As fate would have it, Colton went on to attend SMU, saying that he figured he could possibly play football as a walk-on and he knew he could always play a few coffeehouses or bar gigs on the side. What he didn't expect was for performing to fan the flames of his passion or for a number of his demos to be traded on the Internet via sites like Napster.
"I was playing Tuesday nights in this club and fans started showing up requesting my original material," Colton shared, with an innocent surprise.
Based on the interest that was building, Colton completed his freshman year at SMU before switching to part-time student status his sophomore year as he began touring the Texas and Oklahoma circuit.
"Texas is kind of like its own little country," Colton chuckled casually, reflecting on a semester that was spent traveling the state and playing extended weekends.
As Colton toured the region, he received a bit of management and label attention, based partially on his live success and largely on the internet buzz that was growing around him at the time. The real tipping point, however, came when (according to Colton), "One of my heroes, Counting Crows' Adam Duritz, indirectly reached out and invited me out on tour."
"I had to take the opportunity", he said, and since heading out on a national tour with the band in 2002, Colton's career has been in fast-forward ever since.
"Music has always been my passion and I've always loved writing songs, but my career just took off in ways I'd never dreamed of," Colton said.
"When I went out on tour, I called it 'The Graham Colton Band' because I didn't really want to be a solo act," he shared. "I never really auditioned anyone, though; it was just a matter of putting some buddies together and hitting the road."
The first couple years of the adventure, beginning with the Counting Crows tour, which included playing roughly 150 shows per year or more, Colton and his compadres built a resume that included opening slots on tours with Dave Matthews, Train, Maroon 5, and The Wallflowers. The culmination of it all came from an even more unlikely source: American Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson.
When initially approached about opening for Clarkson on the singer's Breakaway tour, Colton was a bit leery of the proposition.
"I write pop songs, but I had no idea if her fans would like us at all," he explained. "But I figured I can go play the same set and same songs as I normally play. If they like it, that's okay; if not, that's fine, too."
"I really only thought it would last a couple of weeks," Colton said of the tour, but to his surprise, the band's run kept being extended, and he ended up on the road with Clarkson for nearly a year, playing shows in venues ranging from theaters (such as the PAC--ironically, Colton's last Tulsa show) to 10,000-seat arenas.
"It really worked out for us and was an eye opening experience," Colton said. "The kids loved it, even though they had never heard of us, and we had to go out and win over a new crowd every night. I learned all over again, though, just how much my music was reaching other people--and that was amazing to see on such a huge stage."
Following the Clarkson tour, which concluded nearly three and a half solid years of touring and an album produced by award-winning rock producer Brendan O'Brien, the time finally came for Colton to record a solo album. The resulting disc, Here Right Now, was released on the Universal Republic label in November of 2007 and has taken yet another unexpected turn.
"The difference between this album and the last one is that, with the last record, we went town to town with it from the very beginning. When I made this record, I had the songs ready to go play town to town again, but TV shows started picking it up and using it," he explained, sharing his surprise.
Most notably, the song "Best Days" was picked up and used on a number of television programs. None of them positioned the tune quite as prominently, however, as American Idol did, unofficially making it the "goodbye song" of the program when ushering out eliminated contestants.
Colton's songs were also used for a variety of other programs and uses, including a montage for our troops stationed overseas and an HBO campaign for the cable giant's yearly programming roundup.
"These songs are very important and dear to me," Colton shared, "so watching them used on screen was surreal."
All of the indirect exposure drew enough attention to Colton to lead to a number of television appearances and performances, ranging from late-night programs to daytime talk shows.
"It seems ironic to not be on the road with this record," Colton chuckled, "but I'm just now getting back to that."
Now that he has returned to the road after an extended break, Colton is doing it his way. All of the venues on the tour were hand-picked, including this Monday night's (Sept. 15) show at the Cain's Ballroom, and arranged so he could bring the record to his audience on a more intimate level.
"Basically, I haven't played Tulsa since the Kelly Clarkson show," Colton shared, "so I'm looking forward to coming back to town. Being from Oklahoma City, I really haven't gotten to play in my hometown, or even within the state that much, so it's always a little different."
