Does OKC suck as a concert town?

Growing up around OKC, most of my youth was spent with live music. Whether it was playing in bands, going to see my friends bands, putting on rinky-dink DIY shows, or just checking out any act with an interesting name at the Green Door or Conservatory, there was a period where I’d be out watching live music several times a week.

Then the dreadful thing happened to all of the other dudes I used to see out, which was that I hit my 30’s and just stopped giving a shit about the scene. Shoutout to all the troopers I know who still go out all the time, but it became exhausting and I became boring.

Last weekend, I ventured out to my first show at The Criterion to see a few of my favorite acts, Dinosaur Jr, and Kurt Vile. It was mostly a good experience, especially running into so many old friends, and the bands both shredded. But I couldn’t help and feel put-off a bit by the crowd. Maybe it was because I accidentally got wayyy too high on a medicinal joint between sets, but I felt hyper-sensitive to some of the complaints that I’d been hearing about the Oklahoma City music scene.

Let’s go down the list:

-Nobody goes out

I’ve heard this from friends in bands and promoters, but for many mid-tier venues, fans just stay home. Bands will come through that could sell out pretty large concert halls in other cities, but will struggle selling tickets before playing in OKC.

Another recent personal anecdote: Last night, I went to see cult film writer/drive-in expert Joe Bob Briggs at Rodeo Cinema. He also gave an appearance in Tulsa the previous night at Rodeo’s sister theater, Circle Cinema. Here’s a tweet from Joe Bob:

Obviously, this isn’t a live music event, but it’s still telling that the 918 can instantly sell out a show for Joe Bob Briggs, and I waited until the day before to buy my tickets, and noticed plenty of empty seats. Friday night’s Kurt Vile show also seemed similarly under-attended, considering he’s one of the larger acts in indie rock right now, and had a legendary band opening for him. And halfway through Kurt’s set, enough of the crowd had left where I’d gone from the very back of the venue to as close as I could get to the stage.

-The crowds are unengaged

It’s no secret that OKC concert audiences are easily distracted. Sure, you can blame some of it on cell phones, and people would rather experience an event through their screens rather than just watching and listening. But crowds here can tend to be more interested in live music as a social event than witnessing a concert.

Case in point, back in March we wrote about the guy from Staind storming off the stage because the audience was just chattering through his set. Granted, it was the guy from Staind so who gives a fuck, but if you spend the money on a ticket, parking, and $10 beers at a big concert venue, why wouldn’t you want to just stop yapping for an hour and watch the artist you paid for?

-Most of the venues don’t sound good

This is maybe the most contentious point to be made, but a lot of concert venues in OKC sound terrible. There are some good ones, like 89th Street and Tower Theater, but man, do we have some awful sounding rooms. It’s the largest one, but boy does the Chesapeake arena just sound terrible. I’ve left concerts there early because it was just impossible to hear anything clearly. It’s hard to want to fork down huge bucks for a concert that might cost you a few hundred bucks on a date after you’ve bought 2 tickets, go out for dinner, drop $20 or more to park or get a ride share, and spend way too much for drinks.

There are good parts to our music scene, of course. We’ve got more mid-sized venues now than we did 10 years ago, which means way more acts coming to town. And the DIY scene is thriving, but unless you’re connected to the punk scene and go to house shows, you’re pretty much shut out of that.

Am I just old and washed up? Has the concert-going culture shifted? Was it always this way? Let us know how you feel about the OKC music scene in the comments.

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31 Responses

  1. The OKC concert-going crowd has been soured by years of abuse. Box Talent has a monopoly on many local venues and their main offerings are corny cover bands. [email protected] is similarly churning out cover bands or musicians who haven’t paid their dues, yet are getting to cut to the front of the line. The biggest offender is the physical assault from LOUD bands and musicians. Who wants to go deaf while trying to enjoy music?

    1. Hey old man – go buy good earplugs. Been going to shows since 1977, haven’t ended up deaf yet, just a small amount of tinnitus that comes and goes, but that’s what you get for seeing Ministry and Nazareth (two different shows) while standing next to their PA stacks.

