POSTED ON JULY 17, 2013:
Center of the Universe spotlights local talent amidst the merriment--and a few extra picks
By now, we all know that Center of the Universe is planning on drawing the crowds with big names like One Republic, Neon Trees, OK Go, Mutemath and Mayer Hawthorne. A festival doesn't stand or fall simply on big name acts, though. The ones that make really make an impression and stick around are the ones that also push the boundaries and bring in the rising stars or regional acts with potential to break out on a national level and last week we took a look at a few of those.
Center of the Universe isn't just about national and regional acts, though. Being run by a group from Tulsa, who openly shared that their goal in doing this was to keep a large, corporate entity from stepping in and throwing a festival then leaving town with the money the real focus is on showing everyone what Tulsa has to offer. A big part of that is showing both Tulsan's who rarely go out and visitors who come in for the event, just how much talent we have right here in our hometown.
With over 50 artists filling the clubs in the latter hours of the festival, Center of the Universe (CotU), is giving a great cross-section of our local artist a great opportunity to shine as well and seize the spotlight. Of course, we can't cover every one, but here's a few quick highlights from the local music scene that you'll want to keep on your radar as you plan your CotU experience.
Songwriter with Soul
Anyone familiar with Eric Himan should already know him as a singer/songwriter with a deep catalog of songs and a strong stage presence. He's even turned heads with an impressive rendition of the Queen catalog that arguably stole a good portion of the spotlight from Free Tulsa last summer. This year that's not an issue as CotU tabbed Himan early in the process and will have him effectively opening the festival with a 5pm set on the Guthrie Green stage.
If you haven't kept up over the past year, Himan stage a crowd-funding campaign to finance his new CD, which was to be titled Formal. As fate and the creative process would have it, things never turn out as planned and a change in producers, recording band members and overall direction rendered something completely different, which all came to fruition with Gracefully, officially released on June 25.
The lead track, "Red Hot Tears", has been causing all the stir with its soulful turn that channels the 70's soul of Earth Wind & Fire and The Commodores, but that's not the real story here. Himan's real strength is finding a balance between pop and blue-eyed soul and he hits all the marks with cuts like "Call Me Up" and "The Only Way". The real show stealer, however, is "Waiting for the Thunder", dedicated to Malala Yousafzai, the 14 year old Pakistani student shot by the Taliban for promoting girls' education.
That can only be rivaled by title track, "Gracefully," a song about the passing of Himan's grandmother, for whom the album is named. This is Himan's strongest album to date and CotU marks what is only his second opportunity to roll the new material out to his hometown audience. It's a great reason to show up early on Friday, as this is the record that should finally take him to the next level.
We already shed some light on 18 year old Zeke Duhon when he appeared on the March 6 cover of Urban Tulsa. He's been lying low since then as he graduated from Union High School in May. That doesn't mean he hasn't stayed busy, however.
A fresh batch of songs have more in common with Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers than his earlier, pure pop material, but we'll allow the stylistic shifts as Duhon finds his true voice. Fortunately, he does it all well and his true strength as a songwriter comes out regardless of the style.
He dropped another surprise on us July 4, however, with a new, high-def video shot at The Church Studios for the Johnny Cash classic, "Folsom Prison Blues." Yes, every country artist and country wannabe has cover Cash, but Duhon hits it far more honestly than any peer in his age range then I've heard. He gives it a fresh energy while keeping true to the original.
If you don't believe me, go look it up on YouTube or Vevo, then look him up and see for yourself. This kid's the real deal. Catch him now as he plays at Hey Mambo on Saturday night at 12:30am. This will likely be your last chance to catch him before he moves to Nashville in August to extend his musical education. Regardless, but he'll always be a Tulsa boy in our book.
Drop the Labels
If you're looking for something less commercial or pop oriented and more suited to your Bonnaroo or Wakarusa tendencies, you need to go out of your way to find Red Wood Rising. This four-piece from Tulsa blends genres and defies categorization with a mix of pop, country, rock and bluegrass that delivers all of the ambience of a good jam band with a more intense focus.
There's a reason why these guys have opened, been a feature act at Backwoods Bash, and gotten the nod to open for national artists like Ben Taylor and The Mowgli's over the past year. Unfortunately, genre bending doesn't sit well with an audience raised on set radio formulas and formats. That's too bad, because a big chunk of Tulsa is missing out on one of our city's true talents, when they overlook Red Wood Rising.
With any luck CoUFest will accomplish one of its goals by opening a door for these guys to prove they're more than some hippie jam band when people hear tracks like "I Can Change" and "Set Adrift". After all, are we looking for the next pop sensation or just a great band whose music sticks with you? Catch them at Chimera on Saturday night at 12:30am.
A Few More Hints
With over 70 bands at your fingertips, you've got plenty of options to choose from this weekend. Although it's always best to sort through and find new music on your own, here are a few safe bets that you may want to check out once the club doors open after the main stage acts have wrapped up:
A Lion Named Roar -- Friday night, 11pm, Oklahoma Joe's -- Acoustic roots rock from Louisville that has won the endorsement of Jon Foreman (Switchfoot/Fiction Family), saying "Nothing here lacks depth or emotion... the Eagles, part deux?"
