While 2010 has inarguably been a tough year for Tulsa's economy, it's heartening to know that music lovers will still go out to get their fix. Perhaps it's just to get a little escape and perhaps it's partially to pump a little money back into the local economy. Most likely, it's more of the former and the latter is a by-product. Nevertheless, while our live music scene continues to thrive, it hasn't been without its struggles.
All year long we've seen venues close down, one after another, making it even harder for rising bands to find a good room to play in and catch a break. Fortunately, just as the year is wrapping up, it seems that the music gods have decided to smile upon us and grant us favor with a few new venues appearing and a few others changing hands and reopening. Just within the past couple of months, Elliot Nelson's Fassler Hall has opened and provided a bustling new downtown location that's both a great place to meet with friends over a drink and one of the best downtown club venues to catch live music.
On the rebound side of the music coin, although Eclipse has struggled to find its identity over the course of the past year and recently closed its doors, a revival is on its way as Rob Robertson (aka DJ Robbo) is in place to take over and give the venue a fresh run. While details are still pending, initial word indicates a plan for all-ages shows early in the evening, segue-ing into a late night scene. Only time will tell, but it could be just what the doctor ordered to bring life to a challenging location that holds much promise.
Probably the most promising in my eyes, however, is a revival of live music at the corner of 18th and Boston. As far back as 18 years ago, 18th and Boston was the place to go for nightlife, with SRO covering the dance crowd and live music at Maple Ridge Grill and Hoffbrau. Since then, both locations have changed names and owners multiple times, but even five years ago, it was still fertile ground for live music with The Venue, Boston's and Mercury Lounge providing a diversity of music on any given weekend.
In the past couple of years, only Mercury Lounge remained a haven for live music and even it has had its struggles. After closing briefly in August, Reggie Dobson took over with the help of an investor or two and got the ol' Merc back up and running by the end of September. Since then, he's continued to bring in live music to match Mercury Lounge's established niche, with a firm lineup of Americana, country, rockabilly and honky-tonk.
One of Mercury's finer points has always been its tongue --in-cheek sense of humor and even its weekly ad reflects that with a banner that has always said: "X # of weeks without a band that sucks!" instead of drawing it out, the ad would eventually turn over and start again at one with a "Sorry, guys!" message.
When discussing the bar's image with Dobson a few weeks ago, he acknowledged the club's niche and reputation for bringing in good bands, but at the same time said "when you get to 52 weeks or whatever and have gone a whole year without a bad band, that just means you're not taking any risks. I plan on changing that and opening things up a little bit."
When following up with him last week, he confirmed his plans, but fans of The Merc need not fear. As he explained it "we're going to keep bringing in bands of the same style, but were going to bring in more and different ones." Certainly, Dobson knows the club well -- after all, he's been a fixture behind the bar for years, so taking over is a natural progression. Even though he plans to mix it up a little, however, that doesn't mean there isn't room for the bar's mainstays: this Thursday night, December 23, Mercury Lounge hosts one of its most promising shows of the month as Even Felker (of Turnpike Troubadours) and Rodney Parker (of 50 Peso Reward) share the mercury stage for an acoustic evening that Dobson is presenting with no cover charge. Surely, this will be one of the best ways to loosen up right before the Christmas crush hits.
Looking around the bar, not much has changed: the same cozy booths and seating arrangement around the bar remains.
A low stage has been put in place, however, providing a slightly different look in the garage bay that houses the bands, also giving it a little more of a venue feel. Bands like Brandon Clark, Turnpike Troubadours and Electric Rag Band will remain staples (Electric Rag is the main attraction on New Year's Eve again this year) and the club will continue to cash in on its name and reputation for a few big name headliners. As Dobson told me, "A little songwriter named Dale Watson will even be here on February 12 - and it's only a $10 cover..."
That said, you can rest assured that Mercury Lounge will remain a haven for good music. As Dobson settles in and finds his way, however, you can expect to see a wider selection of bands come through and likely see the club capitalize on more of the Texas music scene to bring in some solid Americana and honky-tonk. Surely, 2011 promises to be a big year for Mercury Lounge.
