Airport ‘Jet Sets’ program doesn’t fly with local musicians

If you’re a frequent visitor to Will Rogers World Airport, you’re probably familiar with constant parking garage construction, limited direct flights and lukewarm Schlotzsky’s sandwiches. You also may be familiar with the airport’s pun-driven live music program, Jet Sets. Here’s how the airport abstractly describes it:

Music is an invitation. It invites you to move; to tap, snap, or groove. Music invites you to hum, sing, or whistle; to relax, meditate, or remember. On behalf of music, WRWA invites you to enjoy Jet Sets, the airport’s live music program showcasing Oklahoma’s very talented musicians. Check the calendar below for upcoming performances.

Here at The Lost Ogle, we love to see both talented and untalented musicians get their due, so we applaud Will Rogers for giving local musicians a platform to showcase their talents and make some money. In fact, Jet Sets pays anywhere from $120 to $200 for a short set.

Unfortunately, the platform the airport provides seems to be way too limited. Despite booking five paying gigs a week, many Local Musician Moles have asked us to look into Jet Sets, because it’s apparently one of the more difficult stages to get booked on in the metro.

Jet Sets began in late 2015 and, according to airport spokeswoman Karen Carney, the airport has had more than 300 applications but only approved 33 musical groups to perform — an approval rate of about 10 percent.

“Selections are made based on quality of talent, experience, the style of music and how well the style fits the venue,” Carney explained. “The airport terminal is a different public environment, so not every style of music works.”

Local musicians, who asked not to be identified for fears of retaliation, say they are concerned applications are not being reviewed and the airport is re-booking acts based on favoritism.

According to an analysis of the music calendars provided by WRWA, only five artists have been involved with the Jet Sets program for more than four years. While the airport said only 33 artists were approved, the TLO analysis found 40 separate acts listed. Though some of the performances may have been canceled.

However, the airport has dramatically cut down on diversity in the performances. In 2016, the airport approved 23 musicians or musical groups to perform on the Jet Sets stage. In 2017 the stage saw 10 new acts performing for travelers. However, in 2018 only four new acts were approved and the majority of performances went to a small number of groups.

In fact, Santa Claus has more bookings on the airport calendar than the combined acts for three of the musicians approved.

“While we continue to look for new artists, we have built a base of performers that are popular among our travelers and employees,” Carney said.

Decisions about who performs are made by Carney and one other person in her office. She said she intends to continue running the program without any additional consultation or review from the Arts Council. Visual Arts are managed by local museums with input from the Oklahoma City Arts Council.

“The Oklahoma City Arts Commission is an advisory entity. They do not organize or manage exhibitions or programs,” Carney told TLO.

While it is important to appeal to a varied crowd and — given the current city leadership it is unlikely the TLO’s Cow Tipping Tornadoes grunge band will be getting an invite anytime soon — local musicians who are invited to perform at other local art and performance venues argue the lack of diversity is hurting the performing arts community.

“Musicians are paid with revenues generated by the airport. No public tax dollars are used for the program,” Carney said.

However, it is important to note the airport itself is funded by a large amount of tax dollars and the planned expansion of WRWA will also include the selling of airport bonds.

The majority of the 2019 calendar is not yet set by the airport, and the musicians who asked TLO to look into this issue say they just want to see more local musicians featured, whoever they are, so that anyone traveling through Oklahoma City’s airport knows there is more musical talent than the small selection that has been allowed to perform.