  2. It might be worth noting that Kurt Vile could’ve been under-attended because he was JUST here. We caught him at the Jones this summer.

    But otherwise, yeah.

  3. Agree with most of this article, especially the fact that the sound sucks at a lot of our venues. By comparison, Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa is amazing and has a cult following. OKC really can’t compete with the history and authenticity. On another note, I didn’t even know the Joe Bob Briggs thing was happening. Maybe OKC venues need to step up their marketing efforts?

  4. Of the venues I’ve frequented here, Tower Theater has been the most consistent with great sound and good crowd interaction. I have yet to be disappointed there.

    The Jones Assembly has a spotty record with sound mixing. Some shows are great (Old Crowe Medicine Show doing Dylan covers tour) and others are downright terrible (Dwight Yoakham is the standout, Jenny Lewis a close second). The Jones also tends to attract a crowd that is more there to be seen than actually be present to appreciate the show. This is clearly evident with the folk that buy the tables downstairs along the side of the main room. But hey, Graham be Graham.

    The Criterion. Well, it’s terrible. The building as constructed is a poor venue for hosting music events. If you find yourself standing in the area under the second floor, the music is intelligible because the sound is bouncing off the concrete floor and ricocheting against the bottom of the second floor. I don’t understand why anyone would even bother staying if they are standing in those areas. There’s also the Vampire Weekend incident where they had a complete meltdown of the electronics involved which caused a 40 minute delay before the band could come back on stage. At this point, it has to be a band that is a must-see for me to even consider buying a ticket for a show there.

    I wanted to attend the Dinosaur Jr/Vile show but had other priorities last weekend. I think a couple of factors were the cause for the turnout. Like it was mentioned before, Kurt Vile came through fairly recently on another tour here. There was already a sold out show at the Jones Assembly on Friday which could have diluted the crowd too. Or maybe people are wising up on how bad the Criterion is.

    1. I agree that the sound at the Criterion isn’t all that great, but I do want to point out that the Vampire Weekend incident was a result of the BAND’S mixing board failing (per VW’s twitter). They actually swapped in the house equipment to get the concert back up and running.

  5. Having worked as a stage hand and spotlight guy in the 80s, the venues in OKC were always the Myriad(Cox Center), Lloyd Noble Center, the Zoo Amphitheater, and the State Fair Arena. All of the venues were limited seating to around 15k seating, depending on the floor seat arrangement. So, when the “big” concert tours came around, they often skipped OKC for other states nearby. Then when they actually came here, they always sold out easily, often scheduling in multiple shows due to demand of tickets. Journey once scheduled a 2 show weekend, then added a Sunday show and a Thursday show, so a 4 evening event, all sold out quickly. Foreigner, Hall& Oates, and ZZ Top did back to back shows here as well.
    Since the Tulsa BOK and the OKC Chesapeake Arena were built, we have had bigger shows come through on a regular basis. The problem is now, that a lot of bigger events often go to Tulsa, as the Chesapeake is the home arena for the OKC Thunder and they can only schedule concerts around the team schedule. We recently witnessed that with Tool going to Tulsa because of a concert scheduled same night for Joe Bonamassa, which was stuck in between OKC Thunder games in the Peake.
    Several instances happened with the State Fair Arena causing the entertainers to want to go elsewhere, and Lloyd Noble has seemingly stopped the concert scene altogether anymore. Both are rumored to be going away to larger arenas now. The Zoo Amphitheater is limited to spring/summer /fall outdoor shows, but its been remodeled recently so it’s still going strong.
    I do agree that in the much smaller venues such as Norman’s Boomer theater and the Will Roger’s theater in OKC are awesome to see smaller shows, but the crowds seem to be more into socializing than the actual event. The addition of the Casino Venues at Riverwind and The Grand Casino have spiced things up a bit in recent years pulling in mid-level touring events and shows. Our downtown Civic Center has undergone some renovations as well, but seems to be tied to more artsy shows. I did see the Blue Man Group there once, it was amazing! I would like to see more interest in the touring shows these days, but you can only see so many reunited 70-80s bands in your life.
    I haven’t experienced the Criterion yet, and I haven’t been to a concert in over a year.
    Social media has a huge effect on what shows are kosher as well. Some acts are great until they try to hold a conversation with their fans and create a social fopa for themselves.

