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:
Tulsa sold out right away but Oklahoma City still has 50 tickets left. Population of Tulsa = 400,000. Population of OKC = 650,000. Obviously we have TWICE the #MutantFam energy going on in T-Town!https://t.co/02L6ZBJl5K https://t.co/oFFAiSMlpH
— Joe Bob Briggs (@therealjoebob) November 6, 2019
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.