Last Monday night, Tulsa native Beau Jennings returned to town for an intimate show at The Church showcasing a handful of new songs that have yet to be recorded. This was more than just a concert, however. It was merely the first steps toward seeing a far more ambitious project come to fruition.
Technically, Monday night's concert was a fundraiser for a project that he's been slowly developing for years now: an exploration of the life of Will Rogers in song and film. Since it was held as a fundraising party, there was no cover charge or admission at the door, but a suggested donation of $10 entered attendees in a raffle for door prizes provided by local sponsors.
Of course, any chance to hang out or catch a show at The Church is a good enough excuse for me. As the recording studio that was built by Leon Russell and housed Shelter Records and was later owned by Steve Ripley, the building still holds an "if these walls could speak" vibe that just oozes historical musical cool.
When the evening promises to showcase new material by a pair of amazing songwriters and local favorites, however, it becomes a night to not miss. Singer-songwriter Ryan Lindsey opened the evening with an acoustic set that showcased a selection of tunes from his forthcoming solo album -- a treat in and of itself. Surprisingly, Lindsey wasn't the main attraction. Instead, the evening celebrated the return of Beau Jennings, lead singer of Cheyenne, the Norman-based band that relocated to Brooklyn a few years ago to complete its album, The Whale.
Although a long-awaited Cheyenne follow-up is still in the works, that wasn't the focus on this night. Instead, Jennings was here to raise awareness and funding for a vision he's been incubating for nearly five years now.
Jennings recently said that after completing The Whale, he wanted to explore Oklahoma legends and folklore, which eventually turned into a focus on the state's favorite son, Will Rogers. After beginning research on the life of Will Rogers, the concept for an album about his life and adventures began to take shape.
"At the same time, I was really starting to get into the Alan Lomax stuff," Jennings said. "He worked for the Library of Congress in the '30s and traveled the South capturing folk and blues artists, people who hadn't been recorded yet like Lead Belly, Muddy Waters and even Woody Guthrie."
Eventually, Jennings combined his travel with field recordings.
"So I've got these songs about Will Rogers, and the plan is to record them at the locations where significant events occurred in his life: where he was married, where he played vaudeville, things like that," he said. "First I thought of the recording idea and then I thought, 'If I'm going to do it anyway, why not film it?'"
After coming up with the concept, Jennings started sharing his vision with others to get their take on the project. His big break for the project came, however, when he met filmmaker Bradley Beesley, who bought into the vision and has been instrumental in helping get the project off the ground. Another key contact was Jonathan Fowler, of the Norman Music Festival, who played an instrumental role in helping Jennings meet the right people to get the movie made.
With Monday night's concert, Jennings was able to not only showcase a number of the songs he's written for the project, but also explain his vision and draw more attention to the project in order to raise enough funding to begin recording and filming.
Where There's A Will.
"This is something that will appeal to a number of people, from music fans to fans of Will Rogers," Jennings said. "I think once they hear and understand, people will be into the project, but it's a concept that's hard to explain in just a couple sentences."
Monday night's concert, which followed similar shows in Denton, Dallas and Norman was an opportunity for Jennings to fully share his vision with words, songs and a film trailer that has already been recorded to lead into the project.
"I grew up in Inola and started researching Will Rogers because he's always been a hero of mine and thought his life would be good fodder for songwriting. Once I began researching, I found that the Verdigris River runs through Oologah, where Will was born, and Inola, where I'm from. To me, that became both literally and figuratively, a line that connected us," Jennings said.
It is from that connection that Jennings found the title of his project: The Verdigris: In Search of Will Rogers. Surely, this is an ambitious vision -- one that could be a defining project in Jennings' still fledgling career. It's one that he's ready to explore, however, and still needs the support of his fans and others to see come to fruition.
Even if you missed the concert at The Church, you can still get involved and help Jennings get the project off the ground. This series of shows accompanies an online campaign on kickstarter.com, aimed at raising $10,000 by May 21 to begin production.
Even if you don't donate to the cause, it's an incredibly cool project that's worth checking out and supporting in any way possible. After all, this is the kind of creativity that Tulsa's music scene is known for and although Jennings has been displaced to Brooklyn, his heart is still in Oklahoma and he's indelibly linked to our music scene.
Spring is in full swing and summer is on its way. Fortunately, in the midst of all the business, I occasionally get a preview of something amazing and I got that not once, but twice over the past week.
If you're looking for a great new live band, keep your eyes and ears peeled for RL Jones, a new group featuring Matt Wright (formerly of Shamrock and The Feds), Tom Pritner (formerly of The Televised and My Solstice) and Shawn Kintz (formerly of Swampfox). Don't let the pedigree fool you: While each of these guys has been in hard rock bands, their new group is distinctly indie rock oriented with an undeniable intensity. The band only has a couple shows under its belt, but will be making waves on the local scene in no time.
Also coming out of left field, I ran into Rockwell Ryan Ripperger last week and got a preview of the new Stephen Speaks CD, Age of the Underdog, which is still pending an official release date.
Personally, I've been leery of jumping on the Stephen Speaks bandwagon, but Ripperger has hit this one out of the park. The new disc lives up to the band's reputation and hype and will undoubtedly go down as one of the best local releases of the year. Don't be surprised if lightening strikes twice, though, and Stephen Speaks get rediscovered on a national level as well.
Even though Norman Music Festival may be drawing many of our local bands and music fans out west for the weekend, Tulsa is still busy with a load of cool shows. Read on to get the highlights before heading out the door.
• Thursday, April 28 - This may just be the busiest night of the week with a fistful of high profile shows. To get started, Radio Moscow returns to Tulsa for a show at Fassler Hall with Fiawna Forte. Stepping up to a bigger room, Bowling for Soup headlines Cain's Ballroom with The Dollyrots and Kick Tree opening. The Oak Ridge Boys even reappear for a show this week at The Joint. The biggest show of the week, however, has got to be Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, for what he has hinted may be his final U.S. tour.
• Friday, April 29 - Spread some local love on Friday night by checking out Paul Benjaman Band at Arnie's or Bassweight and DJ Samurai Dubz for some dancing at Blue Dome Diner. Melody Memory also plays Fassler Hall with Fatty Lumpkin and Steve Pryor settles in at Hunt Club. The best show of the night, however, will be Social Distortion at Cain's Ballroom with Sharks and Chuck Ragan.
• Saturday, April 30 - Rock the Hunger 2 brings a hard rock lineup of Crooked X, Siva Addiction, Delay the Day, Fist of Rage, Joint Effect and more to The Marquee with all proceeds going to the Community Food Bank of Northeast Oklahoma. Also on Saturday night, Slightly Stoopid plays Cain's with Meat Puppets and Honeyboy Carencro, OK Sweetheart play Fassler Hall and Klondike 5 plays an early show at Elote.
• Sunday, May 1 - The Whigs headline The Marquee with Company of Thieves and The Red Alert opening while Downtown Lounge hosts The Von Erichs.
• Monday, May 2 -- Flogging Molly returns to Cain's Ballroom with The Drowning Man and Rude Amps rock Magoo's with The Dulldrums and Madewell.
• Tuesday, May 3 -- Moody Blues play to the classic rock crowd with a show at Brady Theater
• Wednesday, May 4 -- The Marquee hosts a stealth night of Christian rock that flies under the radar as Showbread headlines with The Wedding and Abandon Kansas opening.
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