  6. Been going to concerts here since 1977, so here are some observations. Went to tons of biggies back at the Myriad, Lloyd Noble, the Zoo, and very occasionally the Fairgrounds (KISS, Aerosmith, Yes, Kansas, Styx, Dead, Police (twice), Eurythmics, Run-DMC, Neil Young/Sonic Youth, Skinny Puppy, a few Lips shows, ….). That was about all we had, no real mid-level/capacity places (Diamond was about it, hit a few shows there too). Left here in 1995 and the concert scene going downhill was one reason, lived in the Chicago area for 12+ years, moved back here in 2009, and have found the concert scene to be never better than now.

    Jones Assembly’s sound just sucks, very odd since they’re new, and hilarious that Thompson mentioned Jenny Lewis and Dwight as emblematic of that, those two shows just completely turned me off of Jones, not going back unless there’s someone there that I really, really, really, really, really want to see.

    Tower – great smaller venue (800, I think), great sound, have been going there since they re-opened, have seen probably about 10 shows there (Flatlanders were the most recent), they’re doing things right, very right.

    Criterion – don’t quite understand Thompson’s hate for it. Sure, the sound under the balcony sucks, that’s just the science of the acoustics. If you’re in the balcony, the sound is great, we’ve been going since the My Morning Jacket show (sound was bad there because they brought in their own equipment and sound guy, got better the later in the show it was, but still not great). The rest of the shows we’ve been to there (a dozen, maybe, latest one was Angel Olsen) have had good sound. Angel Olsen’s sound (and entire show) was fantastic (and during one song where it was just her and a guitar, the entire audience was silent, very cool), but it was under-attended, they sold about 600 tickets and had the balcony and first-floor overhang curtained off (nice way to make it less cavernous when 3000 tickets haven’t been sold. Bon Iver’s sound was one of the best I’ve heard in years at any venue. The Vampire Weekend “meltdown” was their own equipment failing, I believe, so they had to swap out entire boards and use Criterion’s sound gear, so I have a hard time understanding how this can have any part of making the Criterion “terrible”, had absolutely nothing to do with the venue, and they actually came to the rescue and made the rest of the show possible.

    Talking at concerts – FFS, people have been doing this *everywhere* for decades (been to shows here, Chicago, Milwaukee, Seattle, Dallas, Kansas City, NYC), just get used to it, had to deal with it being exponentially worse in Chicago-area shows, the crowd was incredibly noisy at some of those shows, it’s not exclusive to OKC by any means whatsoever.

    The sound – already addressed some of it, but Chesapeake isn’t as bad as Lucas makes it out to be, saw Lady Gaga (twice), Stevie Wonder, and some Cirque du Soleil shows and have never been unable to understand/comprehend the music, it was all clear.

    Here’s a comparison of number of shows from different years I/We’ve gone to:

    1980s – averaged about 6 shows per year
    1990s – averaged about 1-2 shows per year (up until 1995)
    2010s – averaged about 9 shows per year (13 for 2019)

    We also have the [email protected] club, which has hosted some great non-mainstream acts (Lucius, Swans, Boris, etc.), Diamond (mentioned earlier), Blue Door, and a few other smaller venues. So IMO, the concert scene is as good as it’s ever been here, once you look at history instead of just basing it on a year or two of personal anecdotal evidence.

    1. I’ve been to several shows at the Criterion and the sound sucked each and every time. I know they tried to blame the MMJ show on the band but when they played up the road in Tulsa there were no such issues.

