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The Downtown Sound

Looking for live music? You can find a little of everything from hip-hop and rock to blues and punk with a walk down the Brady District’s music corridor.

Article
G.K. Hizer
Photos
Marc Rains
Posted
March 29, 2017

Ask around and you’ll find out that Tulsa has a heart for music. For decades, our city has been a hotbed of talent. Whether spawning ‘70s rock icons like J.J. Cale and Leon Russell, ‘80s soul/funk heroes e Gap Band, or ‘90s pop monarchs Hanson, Tulsa has a history embedded in music.

Even more impressive is the talent laid bare in our current local music scene. Artists like John Fullbright and John Moreland have gotten national attention in the past few years and guitarists Jesse Aycock and Paul Benjaman have toured with Hard Working Americans and Scissor Sisters, respectively, yet all of them remain active and plugged into the local music scene when home from touring.

Likewise, Tulsa has become a destination stop for touring artists as the BOK Center has risen to prominence and Cain’s Ballroom has continued to build on its history, consistently ranking in Pollstar’s top 25 in quarterly and annual ticket sales for “small venues” in the U.S.

Even so, sometimes it can be hard to keep track of who’s playing or where to go when you need a live music fix. When the question arises, whether from locals or friends who are in from out of town, there’s one easy answer for those who are looking for some good live music. Tucked away in the heart of the Brady Arts District in downtown Tulsa, you can park and walk to find a little bit of everything within a few short blocks walk up and down Main Street.

Venture off a block to the west and you’ll find the Brady Theater; a block east and you’ll find Guthrie Green and Woody Guthrie Museum — both of which can help meet your music needs on the right evening.

Take a short walk on Main Street, however, and you’ve got a little of everything at your fingertips: touring artists, local musicians, live bands, DJ’s, pop, rock, blues, indie-rock, and even punk.

You’ve got some great restaurants in that walk as well, so you might as well make a night of it with dinner at Sisserou’s, PRHYME, Caz’s Chowhouse, Mexicali, Brady Tavern or Hey Mambo. The recent opening of Prairie Brewpub at the corner of Main and Cameron has added another highlight to the neighborhood as well.

If you’re looking for your music fix, though, there’s more on Main Street than you probably realize at first glance. Sure, most people are already aware of Cain’s Ballroom, but they might overlook smaller clubs like The Yeti, Soundpony, Inner Circle, The Hunt Club, Vanguard, and even Zin, where live music can be found on a nightly basis.

If you’re ready for more, why not join us for a stroll down Main Street?

At Soundpony, bands set up in the front window, just inside the door for shows that feel more like house parties or basement gigs.  (Photo: Marc Rains)
At Soundpony, bands set up in the front window, just inside the door for shows that feel more like house parties or basement gigs.  (Photo: Marc Rains)

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Cain’s Ballroom
423 N. Main | Tulsa
It only makes sense to start at the centerpiece of Tulsa’s music scene — and music history. Located at the north end of Main Street, next to the I-244 overpass, most Tulsans will recognize the venue’s iconic-lighted rooftop sign and front façade, surely one of Tulsa’s most memorable images.

What some people don’t realize is that the Ballroom was originally built in 1924 
and is on the National Historic Registry. Commonly referred to as “the house that Bob built,” the Ballroom was home base for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from 1935-42. Here, Wills established his trademark “western swing,” playing weekly dances Thursday and Saturday evenings as well as broadcasting a daily program from the Ballroom stage every Monday-Friday.

Over the years, as Cain’s transitioned to being a concert hall, it has become a preferred venue of country acts and rock artists alike, having hosted icons such as Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Robert Plant, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Costello. The Ballroom’s legend only grew as it featured shows early in the careers of The Police and Van Halen, as well as being one 
of only seven venues to host The Sex Pistols’ ill-fated 1978 US Tour, just before the band broke up.  

Today, Cain’s Ballroom hosts country, EDM, rap, and rock acts, alike — often all in the same week. Of course, the biggest names are more likely to be playing at the BOK Center, but with a capacity of roughly 1,500, Cain’s Ballroom is the place to be if you’re looking to catch some of the hottest up-and-comers or your favorite mid-level artists.

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The Yeti
417 N. Main | Tulsa
One door south of Cain’s is The Yeti, which actually occupies two storefronts in the attached building. Entry walks you into the bar area, with a staged music area through the doorways into the attached room to the south.

This is a great stop for a quick drink before or after a show at the Cain’s, and The Yeti
 will often coordinate late performances to complement headliners next door. Don’t consider this an off shoot, however, as The Yeti is a stronghold for Tulsa’s local indie-rock scene and a host to many great local punk-rock shows. It’s not uncommon to catch artists as diverse as Fiawna Forté, Johnny Polygon, Penny Mob, and Brother Inferior on separate nights of the week. Primarily a rock venue, The Yeti is a champion of local independent bands as well as music fans looking for fresh music and cheap drinks.

