POSTED ON JANUARY 4, 2012:
Start with Heart
Looking forward to 2012 on the local music scene
I realize that as the New Year rolls in most people are looking back, reflecting on the good things that have passed and making their best of lists. I've reflected quite a bit over the past few weeks, however, and am looking forward to a bright future for Tulsa music.
Don't get me wrong, 2011 was a good year that saw our scene continue to grow and harvested a crop of great local releases. More than anything, though, the year was building a strong foundation for things to come. With that in mind, here are a few of the things that I'm most looking forward to seeing either grow or come to fruition in 2012.
Horton Records -- Starting out as simply a music fan and supporter of the local music scene, Brian Horton stepped up in 2010, partnering with Brian Fontaine and The Colony to help bring The Colony Presents: The New Tulsa Sound, a compilation of local artists, to fruition. His continued assistance with bands like Paul Benjaman Band, Dustin Pittsley, Pilgrim and Wink Burcham finally came to a head in 2011 and he officially launched Horton Records in the latter half of the year.
This isn't any ordinary independent label, though. With a vision of supporting local musicians above all else, Horton organized the label as a non-profit, 501(c)3 entity with a vision of pouring any returns back into artist support and producing new releases. Since debuting in September, Horton Records has put out official releases, with more in the pipeline.
What may be most interesting is waiting to see what comes next for the label. An official studio release by Wink Burcham is reportedly waiting in the wings, but that has been a work in progress for years now. Still, if anyone can motivate artists to get their material out, it's Horton. Even with the New Tulsa Sound compilation, Horton's primary goal was just to help get the associated artists the exposure and recognition that they deserved, so step two in the Horton Records process may be to help the involved artists start establishing the contacts to spread them outside the Tulsa market.
More interesting still, is waiting to see how much Horton Records will diversify its lineup. The initial stable included Tulsa Sound staples like Cody & Desi and The Panda Resistance as well as an expanded vinyl reissue of the Tulsa Sound compilation, but the roster has already shown signs of opening up with releases by And There Stand Empires, young metalcore act Parallels and straight up rockers RL Jones. Anyone who knows Horton and the team he has assembled knows that his musical taste is broad and so is his vision for the label, so this could end up being one of the most diverse indie/boutique labels to come out of Tulsa in nearly a decade, if not longer.
OkieTone Records -- This is the label that has been flying under the radar as it prepares to launch in 2012. Centered around initial releases by John Moreland and Mike Williams, you can be sure the label will be turning heads from the start. Moreland has long been considered one of Tulsa's best writers, but releasing his material digitally and with little or no fanfare has kept him under the radar and a sparseness of live appearances hasn't helped.
Mike Williams also released a pair of digital EPs in 2011 and they proved to be amongst the year's best releases, if you were privy to them. He's been branching out and picking up gigs over the past few months and has been performing with Moreland, so the wheels are now in motion for both. Brandon Clark is also on board with OkieTone, giving the startup label with a vision for releasing pure, Oklahoma music a rock solid platform to start with.
Further details are yet to emerge, but this is the label to keep an eye out for. If OkieTone Records can launch successfully, its existence alongside Horton Records will go a long way towards reestablishing Tulsa's identity as a true music town.
Under The Belfry -- Established as a digital label with audio and video content, Under The Belfry definitely has a different vision and business plan, but also has a lot of potential for exposure and releasing material by local artists. Live sets from last summer's Free Tulsa festival continue to roll out, including a pair of killer sets from Paul Benjaman Band and Annie Ellicott with Amy Cottingham, which may be the best releases to come out of the label to date.
Just how Under The Belfry will take shape as it continues to develop remains to be seen, but the integration of high-def video with the audio releases opens a whole new avenue for artist promotion and gives the label a distinctly different angle on presenting not only the artists, but our music scene as a whole. If you haven't checked it out yet, go to underthebelfry.com to check out the videos and download some killer shows.
Free Tulsa -- As the default replacement for DFest, Free Tulsa has automatically gotten the most exposure and attention of our local festivals, but it was also rife with its own faults and disorganization. On my side, I covered the festival to give the artists the exposure they deserved, but voted with my attendance by choosing to stay home and enjoy time with my family instead in 2011.
There have been major changes in the works behind the scenes, however, that promise to make Free Tulsa the summer festival worth anticipating. The principal change, which could make all the difference in the world, is the transfer of ownership and leadership to the McNellie's Group. After stepping in as the primary sponsor in last year's event turned into picking up almost the entire tab, McNellie's Group essentially took over ownership, with the biggest implications of that change coming in the promise of a more organized event in 2012.
As of right now, the focus is still on local music, but a couple of seasons of a well run festival free of glitches could see it grow to new heights within the next few years. Personally, I'd like to see a title change to separate it from the stigma that the Free Tulsa moniker has already developed, but that remains to be seen. What's important is that we've got an artist oriented festival worth looking forward to coming at the end of the summer that should be free of many of the organizational logjams and headaches seen in the past two years.
Easter Island -- In two short years, The Moai Broadcast has not only established its own music festival, but outgrown the land it was on in East Broken Arrow. For 2012, the festival moves to Valley Sports Complex in Catoosa, which keeps it close to Tulsa, but provides more space and infrastructure for everything from camping to concessions to power supplies for the stages.
The initial lineup was just announced with a focus on local and regional artists like Moai Broadcast, Paul Benjaman Band with Steve Pryor, Panda Resistance, Montu, Hosty Duo, Brandon Clark Band, Recorder, Grazzhopper, Ego Culture and Digital Beatdown, giving the festival a wide array of styles and artists. Another round of artists and a "Secret Headliner" are due to be announced within the next few weeks, making this the biggest Easter Island Festival to date. Even so, tickets for the entire weekend (April 13-14) are only $30 with a portion of the proceeds going to Land Legacy for landscape conservation and preservation. Further details on the festival and lineup can be found at easterisland.com.
Stone River -- Probably the most overlooked festival of the year, Stone River may have been the most enjoyable event of the summer. Established by Dustin Pittsley and held on his family's land in Chandler, Okla., Stone River's second annual event raised the level of music and entertainment, but provided it without any of the stresses that normally come with a festival setting.
The grounds have been manicured for the festival without intruding greatly on the landscape itself, so the entire weekend feels like you're camping out in a state park -- albeit with hundreds of like-minded friends. Most impressive, though, is the overall vibe of the weekend: the focus is on the music and a laid-back and relaxed attitude overrides the entire weekend, allowing artists and fans alike to relax and recharge while enjoying an entire weekend soaked in music.
Initial announcements for 2012 have not been made yet, but keep the last weekend of September marked on your calendar for this one. After two successful years, I expect we'll see Stone River bring in a few new artists and continue to expand its range to keep things fresh while still retaining the relaxed and personalized vibe that is the signature of this event. As much as I'm looking forward to how Free Tulsa will shape up in 2012, Stone River is the can't miss event of the year.
Even More Music
The launch of two record labels in Tulsa is an obvious sign of things to come, but what do we actually have to look forward to in 2012? Horton Records is promising the aforementioned and long-awaited studio release from Wink Burcham and his growing legion of fans can't wait to see what he'll finally emerge from the studio with, so that release definitely has a group waiting for it.
John Moreland also has new material waiting in the wings and the aforementioned launch of OkieTone Records could thrust him back into the local and regional spotlight. Personally, though, I can't wait to hear what Mike Williams comes up with in 2012. Word has it that Brandon Clark is writing again with an eye on a more country oriented CD this time around, but his calendar is already expanding with more and more regional gigs, so only time will tell if he will release another disc in the coming year.
The Chase is On.
One that we have been waiting on for nearly a year now is Chase Stites' full-length debut, which was recorded with Geoff Rockwell in Dallas this past fall and is due in March or April of 2012. Initial mixes see his sound maturing from the teen pop he has explored previously as he focuses more on lyrics and song structures for a more promising and long-term career.
Also behind the scenes, RadioRadio has a new single, "Making Girls Cry," which is due to be released around Valentine's Day with their take on Bowie's "I'm Afraid of Americans" as the b-side. The band also just shot a high-def video/short film for the song with Kelly Kerr as the band gears up for an even busier 2012.
Of course, there are even more bands out there with new albums in the works, including Algebra, Tony Romanello & the Black Jackets and Motive For Movement (possibly with a rumored name change?), amongst the few that immediately come to mind. Individually, they are each just pieces of the puzzle, but when they all come together, the big picture reveals an even more promising 2012.
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