      Sturgill Simpson you couldn’t hear any of the backing orchestra. That venue just isnt worth what they’re charging for a ticket to see them.

      1. MMJ could’ve been a combo of their sound man/equipment and Criterion not having been open very long and just not dialed in, and it got better later on, as I said.

        MMJ – decent sound
        Flaming Lips – pretty good sound
        Explosions In The Sky (in 2017) – not great sound, but I was under the balcony
        The XX – pretty good sound
        Bon Iver – great sound, best I’ve heard in years, center balcony
        Angel Olsen – great sound, but small audience may have contributed

    2. Both Flatlanders and Joe Ely – all time under appreciated acts.

      1. Agree with you on Joe Ely!
        SO underrated.

  7. I am grateful a ball team has that giant abomination in OKC booked….saves me from having to attend shows there. It is a retched venue for concerts. You literally can not hear/decipher what is being played. I’m much happier driving all the way to Tulsa for an arena show that I can actually HEAR. Every time I hear a new tour being announced, I pray they are not playing the F Center (or whatever it is being called this year). I was stoked when TOOL was at BOK instead!

    The employees at the BOK are friendly & actually seem happy to have us there. I can not say the same for the giant arena in OKC.

    The audiences in Tulsa are much more appreciative to receive whatever the artist is delivering. Our OKC crowd is rude & demanding….if they aren’t hearing the “hits” they just are not interested & are vocal about it. (I once heard an idiot yelling at Skynyrd to play Freebird….while they WERE playing Freebird.)

    It’s a shame our scene sucks so badly. Concerts are my absolute favorite activity Ever!

  8. I love Fleetwood Mac and went to the Chesapeake. I swore I would never go there again because it is such a horrible venue. I love Stevie Wonder and was sad to not get to see him.

    But I am an old person that has to get up at 5 to make it to work. No matter how much I love you, if you come to the city (I live in Shawnee) during the week for an 8pm concert, I won’t make it. I’m also the that older person that might have the money for discretionary spending.

    Hudiburg Center at Rose State is really good.

    1. Hudiburg Center has fabulous acoustics!!

  9. Tulsan here.

    Oklahoma City is a better sports town than Tulsa.
    Tulsa is a better arts/music town than OKC.

    Neither town is *bad* at the other town’s strength. We each excel at different things.

    Ps – the OKC Zoo Amphitheater is a jewel.

  10. The answer to your original question : Affirmative.

    1. Why?

  11. Brian and John, excellent observations both. Haven’t been in the area for almost 20 years, but in the late 70’s kind of had same issues, as mid levels acts oftens passed on OKC area for dates. Fortunately, there were clubs like Jammies/Jaggz, the Norman scene; Boomer Theater,, Kelly’s, Up the Alley, Blue Onion, etc. They took up the slack. Talkin Heads, Iggy Pop, Elvin Bishop, Stray Cats, Joe King Carrasco, Joe Ely, U2 all played these venues, and that is just a sample. Being close to Tulsa I’ve been to dates at Cain’s and other venues. Kind of reminds me of OKC back in that period.

    1. Another venue was the Bowery in the basement of what is now the Plaza Court Building. Also VZDs had some awesome shows back in the day.

  12. The Criterion is just terrible. I refuse to go to shows there anymore – have missed out on some acts I wanted to see. Id rather drive to tulsa or wait for them to come around again than to go to the Criterion.
    Tower is great, will go to just about anything there just because it’s a good venue.

  13. People are rude and talk over the music. Ruins it, can’t not hear the conversation while trying to enjoy the music. Appreciate some venues not abiding this rude behaviior. Strictly verboten at the Blue Door of course, and Tower posts a sign to alert an employee if it’s happening. Wish all venues would be proactive about this shit. Other places not so much. Not just OKC though, happened at the Brady. Kenny Wayne Sheperd with Beth Hart opening, awesome show but the guy next to us talk n on stop pretty loud during Beth Hart. Had her shirt on like he was a fan, so tapped him and asked politely that trying to enjoy the show. Slow burn the rest of the set. Intermission he taps me and say, don’t ever fucking touch me again, pretty funny. Fortunately KWS loud enough to mostly drown him out, lowered the vol but still talked non stop. Dude has a compulsion. The Zoo was the best venue back in the day when Innervisions doing the booking . They had long time ties in the industry and put together interesting shows, but apparently there were some personal behavior issues and a tribe took over and it’s mostly shit now. Frankly I look forward to the Tulsa shows, cool historic venues.