Catching a new buzz
While Mercury Lounge definitely holds seniority on the block, the neighborhood needs more than one live bar to really thrive. Over the summer the old Rehab location closed down and quietly reopened as Sports Junkie. After attempts to make the club work as a sports bar didn't make headway, the new owners decided to try a music-oriented format in the room again. A call was placed to Matt "Lipp" Stevens and he was brought on board to help advise on how to proceed and he was eventually brought in as a manager to book the music. Now the club is known as Junkie Live and while the weeknights are filled with DJs and dance music, Junkie is now hosting live music every weekend, bringing in everything from pop to rock, scream, hip-hop and even a few retro cover bands on any given evening.
While live music has been dicey at best at this location in past efforts, Matt Lipp seems to have found a way to make it work, bringing in live music, still using the upper level of the club and keeping a high-energy party vibe in the room. All he needs now is a couple of prime names to appear and this will become "the little club that could" as its reputation grows for hosting live bands.
New kid on the block
Perhaps the most promising on the corner, however, is the return of live music to the location that has previously been known as Hoffbrau, Steam Roller Blues and Boston's. After Oscar's closed down in late summer, Jason Hunt and his wife (owners of The White Owl on Cherry Street) stepped in with their own concept.
While serving barbeque in this location may not be anything new (refer back to Steamroller Blues), their take on the food and the location certainly will be. I got a sneak peak at the room last week before the Phil Marshall show and they've gutted the place, rebuilding it from the ground up. A new stage is cornered in the front and equipped with intelligent lighting, great sight lines and a killer new sound system that can make your ears ring for days.
This has definitely been a labor of love, as they totally refinished the old bar, added a new bar in the back and rebuilt from the flooring up. Even the kitchen and bathrooms have been completely remodeled, giving the location the overhaul that it both needed and deserved. Even the new woodwork has been a labor of love as the Hunt's employed "Brown Wood" for all of the carpentry, using reframed wood from pre-1900's barns to add character and depth to the room. Add to it the fact that the food is fall off the bone tender and some of the best barbeque I've had in town in quite some time and this place is a win all the way around.
Most importantly to music lovers, however, is the fact that live music is once again returning to what was once a favored room in Tulsa. Although Hunt hesitated to tell me what all he's got in store, he shared that The Treehouse won't stick to tightly to any one genre. DJ's, rock bands and even a few blues and jam bands will likely grace the stage as The Treehouse finds its musical identity.
Although last week's Phil Marshall concerts were to serve as the grand opening, a few snags in construction and permits have delayed the official opening and the shows were held as a private event. Even so, it served as a great preview of what's to come in the new venue and a great tease for what we can expect next year.
The change in climate at 18th and Boston couldn't come soon enough for Tulsa. A trio of thriving live venues is just what the neighborhood needed to revive the corner of 18th and Boston. Even though the wrapping isn't ready to come off completely, I think we've already gotten a peek at our Christmas present. Thank goodness music is alive and well again at 18th and Boston.
We all know that Christmas is upon us, so it's no surprise that our live venues are quieting down for the holiday weekend. Even so, you may still need to escape the shopping crush or even the family and in-laws this weekend and you've got a few options to choose from. If you just want to hit the highlights, keep reading.
Thursday night, December 23 offers a couple of great options before you enter into Christmas. If you're looking for a high energy party, you won't want to miss Johnny Polygon as his annual holiday return has turned into two nights and the Thursday gig sees him share the stage with Mac Lethal for a huge night of hip-hop at Bob's.
If you're looking for something a bit more low key, you can't go wrong at Mercury Lounge as Evan Felker and Rodney Parker share the stage for a night of acoustic songs and storytelling. Best of all, there's not cover! If you want a healthy dose of reggae to launch you into the holiday, you're third highlight is Rebellion at The Warehouse in Brookside.
Friday night is Christmas Eve and as should be expected, there's not much going on. If you must get out and escape the family, however, you can find David Dover Band at Hunt Club and Jenny LaBow in the first of two nights at River Spirit Casino, following with a second show on Christmas night.
Likewise, Christmas night is extremely quiet with only a few shows like Jenny's encore at River Spirit. If you want to get loud, crazy and nasty, however, you have to stop in at The Colony where Dub Nasty's XXX-Mas party will be throwing down an irreverent mix of dance, hip-hop and all around party music.
Sunday, December 26 sees a few standing gigs like Brandon Clark's acoustic gig at Mercury Lounge, Pilgrim at The Colony and the Mark Bruner-Shelby Eicher Duo at Full Moon Café.
After that, I'd recommend you take the week to rest because New Year's is on its way and the parties will be plentiful. Most of all, remember to enjoy the holiday!
Share this article: