Halloween weekend is here, and for many Tulsans that can only mean one thing: Freaker's Ball! Yes, the annual concert and costume contest has become a Tulsa tradition, and this year's return is significant as the event marks its 35th year. As can be expected, it's as big as ever with four stages and 22 artists, but this year packs a few surprises.
Presented by Diabolical Productions, "Diabolical" Davit Souders spoke about the event's history, its place in Tulsa's collective consciousness and what he's got planned for this year's latest installment.
Freaker's is once again at Cain's Ballroom Saturday night, Oct. 31. What some people might not realize is that the event was actually held at the Fairgrounds in its first two years (1974 and '75) before moving to the Ballroom for its third installment. It's been a staple event there ever since, and one of the events that is anticipated annually.
"Freaker's association with the Ballroom is undeniable," Souders said. "The two biggest traditions are probably Bob Wills' Birthday Week and Freaker's Ball. Of course, Bob Wills is bigger because his name is known internationally, but both are highly associated with the Ballroom."
Souders got involved with Freaker's Ball in 1992, and co-produced the event with Larry Schaffer (who had gotten involved in the mid '70s as owner of Cain's) of Little Wing Productions from '92 through '99. After Schaeffer's involvement ended, Souders worked with Doc Roc (current owners of Cain's Ballroom) since 2002.
In its early days, Freaker's Ball was a one- or two-act concert with a costume contest, but under Souder's watch, the event transformed. Immediately, Souders started growing the lineup. By the mid '90s, Freaker's had grown to include 8-10 bands and added a second stage in the main Ballroom. The addition went so smoothly that it inspired Souders to keep growing the event.
When Cain's reopened under new ownership in 2002 and incorporated the space next door as Bob's, Freaker's grew yet again and now the event includes four stages: two in the main Ballroom, the Bob's stage and an acoustic, outdoor stage in the "smoker's lounge" just north of the Ballroom. That expansion allowed Souders to include more than 20 bands each year.
Considering that this year is the event's 35th anniversary, "big" wasn't enough, and Souders did his best to make sure it became something special. Instead of just making the event the regular annual showcase, he approached a number of bands about the possibility of a reunion for this special occasion.
"I had a wish list and many bands were approached, knowing not all of them would work out," Souders said. "One of the largest, which did come through, though, is Pitbulls on Crack. In fact, it's such a big deal that they're playing two sets this year."
For those who remember, PBOC was one of Tulsa's hottest underground and hard rock acts, forming in 1989 out of skate-punk band Tulsa Skate Crew and tearing up local stages in a few different incarnations until the group disbanded in '96. The band's final performance was a one-off when called upon by Schaffer to open for Suicidal Tendencies.
(C'mon, who could pass up that offer for a final hurrah?)
Fortunately for loyal fans, PBOC reunited for a holiday gig in December 2006 and drew an impressive crowd of loyalists for a holiday get-together. Souders readily admitted that show (which he helped organize) and the response it drew helped shoot the band to the top of his wish list. Also considered was the fact that the band participated in Freaker's for a number of years, and its '96 appearance, in particular, stands out as a memorable performance.
Souders also mentioned his excitement for Bageyes, which played every year for the past 12 years before folding. According to Souders, this year's reunion will include both of the band's former singers, completing the original lineup and presenting something for all of the band's fans.
Also of note is the reformation of Bozak, featuring Dave Cantrell (also of Bunnies of Doom) along with Brian Simmons, Terry Waska and Charles "Chachi" Butler as well as Tall Tales, a group from Norman that formed in the early '90s and carried on for 10-12 years, including a couple of Freaker's appearances, before resigning about five years ago.
Another true highlight of the evening promises to be the appearance of Tony Romanello and the Black Jackets, in what Souders said would be Romanello's first full band appearance in Tulsa in more than four years. (Tony played the Ball last year, but did so with an acoustic performance.)
One of Souders' last highlights isn't a reunion, but rather a matter of stars (rather, schedules) finally aligning as Billy Joe Winghead makes a long awaited return to Freaker's Ball.
As always, the event also showcases some of Tulsa's newer talent and highlights from our crop of promising younger bands including Dante and the Hawks, The PortraYl and a pair of bands that finished first and second at a recent TU battle of the bands: That's what the Thunder Said and Cinderblock Vandals. A couple more that Souders is particularly excited to include are The Decomposed and William Joseph Band, a rapidly rising young act that's already turning heads.
The act to really keep an eye out for is likely Little Joe McClerran, who threatens to steal the show. As Souders describes it, he's got "an old school, East-coast blues thing going on. He's young, but he's got the voice of a 70- year-old blues man. It just blows me away."
McClerran recently returned from a "Blues Cruise," won last year's international Blues competition in Memphis and is gaining some national attention. To quote Souders: "If he's the best kept secret in Tulsa, he won't be for long."
In summation of what Freaker's Ball symbolizes, Souders shared that "I've always had a keen appreciation for Tulsa's music history. The Tulsa sound didn't die in '79 or '80 and I think this show proves that."
"I've heard a lot of bands say repeatedly over the years 'That was our best show ever' about Freaker's Ball," he explained. "Every performer rises to the occasion, and I think that testifies to the significance of the event."
This year's Freaker's Ball promises to top them all with 22 acts on four stages Saturday night at Cain's Ballroom. Doors open at 7pm and music starts at 7:15pm with City of Tulsa Pipes and Drums. Bands perform on four stages throughout the evening, and a $1,000 costume contest takes place on the main stage at 11pm.
Full details, including a list of bands and performance times can be found at HYPERLINK "http://www.myspace.com/freakersballroomblitz"; www.myspace.com/freakersballroomblitz, and tickets can be purchased for $9 in advance, $10 at the door, or for $6 directly from members of any of the participating bands.
It might be Halloween weekend, but there are more than Halloween parties going on. If you're looking for the highlights to get you pointed in the right direction, you've come to the right place, so read on...
Thursday, Oct. 29 gives you a few different options to choose from. If you want to keep it local, check out Dustin and Jesse's Higher Education (now taking up residency at Eclipse) or Cairde na Gael, keeping an Irish tradition alive at Arnie's Bar. If you're looking for something a bit bigger, Los Lobos plays Flytrap Thursday night ($32 at the door) or Brand New headlines Cain's Ballroom with special guest Thrice and The Builders and The Butchers opening the show.
Friday, Oct. 30, has a handful of good shows, the best of which might be the return of David Crowder Band to Cain's Ballroom with Seabird and Danyew opening. We've also got Poor Daddy playing Arnie's and Ben Miller Band (which have a sterling live reputation) appearing at Mercury Lounge. For me, however, all bets are off and I'm hitting the road to see one of the best young singer-songwriters this side of Springsteen and Petty, Will Hoge, play the wormy Dog in OKC. Tickets are only $7 at the door, and it'll be worth the drive.
Halloween parties dominate Saturday night, but if you're searching for something different, look no further than Mercury Lounge with Back Porch Mary and Ryan Bales. Local music supporters can also seek out The Hell Cactus (2251 E. 10th St.) for The Dull Drums CD release party with Here Is There and We Only Rock opening the show.
The rest of the week is fairly slow with only a couple of roof rattling shows at Cain's marking the calendar: The K.O.D. Tour featuring Tech N9ne with Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun and more openers than you can count Sunday, Nov. 1 and AFI with Gallows on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
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