  14. Yes

  15. ME AT 19: I’d go to the concert, but it’s “too:” starts TOO late and I have to get up at 5 AM to go to work, the fucking music is TOO loud, there are TOO many people, and it costs TOO much. I’ll just spend the money on a couple of albums.

    ME DECADES LATER: Why would I pay good money to watch people playing music? That’s like paying good money to watch Stephen King type his latest novel. Fuck that. I’ll just buy the book when he’s finished typing it. Musicians, I’ll download your shit and listen to it at home. You don’t need to be in the same room as me when I hear your great masterpiece.

    ME AT BOTH AGES: crotchety bastard

  16. The history of popular music in our state is related to our geography and population. Oklahoma has long been considered a travel state or a weeknight state, meaning that because of our population we tend to get national touring shows Sunday through Thursday (Tool was a Tuesday), or bands just ride their buses through the state to bigger towns. Having work in practically every aspect of the music industry, all venues have their particulars, peculiarities, advantages, and disadvantages. Bad sound tends to turn off repeat ticket buyers, which has a trickle down effect on the whole music industry food chain. All that being said, Oklahoma is still a great place to go see once favorite artist because there aren’t so many people going to shows, they aren’t overcrowded, are usually enthusiastic, and when artists go to the merch Table after the event at Club shows, they aren’t overwhelmed. Longtime music fans here all have stories about how they saw significant artists with small crowds. Once you get tired of chasing around the Big Shows, just go see/hear Mike Hosty. He will always remind you of the primary reasons music fans go out to see live music anyway: to be entertained, moved, and to enjoy the spiritual and psychological catharsis of good songs delivered by an inspired and highly skilled player/singer. Saw 20-year-old Mississippi Blues sensation Christone “Kingfish” Ingram last Saturday night in Tulsa at the Vanguard and everything was perfect about it.

  17. The local DIY scenes have either fizzled out or are full of the most toxic, awful people that only let out news of their next show to their 10 closest friends and no one else. “Sorry, ask a punk if you wanna know more teehee”

  18. Maybe OKC sucks as a concert town; maybe Tulsa is better. I don’t know. Perhaps, it could just be that all the acts Lucas lists just suck.

  19. For me, it’s day of week. I love when I can catch a show I’ve been dying to see on a Friday or Saturday, but OKC always gonna be a Tuesday or Wednesday town.

  20. Don’t sleep on The Auditorium at the Douglass, 600 N High. Best concert sound in town.

  21. These are the upcoming concerts scheduled at Chesapeake and BOK. It’s pretty telling…

    Chesapeake Arena

    Jason Aldean
    Lauren Daigle
    Michael Buble
    Elton John

    BOK Center

    Old Dominion
    The 1975
    Cody Johnson
    Celine Dion
    Miranda Lambert
    Brantley Gilbert
    Alan Jackson
    Sturgill Simpson
    Niall Horan
    Vampire Weekend
    Black Crowes

  22. Please don’t let this one experience alter your taste for the concert scene. I work at that venue as well as most of all the other OKC concert venues. I can tell you first hand that the majority of the shows are fun and exciting with plenty of audience participation as well as great sound. I was working this literally Vile concert and it was awful. I was looking forward to seeing the show and the sound was off, the bands were off and the show was just flat. Had I not been working and required to stay, I would have left early. So please don’t let one show keep you from enjoying the literally hundreds of great line ups OKC has to offer as we are constantly bringing in new performers.

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