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Extended Play

Soul City Gastropub will be transformed for three evenings to showcase 24 artists (and surprise guests) for an Americana and folk music version of "speed dating" during The Oklahoma Room event.

G.K. Hizer
January 28, 2019

For one weekend in February, Soul City Gastropub turns into an intimate listening room, channeling one of the biggest Americana and folk music events of the year as it showcases some of greater Oklahoma’s best musical talent. The dining room and indoor stage will be transformed into this year’s Oklahoma Room showcase, featuring 24 artists over three nights.

The Feb. 8-10 weekend will spotlight some of Horton Records’ brightest artists such as Dustin Pittsley, Paul Benjaman, Jesse Aycock, Wink Burcham, and Jacob Tovar as well as some equally impressive acts that you may not have heard yet, like Kalyn Fay, Ken Pomeroy, John Calvin Abney, and Annie Oakley, along with a few likely surprise guest appearances.

But what is the Oklahoma Room and why is it such a big deal to hold it here, you may wonder? To understand that, you need a little background information. Every year, Folk Alliance International holds a conference that brings together artists and industry people from the folk music community worldwide for a weeklong networking event. Over the past few years, a group of Oklahoma artists has been banding together to attend and play as that conference was held in Kansas City. To get a more personal perspective, we spoke with Brian Horton, the head of Horton Records, who not only helped organize this year’s showcase, but spearheaded the group going to Kansas City in past years.

Paul Benjaman
Paul Benjaman

“Basically, the first time we did this was in 2014. The conference was in Kansas City that year and it just made sense to go,” says Brian Horton. “It was close enough to drive to and the time was right. We got together as many Oklahoma acts and as many local sponsors as we could and put together a business plan to showcase as many acts as possible.”

To understand the atmosphere at Folk Alliance, you have to realize that there are showcases and concerts in the hotel ballroom and meetings in the conference space. More importantly, however, the event essentially takes over the hotel. Hotel rooms and suites are rented out, space cleared, and chairs brought in to create mini showcase rooms. Musicians pass each other in the hallways and there may be as much going on musically with jam sessions in the lobby or hallway foyers as anywhere else, making it a unique environment. So when you hear the name Oklahoma Room, that’s exactly what it was: a hotel room dedicated to showcasing Oklahoma musicians.

“When the conference came to Kansas City, Scott Aycock [host of local radio show, Folk Salad] got with me and said, ‘This could be a really good thing for our local musicians.’ We went to Kansas City for five years and over that time it really became one of the most popular showcase rooms of the conference,” says Horton. “It was the room that everyone seemed to be talking about and wanted to stop in and see what was going on.

Annie Oakley
Annie Oakley

“There’s something about our Oklahoma talent that is just real, authentic and has a true community vibe to it. We already knew, or at least thought that, but being at the conference and seeing other people’s reactions really confirmed that for us.”

According to Horton, those trips to Kansas City were more than just going north to play for a weekend; the conference opened a number of doors for those involved.

“John Moreland and Parker Millsap got their record deals because of contacts they made and the conference helped us set up global distribution and meet publicists for our artists, which then segued into touring Europe for people like Wink Burcham and Paul Benjaman.”

After five consecutive years of meeting in Kansas City, the conference has moved to Montreal this year and it didn’t make good economic sense to try and take a group to Canada. Although a location for the 2020 conference hasn’t officially been announced yet, Horton says that they believe they have a fairly good idea where it will be held, and if it’s within driving distance, the Oklahoma Room will likely return to Folk Alliance in 2020.

“The thing is,” Horton says, “everyone had such a great time and so many relationships were built at that event. It was nonstop music and the musicians were together, making it such a personal experience that we all kind of decided, let’s do something about the same time if we can’t go this year. The conference almost became a kind of musician’s retreat for everyone.”

That desire to do something again this year on a local level led Horton to contact Kevin and Amy Smith at Soul City about possibly doing a one-night showcase. To their credit, the Smiths opened their location for the entire weekend to make a true event out of it. The dining area will be decked out with 80 seats available each night with standing room in the back and at the bar. Artists will play 25-minute sets with 10-minute changeovers.

“We wanted to make it as much like the conference experience as possible. It’s kind of like speed-dating with musicians, but it should also create a really unique, intimate listening experience,” says Horton.

The Smiths have always had an artist’s vision, not just for their venture, but also in extending the artistic community in Tulsa and making Soul City ground central for an event like this.

Tickets are $20 Friday and Saturday or $30 for the weekend and available through eventbrite.com and the event’s Facebook page. Sunday’s event is free to the public.

The Oklahoma Room
Soul City | 1621 E. 11th St. | Tulsa
Feb. 8-10