Horse Thief -- Friday night, 11pm, 209 Arts Bar -- Psychedelic folk rock from Oklahoma City that caused a stir with its SXSW appearance this past March
Larry g(EE) -- Friday night, 11pm, Vanguard -- I'm still a bit leery of this one, this young soul and funk artist from Dallas is starting to catch a buzz vie the social networks and recently played Jimmy Kimmel, making him one to keep an eye on.
After Midnight -- Friday night, 12:30am, Mason's -- if you want to check out one of Tulsa's best indie acts before everyone else has caught on, go out of your way to check out After Midnight. Watch for these guys to be the next buzz act out of Tulsa's indie rock circle.
Andy Skib -- Friday night, 12:30am, Oklahoma Joe's -- He may be living in Nashville now, but you should already know Skib from his days in Midwest Kings before relocating with David Cook's band. If you haven't heard his solo tracks, released under the To Have Heroes moniker, you've been missing out on some great tunes by one of Tulsa's most distinctive male voices of the past 10 years
Sick/Sea -- Saturday night, 11pm, 209 Arts Bar -- This indie rock act out of McAllen, TX might just be the stealth band of the weekend. Lead singer Audrey Scott adds a whole different layer to an ethereal indie sound that mixes jazz, rock and a little post-grunge fuzz.
Kelli Lynn & the Skillet Lickers -- Saturday night, 11pm, Rusty Crane -- Do yourself a favor and head west, a little off the beaten batch to catch The Skillet Lickers on Saturday night. This is old-school rockabilly served with a breath of fresh air -- and just the kind of stuff that our Western Swing history at the Ballroom was built on.
The Last Slice -- Saturday night, 12:30am, Bar 46 -- When's the last time you stepped up to dance with some ska? That's what I thought? Not what you came to CoUFest expecting, but more fun than you might think. And why not finish the night dancing?
Plaid Dragon -- Saturday night, 12:30am, Mason's -- If you fancy yourself to be on the cutting edge of what's indie-cool, you'll want to be amongst the first in town to catch Paid Dragon, from Springfield, MO. Acoustic indie-pop that veers just shy of going down the folk route to become yet another Lumineers/Mumford derivative. Ethereal and intriguing: Will they make it big? Maybe not, but they're pretty damn cool nonetheless.
Colourmusic -- Saturday night, 12:30am, Vanguard -- If you want to close out your festival experience with one of Oklahoma's hippest indie rock acts, you won't miss Colourmusic. They may not have had the stroke of luck that Other Lives did, winning over Thom Yorke and touring with Radiohead, but with Scott Booker (Flaming Lips manager) in their corner, all bets are that they'll explode eventually. And with a history at DFest and SXSW, you can rest assured they always step it up for a festival appearance.
Don't stick with these recommendations, though. Go find your own new favorite. Step out of your comfort zone. You've got over 70 bands playing and surely you can find something fresh to tickly your fancy, whether it's the punk/hiphop blend of SocietySociety, the ska of The Last Slice or the unhinged hillbilly rock of Kelly Lynn & the Skillet Lickers. You've got no good excuse not to find what you're looking for. Now, go have fun!
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We know most of Tulsa will be in the Brady District this weekend for CoUFest, but if the choice there aren't your style, you don't feel like fighting the masses, or that's just not enough to get your fix, there's still more going on around town this week, so here are a few more highlights:
Thursday, July 18
Get your country and Red Dirt fix with Johnny Cooper at Red Dirt Dance Hall, or get to dancing with the jam vibe of Mingo Fishtrap at The Shrine.
Friday, July 19
Sam & the Stylees keep Mercury Lounge groovin' while Hosty Duo holds down the fort at The Colony and Parker Millsap returns to Tulsa for a show at Shrine with Wink Burcham & the Low Dogs. If you want one of the hottest emerging Texas country acts currently on the rise, though, you won't want to miss Whiskey Myers at Red Dirt Dance Hall. And, of course, if two nights of Whitesnake wasn't enough, you can get one more hair-metal fix with Dead Metal Society at CJ Moloneys in Broken Arrow.
Saturday, July 20
Mercury Lounge doubles down with an early, 5pm show with Moot Davis, then turns the tables to host Eli Howard with K. Phillips & the Concho after 9pm. Meanwhile, Moonlight Drive (The Doors tribute) plays at Shrine and Chuck Dunlap entertains The Colony.
Sunday, July 21
Everyone downtown is taking a breather, including the Guthrie Green, but you can still catch Amy Cottingham for an early (5pm) show at the Jazz Hall of Fame, and then go hit your old favorites like Brandon Clark at Mercury Lounge or Paul Benjaman & Friends at The Colony.
Monday, July 22
The Yeti springs back to life with a free punk show featuring Bad Ideas and Birthday Suits.
Tuesday, July 23
Mercury Lounge hosts one you won't want to miss as Dale Watson returns for some old school country at his favorite Tulsa honky-tonk.
Wednesday, July 24
The week finally wraps up as The Vanguard hosts The Almost (making their first Tulsa headline appearance) with Rocketboys and J.B. Kingsley opening.
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