Oklahoma City Music Scene
Lauren Wells | April 4, 2014
With a strong background in country, gospel, jazz, and rock and roll, Oklahoma City is full of iconic venues and has churned out many talented musicians. Woody Guthrie began his folk music influence during the 1930s, as he performed songs like “This Land is Your Land” and became an idol for songwriters like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Oklahoma City native Jimmy Rushing explored the boundaries of blues and jazz, and he was widely known for his stint as a featured vocalist of Count Basie’s Orchestra. The 1950s and 1960s introduced acts like blues singer-songwriter JJ Cale, contemporary Christian rock singer-songwriter Barry McGuire, and country singer Henson Cargill. Reba McEntire made a name for herself as a popular country musician and actress, hailing from Oklahoma in the mid 1970s. Country/bluegrass singer-songwriter Vince Gill also got his start in Oklahoma and went on to win twenty Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. During the 1980s, Oklahoma’s sound got a bit more playful, with bands like The Flaming Lips introducing their psychedelic alternative rock sound onto the scene while singer-songwriter Ty England kept his sound authentic to Oklahoma’s country roots. The 1990s became a bit more experimental for Oklahoma City, as alternative rock bands like the Nixons got their start alongside R&B vocal groups like Color Me Badd. Most notably, Kings of Leon burst onto the popular alternative rock scene with hits like “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire” during the millenium. Even today, Oklahoma City stays true to its heritage, with popular musicians like Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, and the Turnpike Troubadours embracing their home state’s country origins.
The Diamond Ballroom hosts acts like Cole Swindell, Blackberry Smoke, Blue October, The Architects, Chevelle, Grouplove, Anti-Mortem, Shiny Toy Guns, Third Eye Blind, Vampire Weekend, the Ataris, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Gavin DeGraw. Founded in 1964, the Diamond Ballroom is managed by DCF Concerts, an Oklahoma City based concert production company. A simple, divey venue, the space feels somewhat like a warehouse with a large bar. The centerpiece of the live music experience here is the act you came to see, as the venue doesn’t have much by way of decor and ambiance.
Bricktown is home to a variety of cafes, restaurants, and event spaces in Oklahoma City. The Bricktown Events Center, Bricktown Music Hall, Candy Nightclub, and Voodoo Lounge host a variety of live entertainment programs throughout the year. Musicians like Graham Colton, Augustana, Mogwai, Icon for Hire, Lydia, Noah Gundersen, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones perform across these event spaces. This entertainment district is an indoor and outdoor space that was formerly the city’s warehouse district. The area even hosts the annual Bricktown Art Festival each July, bringing together artists and community members through fun, family-friendly programming.
Acts like Pink Martini, Diana DeGarmo, Yo-Yo Ma, Neil Sedaka, Angie Stone, and Don Williams take the stage at the Civic Center Music Hall. The performing arts center houses the 2,477-capacity Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, the 286-capacity Freede Little Theatre, and the 100-capacity CitySpace Theatre. Founded in 1937, the art deco building is home to the Black Liberated Arts Center, Canterbury Choral Society, Celebrity Attractions, Lyric Theatre and Academy, the Oklahoma City Ballet, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, the Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, and the Oklahoma City Theatre Company.
The 581,000-square-foot Chesapeake Energy Arena hosts musicians like the Backstreet Boys, Avril Lavigne, James Taylor, Motley Crue, Alice Cooper, and Joe Bonamassa. Formerly called the Ford Center and the Oklahoma City Arena, the venue was opened in 2002 with a capacity of 19,000 for concerts. Currently the home to the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, the arena formerly housed the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets (due to Hurricane Katrina) and the CHL’s Oklahoma City Blazers. Owned by the City of Oklahoma City, the Chesapeake Energy Arena is located in the city’s downtown area, where it hosts big names in music as well as numerous sporting events throughout the year.
The Oklahoma City Zoo Amphitheatre hosts popular acts like Skrillex, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Panic! At the Disco, New Politics, Foreigner, Styx, and Don Felder. An outdoor event space, the Zoo’s amphitheatre is the perfect place for a summer concert under the stars (and has been for more than 75 years!). Located next to the OKC Zoo, the amphitheatre has hosted Marvin Gaye, Chicago, and ZZ Top, among other iconic names in music. The facility is maintained and consistently upgraded by 3HORSE Productions.
Formed in the early 90s, the Blue Door has hosted songwriters like Jimmy Webb, Joe Ely, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, David Lindley, and Tom Rush. A haven for blues, country, rock, bluegrass, and folk lovers, the Blue Door labels itself as a casual “listening room,” as it is a refreshing break from the nightclub scene.
The 10,944-capacity Oklahoma State Fair Arena books performers like Mallory Lawless, Smokey Bones, Entropy, The Okie Stompers, Sierra SIkes, the McKedy Trio, the B-Sides, the Uncanny Violet Unicorn, and Temporary Saints. Held every September, the fair offers a variety of games, food vendors, carnival rides in addition to local and regional acts.
An all ages venue, the Conservatory introduces bands like Abandon Kansas, Radiator Hospital, the Appleseed Cast, Pure X, Red City Radio, Buho, Tweak Bird, Glow God, and Somerset West to its stage throughout the year. A great place to become familiar with up-and-coming acts, the Conservatory serves cheap beer and awesome bands. Beware: it’s a bit divey, so come ready to get grungey and rock out.
For those of you who enjoy jazz music, the University of Central Oklahoma’s Jazz Lab features student and professional performances throughout the year. An educational space for the university’s jazz studies program, the venue also promotes community-based live music for the public, featuring guests like Brian Gorrell, Smilin’ Vic, Edgar Cruz, Heat, Shortt Dogg, and Miss Brown to You.
With a name like Wormy Dog Saloon, this concert space has a ton of character, hosting acts like Broken Okies, Dirty River Boys, Reckless Kelly, Bleu Edmonson, Chris Mullen, and Eli Howard. For Red Dirt country music lovers, the Wormy Dog is a great space for experiencing this quirky genre.
The Centennial Rodeo Opry was founded in 1977 by country musician Grant Leftwich in an attempt to bring together a network of musicians, artists, and production teams. Every week, the Rodeo Opry hosts performing arts events, including live music from professionals and amateurs alike. The Opry band has backed huge names like Toby Keith, Katrina Elam, Vince Gill, Byron Berline, and Ty England, among others. The Rodeo Opry gives up and coming musicians a chance to promote their music and experience collaborations with professionals.
The Blue Note Lounge, in Uptown Oklahoma City, hosts acts like the Waymires, Ivy Mike, Black Tusk, Inter Arma, Kyle Reid, Feel Spectres, Crooked Bangs, and Copperheads. Most shows are $5, and this venue has been entertaining the OKC community since 1951. In the past, the venue has seen performances by bands like the Flaming Lips, making it a popular, intimate concert going experience.
Going strong for over 30 years, VZD’s Restaurant and Club hosts comedy nights and live music from talented local bands. Great for groups and good eats (burgers and onion rings, anyone?), VZD’s is an intimate, smoke-free live music venue that has hosted acts like the Flaming Lips, Dixie Chicks, Michele Shocked, Bo Diddley, Junior Brown, Bela Fleck, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A former drug store, the casual venue has established itself as a classic space to enjoy bar food and a show.
The Norman Music Festival is an annual three-day event held in Norman, Oklahoma. Established in 2008, the festival features musicians like Feathered Rabbit, Samantha Crain, Kyle Reid, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Defining Times, and Grown Ups performing in the city’s arts district. Going strong for over forty years, the Tulsa International Mayfest is an arts and entertainment appreciation event that draws in over 350,000 people each year. This festival has launched careers (like Hanson– throwback!), and features musical acts like Monte Montgomery, John Fullbright, Jason Isbell, Will Hoge, Royal Southern Brotherhood, and Uncle Lucius. For you folk music fans, the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival might be just your style. The dry festival is a mellow event that encourages camping and getting to know your fellow concert goer through song. The festival features acts like Trout Fishing in America, Ellis Paul, Jimmy La Face, The Burns Sisters, Lauren Lee, and Milagro Saints. With headliners like Kid Rock, Staind, Twisted Sister, Deftones, Seether, Motorhead, and Five Finger Death Punch, Rocklahoma in Pryor, OK provides a much edgier hard rock vibe. Bring your camping gear, dark clothes, and other rock and roll gear, because this three-day festival has brought in big names like Guns N’ Roses, Papa Roach, Bush, Rob Zombie, Creed, Alice in Chains, Cheap Trick, Hollywood Undead, and Slash. For your classical music fix, OK Mozart focuses on booking local and Grammy Award-winning musicians of the classical variety. The ten-day festival features over 150 composers and performers as well as movies and celebrations of the genre.