Treble in Paradise
The Colony is where Tulsa’s musical past and present collide, giving us a glimpse of a future focused on tunes geared around strong songwriting with musicianship at the forefront.
Undoubtedly, Tulsa has a rich musical heritage that hasn’t fallen short in recent years. If anything, the talent pool here seems to continually grow deeper. With it, there are clubs and music venues all over town, all of which help contribute to the growth of our city’s talent.
Over the past decade or so, however, there’s one locale that has been central to Tulsa music.
Tucked away at 28th and Harvard, The Colony is inconspicuous. In fact, if you’re not aware of, or looking for it, you’ll likely drive right past without noticing it in the afternoon or on a lazy week night. On a busy Friday or Saturday night, it may stand out a bit more with a line of cars wedged in out front and a patio full of musically inclined souls with drinks in hand, chatting with others who are ironically stepping out for a little fresh air.
Step inside and it may not seem like much at first. A row of booths along the south wall, a narrow bar to the east running nearly the length of the floor, a mish-mash of tables and chairs across the floor, and a fireplace on the west wall. There’s a back room with a pool table that mainly plays to overflow on busy nights, often stacked with empty guitar cases for bands currently playing on the cozy stage or other musicians loading in and preparing to play next.
Once the music starts, however, as it does, seven nights a week, there’s no denying there’s a certain magic in the air. The crowd may be mostly 20-somethings, checking out their favorite current local artist, but look around and 40- or 50-somethings are settled in right next to them, grooving along.
Perhaps more than anyplace else in Tulsa, aside from Cain’s Ballroom, The Colony is where Tulsa’s musical past and present collide, giving us a glimpse of the future. Sure, part of that may be serendipity or sonic kismet, but it’s also partially by design.
If you’re a child of the ‘80s and think back, you’ll probably remember this location as IV Play, the bar packed with college kids and dollar beers. That’s just a window in the history of this club, however. Originally opened in 1958 as The Colony Inn, this little bar has been a staple of the neighborhood for nearly 60 years. Yes, it’s opened and closed, changed ownership and management multiple times, but that only adds to the mystique.
Legend has it that this is the bar that Leon Russell owned in the ‘70s, back during the Shelter Records days and the creative peak of The Church recording studio. Russell’s band was the house band back then, and on any given night, you might just stumble in and find Russell himself onstage, not to mention an array of his creative friends. A chat with the old-timers may even garner you a story of the night that they saw a limo pull up and a suave English gent stepped out to stroll into the bar. Yes, depending on who you ask, George Harrison showed up and sat in that evening, as did Eric Clapton on more than one occasion.
Nearly a dozen years ago, Elliot Nelson acquired the building and set the wheels in motion to make sure live music reverberated in the walls once again. With Brian Fontaine taking the reins, the old vibe returned to The Colony with some fresh faces and fresh sounds. Local musicians like Wink Burcham, Beau Roberson, Paul Benjamin, and others stepped up with one foot planted in the classic vibes of Russell and J.J. Cale and the other stepping into something new — touches of Gov’t Mule or Townes Van Zandt, with no boundaries.
It’s no surprise, then, that Fontaine and The Colony played an integral part in helping launch what quickly became known as the “New Tulsa Sound,” as well as assisting in Horton Records getting off the ground.
Today, locals know The Colony as a place where you can settle in and find great tunes any night of the week. Some nights it may be blues or jam based, other nights it might be flavored with classic country or touches of folk or bluegrass, while some nights, the house is just straight rocking. Any night, however, you can be assured the tunes are based on strong songwriting, with musicianship at the forefront.
Sunday nights launch the week with what has become a staple attraction for local music fans and night owls. Benjamin’s Sunday Night Thing kicks off with him launching into a set and a night designed to evolve into an open jam session with friends and guest artists passing through town. It’s not uncommon to find John Fullbright, Jesse Aycock, or Dustin Pittsley in the mix. Nor is it uncommon to see a touring artist who played elsewhere earlier that night stop in and join the fun. Week to week, it’s never the same, and that’s part of the magic.
Monday nights currently feature Seth Lee Jones, one of Tulsa’s tastiest and most soulful guitar players (not to mention an amazing luthier who has created some stunning guitars for other players around town).
Dan Martin leads singer-songwriter’s night Tuesday at 9 p.m., providing a structured open-stage environment for developing the next hotshot songwriters, as well as letting Tulsa’s established artists try out some new tunes in an open environment.
Wednesday nights keep a foot grounded in Oklahoma’s musical heritage with the ongoing Tom Skinner’s Science Project. Initially designed as an open jam to invite friends and guests onstage (in the spirit of The Farm and Oklahoma’s red dirt movement), the Science Project continues on as tribute to Skinner, two years after his passing. The jam session usually kicks off during around 8 p.m. and it’s not uncommon to see an older audience organize an impromptu potluck of snacks — with the blessing of the proprietors, of course.
Thursday nights alternate between Jacob Tovar’s Thirst on the first and third weeks of the month laying a classic country foundation and The Soup Kitchen with Dane Arnold on the second and fourth weeks of the month with a more bluesy and soulful direction.
That leaves Friday and Saturday nights open for original, live music with no boundaries. One night may be funk or blues, another rock, red dirt, or folk. National and touring artists fill the bill as the schedule allows, but one thing is assured: music fans arrive in anticipation and almost always return home happy.
2809 S. Harvard Ave. | Tulsa
Monday-Friday: 4 p.m.-2 a.m.
Saturday-Sunday: 8 p.m.-2 a.m.
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