Friday August 10th, I set up my iCal and dug in my heels for a whole night on the town. The arts and entertainment are alive in Oklahoma City – a fact I’m tired of defending.
For those who like the coffee shop atmosphere and acoustic music, Mariadru opened two exhibits of photography – one untitled and one called “La Beaute de L’Innocence” – at the Beatnix Café, 136 N.W. 13th St., at 5 p.m. Anna Lisa Kinder, local singer-songwriter, guitarist and pianist, opened the show with a long set that I was able to catch most of. I think she has the voice of an angel (and a song aptly titled so) and a brilliant way of painting life in the most creative ways. When she’s not rehearsing, she is teaching high school English. That sounds like the good life to me. Jessye Mabel kept it going with some poetry afterward. This event was a nice set-up for the rest of the night, and many who attended could be seen at one or more other events around town. If you’ve never been to the Beatnix Café, it is definitely worth your time. They close a little early, around 7 p.m., but if you can sneak in for their special tea and a sandwich or salad, you should.
When I left Beatnix, I scooted over to the IAO (Individual Artists of Oklahoma) Gallery, 706 W. Sheridan Ave., where local musician Tig Blues hosted a show with band Fifth Fret and rapper Chris McCain. The IAO Gallery always has an abundance of good art in various mediums, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a crew of break-dancers. They moved both with the music and sometimes independent of it, creating and maintaining a fun and youthful atmosphere in a setting that has a potential to come off as stuffy. Fifth Fret’s covers of our favorite songs like “Tonight” by Fun. and their mash-up of Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good” and Wale’s “Lotus Flower Bomb” also contributed to the vibe. Unfortunately there were too many places to be to stay for Tig Blues’s set. I look forward to seeing him in the future. I missed Chris McCain too, but knew I’d see him later in the evening.
I left the IAO Gallery and passed by Urban Roots, 322 NE 2nd St, where Jeff Mims’s band was playing. The venue features live music every Friday night, and second Friday is blues. It’s a fun, laid back atmosphere all the time; perfect for a date or a night with the girls. My favorite part is that you’re also likely to hear or see something that will challenge a preconception. It’s amazing how Chaya Pennington Fletcher, owner, and her partners manage to weave consciousness into fun. But this past Friday there was just too much happening, so I went on over to NW 16th St, between Classen and Penn., and Live on the Plaza. Not only was the usual second Friday art walk going on, but The Society Art Space was celebrating their first anniversary. Mont Lyons, Jumpship Astronaut, Tele Mori, and An Airbag Saved My Life were the bands listed in the line-up and the space featured tons of visual artists, both on exhibit or in performance. Grp Fly Clothing collaborated with The Society for the event t-shirt. They gave away more than 100 free ones, but then continued making and selling them on-site for the rest of the night. The buzz around the event was that the outdoor stage was better equipped for bands than for the beats of rappers Jabee and Josh Sallee who also performed. Sound wasn’t the only minor issue of the night though.
As I was finishing my ice cream and getting tired of walking around outside, Ronnie Harris, “dean” of the hip hop “School of Thought” was wondering why his regular crowd had yet to arrive at the Blue Note, 2408 N Robinson. School of Thought VI was scheduled from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. and when I arrived at 10 p.m. the crowd was still pretty sparse. Something like one third of those who have attended, performed at, and submitted to the previous five “class sessions” were waiting to see Josh and Jabee perform at the Society. It seems like both event planners could have worked together to make sure that both venues shared the crowd. “Class was in session” around 11 p.m. and the place was eventually packed like usual. Hosts Nymasis and General JPoe kept the crowd entertained with their antics and their stories from the “beginning” of Oklahoma hip hop. In the rap battles, the crowd seemed split on who should win. The hosts asked for crowd judging by applause and it was always too close to tell, so they deferred to judges. That’s always hard because the crowd doesn’t know what criteria the judges use. It’s an interesting arrangement. Rappers, d-boys (break-dancers), and DJ’s battle each other for street cred, on a scale of go-home-and-never-come-back to everyone’s-afraid-to-battle-you-next-time. If I were a cynic, I could say it’s arbitrary, but because I’m an artist I know that competition – even if it’s an illusion – brings out the best and worst in a person’s work. Harris couldn’t have successfully put on six of these events if hip hop heads from far and wide didn’t love to flex their muscles by challenging each other. This was my second time at the event. If the purpose was for hip hop lovers to remember why we love it and for performers to hone their skills, then I think that happens consistently. If the purpose is for Dean Ronnie Harris and his old heads to teach everyone how to do hip hop their way, I think the buzz will die down and an unnecessary split in the local scene would occur.
My Friday night ended with a sore back from standing too long and a sense that I had really experienced my city. I couldn’t even begin to note all the amazing performances, dope one liners, awesome food and drink choices, or even great outfits I spotted in a five-mile radius in 9 hours. The Blue Note was the only venue I paid ($10) to get into. Whether you only like to cuddle with your girlfriend to acoustic strains or you like to experience art you can analyze and write a paper about, Oklahoma City comes through for you. Whether you like live bands and strong drinks or hard-hitting beats and broken beer bottles, Oklahoma City comes through for you. If you’re an artist who thinks you have to move to a more bustling metropolis to “get on” or a party-hopper who thinks there’s nothing fun to do, you simply haven’t done your research.
All photos taken by Najah Amatullah.
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