Monday night's show will actually be held on the second stage, allowing for a more intimate atmosphere that plays into Colton's plans for the current club tour, which includes a more storytelling approach to the new songs.
"I still get requests for the old songs on occasion and still play them," Colton said of his live show. "We'll probably open with a bang, with some high energy songs and break it down mid-set. I like to let things happen naturally."
Stars Go Dim and Ben Kilgore open the show at 8pm. Doors open at 7pm and tickets are only $18.
Calling All Local Music Fans
I know it's late in the game, but you still have time to help out one of your own. It seems that local folk/rock siren Fiawna Forte has made it to the next round to win a spot performing on the big stage at the Austin City Limits Festival at the end of the month. She's already in the Top 20, but she needs your help to advance to the final step. There are only a few days left, and you can only vote once a day, but Tulsa would be done proud if you would vote our girl into the festival.
The easiest way to do it is to go to www.fiawnaforte.com, enter the main page, then click the link to vote in the Dell Lounge. This round of voting ends Friday, September 12 and the top five will then face off for a spot at the prestigious festival.
Though the temperatures may be cooling down a bit, the music scene is heating up with a batch of killer shows, both national and local. It's an extremely busy weekend, so here are the highlights to get you out the door.
I could go night by night, but the Cain's Ballroom is tacked all week long, so how bout I get our local icon wrapped up and out of the way first? I'm starting to think we'd do well if the Rodgers boys could work up a "season pass" type program. You know: pay one price for a monthly ticket, then hit as many shows as you can, based on availability at the door. Probably not the most cost-effective, but I could break the bank at the Ballroom this week alone. Check this lineup out:
Thursday, September 11, sees the Randy Rogers Band take the stage with Tuff Profit and an $18 ticket. Friday night's Tulsa Original Music showcase includes Kawnar, Bait, First Lady Assassins and Violence to Vegas for $8, followed by the Split Lip Rayfield CD release on Saturday with Electric Rag Band and an $18 ticket. Sunday, Sept. 14 includes a visit by blues badass Eric Sardinas and Big Motor with OKC's Taddy Porter opening ($18), followed by the Graham Colton/Stars Go Dim/Ben Kilgore gig ($18) on Monday and finally, Ani DiFranco with My-Tea-Kind opening on Wednesday, September 17 for $33. You'll likely see me selling plasma this weekend, as I'll be trying to catch at least four of those six shows.
Back to the local rounds, we've still got plenty going on. Friday night is busy downtown as RadioRadio plays the Blank Slate with Indianapolis based indie-pop band Records Record Records and an additional opener for $5. If you're a pop fan, this one's a can't-miss. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Lowlight Travelers play Exit 6C; La Panther Happens, Barf Makeout and Sweet Baby Jaysus on Wax play Soundpony; Cruxshadows haunt the Marquee with Ayria and Iscitilla; and Texas Sapphire rocks the Mercury Lounge.
Also, don't miss the return of our own Andy Skib as he brings his latest solo project, To Have Heroes, back to Plan B for a night after relocating to LA this summer. Old pals Bryan Jewett and New Science will be opening the evening. And you never know who else might show up, because...
Saturday night's spectacular is "American Idols Live" at the BOK Center. Yes, it's your first chance to pay top dollar to see David Cook working the arena circuit, along with Archueta, and the rest of the gang. Tickets are $38 and $53.
Also on Saturday, Sept. 13, Mercy Street rocks the Blue Dome Diner with Dawn Armada and Theory of Tomorrow for $7, Colourmusic plays The Soundpony, Randy Crouch brings the Red Dirt to Exit 6C and Plan B hosts "Sanitarium" with Feel Never Real, SwampFox, Tokyo Jones, Downcast, Standing Ape Count and more.
Tuesday nights are acoustic nights with a handful of cool gigs, but you ought to try your hand this week with First Lady Assassins stripped down at Plan B.
Finally, the biggest indie-buzz band of the moment, Ratatat, plays the Marquee on Wednesday night, Sept. 17. Tickets are $17 in advance or $20 at the door for the band's only Oklahoma show this year.
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