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Soundpony
409 N. Main | Tulsa
Take a few steps further down the sidewalk and you’ll find Soundpony. It may not appear as much at first glance — narrow and long, with the bar on your left — but this is the stuff that classic neighborhood bars are made of. It’s simple and to the point, has friendly staff and good beer selection. It was ahead of the Brady District curve as one of the first clubs 
to settle in and find its identity before the neighborhood’s recent revitalization. This is
 the chosen hipster hangout, as well as the chosen pregame and post-show hot spot for concerts at Cain’s Ballroom, and arguably has the most insta-famous women’s bathroom in Tulsa, if not all of Oklahoma.

More importantly to music fans, Soundpony has established itself as the local hotbed for independent artists with a DIY ethic. The room is small and there’s no stage, so bands set up in the front window, just inside the door for shows that feel more like house parties or basement gigs. You’re so close you’ll feel like you’re part of the band — and you’ll literally feel the music. When there’s not a live band, you’ll often find one of Tulsa’s local DJ’s keeping the floor busy.

Cain’s Ballroom hosts country, EDM, rap, and rock acts, alike — often all in the same week. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Cain’s Ballroom hosts country, EDM, rap, and rock acts, alike — often all in the same week. (Photo: Marc Rains)

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Inner Circle Vodka Bar
410 N. Main | Tulsa
Located across the street
 from The Yeti and Soundpony, Inner Circle is Tulsa’s premier vodka bar. They’ve got a full 
bar that caters to whiskey and beer drinkers as well, but with a broad selection of vodkas, handcrafted specialty drinks, and house-made infusions, you’d be crazy not to sample the house specialty.

Once the weather warms up, this is a downtown hot spot with a large, fenced in yard area and patio stage that hosts DJs, cover bands, and local original artists. If you’re looking for a party on the weekend, you’ll find it at Inner Circle and the music always adds to the fun.

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The Hunt Club
224 N. Main | Tulsa
Located on the southwest corner of Main and 
Cameron, The Hunt Club is another cornerstone of the neighborhood. Equipped with a small kitchen in the back, 
a friendly staff, and relaxed atmosphere, this is a great neighborhood hangout. It’s also a great place to enjoy a drink before shows at Cain’s, Vanguard, and Brady Theater, while keeping a stone’s throw from the pre-show chaos. It’s not uncommon to see member from touring bands that just played Cain’s stop in after shows, as well.

The Hunt Club has always been a huge supporter of local live music of all styles and hosts bands year-round. In the colder months, you’ll often find bands set up in the front windows and customers entering through the patio’s side door. Once it warms up, however, The Hunt Club has one of the best outdoor patio stages in Tulsa. With ample lighting, a strong sound system, and an upper level, this is a location that bands love to play and music fans can relax and enjoy.

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The Vanguard
222 N. Main | Tulsa
Blink and you might miss The Vanguard. Tucked away next door to The Hunt Club, its only telling sign is the awning and white “V” painted on the dual black doors. Inside, however, you’ve got a classically styled rock club with dark walls, a large bar in the back, open dance floor, and lifted stage. The Vanguard also houses one of the best-sounding small venue PA systems in town.

Owner Simon Aleman’s original vision for the club was to
make it a “listening room” type experience and the venue has hosted some amazing acoustic shows. With a capacity of roughly 450, it’s the perfect room for introducing up-and-coming bands to Tulsa just before making the jump to Cain’s or for bands looking for a more intimate experience for the fans.

All genres are welcome here, as Vanguard has hosted hip-hop, rock, country, soul, and even an annual punk festival. Not limited solely to nationally touring acts, Vanguard regularly hosts regional cover bands like My So Called Band and Funk N Beers, as well as local band showcases and CD release parties. If you’re looking for the hottest up and coming acts and want to be ahead of the curve, you’ll keep your eye on The Vanguard.

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Zin Urban Lounge
111 N. Main | Tulsa
When looking for live music, most people don’t initially think of Zin, and that’s a shame. Initially launched as a wine bar, new owners TJ and Angie Green refocused last year as the bar relaunched as an urban lounge with a relaxed yet classy atmosphere, craft beers, and specialty drinks.

Located another block down from Vanguard and The Hunt Club, and tucked away in the bottom floor of the Fairfield, next door to Laffa, Zin offers a getaway from the craziness of your day and a place to relax with friends.

Part of Zin’s new direction includes live music and the bar hosts live artists every weekend, providing music in a more intimate setting. Expect primarily singer-songwriter material here, but don’t be surprised to find jazz, soul, or blues on any given night.

March 2019 Cover