As Restrictions Ease, Live Music Is Slowly Returning

“If it’s torture for me, fire and brimstone it won’t be,
Hell would be where there ain’t no rock & roll”

– Randy Crouch

OUTDOOR JAM: Randy Crouch, left, is joined by David Teegarden, drums, and Paul Benjaman at the outdoor stage at Diamondhead Resort on the Illinois River last Fourth of July. Not pictured is Anna Payne on bass. Crouch and his band return to Diamondhead May 30 and again on July 4, providing an opportunity to enjoy live music while social distancing.

I’ve missed you. I’m not just talking to the Paul Benjamans and Branjaes out there, I’m talking to the strangers that I’ve harmonized off key with, hugged or high fived after a particularly smokin’ jam; people with whom I’ve shared a drink, a laugh, a shared experience that I took for granted for too long. I call you strangers because I don’t know your names, but you’re not strangers. You’re family.
Those kind of shared experiences are essential to the human experience, and missing them for the last two plus months has only added to the stress and anxiety brought on by the uncertainty of life during a pandemic. I applaud the efforts of many musicians and venues to stream live music through various Online platforms, but no matter how good the performance is, it will always be missing a key ingredient: family.
Obviously, the absence of live music is not the tragedy here. People have lost their lives and those of loved ones to this virus. Hard working people with successful businesses suddenly find themselves without a source of income, their once thriving businesses shuddered.
But it cannot be overstated how important getting back to the things we love can be to our overall well being. And while the pandemic situation is still fluid and nothing is written in stone at this point, it looks as though we are now embarking on the next phase of post-COVID-19 life. In other words, it’s time to get the family back together.
It’s unclear when it will be safe to return to the days of packed houses and crowded dance floors, but venues once again have live music on the books. Tickets are limited to allow for social distancing, so plan ahead because so far, shows are selling out fast.

Mercury Lounge
One of the many venues that went above and beyond to keep the local music scene on live-streaming life support for the past few months is Mercury Lounge. A long-time champion of live, original music, it’s no surprise that the 18th Street and Boston Avenue venue was one of the first in town to fill up its events calendar with limited-capacity shows, including sold-out performances from Beau Roberson & Friends and Paul Benjaman Band, respectively. Check out for a list of upcoming shows, which include BC & The Big Rig May 23, and Rhett Miller of Old 97s June 3.

Blackbird on Pearl
Dustin Pittsley Band will reopen the Blackbird on June 5 at 8 p.m. Subsequent shows include Jack Waters & The Unemployed w/ Kevin Price June 13, The Spud Boys Reunion June 26, and Harley Hamm & Friends July 11. Tuesday Bluesday looks to be back as well, with no cover charge and great drink specials. Remember buying drinks in bars? It’s a vague recollection, but I remember it being a good thing, and something I’d like to do again some day. Visit for tickets and other upcoming shows.

The Great Outdoors
Hunt Club, The Colony, Shrine, and other venues are also booking live shows for June. But the reopening phase will move at a different pace for different people and age groups. Some people are simply not ready to return to a bar or an indoor venue just yet, even at limited capacity. That is certainly understandable. If you’re ready to get out for live music but have safety concerns or if you’re at an increased risk of serious infection, outdoor concerts offer the best opportunity to hear live music while still maintaining proper social distancing.
Many of the larger Summer festivals like WoodyFest in Okema have made the necessary decision to go virtual, as multi-day camping events with thousands of people in close proximity sharing facilities is clearly a bad idea at this stage. But smaller gatherings that last hours instead of days are starting to fill up calendars.
Diamondhead Resort on the Illinois River, which has hosted the Medicine Stone Festival for the past seven years, features a spacious live music venue on its campground, and there are a few upcoming shows that will be well worth the short drive to Tahlequah, most notably Randy Crouch with his band Flying Horse on May 30 and July 4. Check out for a complete schedule.
Closer to home, The Broken Arrow Arts and Humanities Council’s Tuesdays in the Park concert series returns June 9 at Broken Arrow’s Central Park from 6:30 – 9 p.m., and Tulsa’s Gathering Place will begin hosing live outdoor music again with Caribbean Vibes – A Reggae Carnival on June 26 on the QuikTrip Great Lawn. Bring your own chair and your own drinks (no glass) and enjoy the music without putting yourself at risk.

Still Streaming
I mentioned early in this column that virtual concerts were missing a vital element, but that doesn’t mean that the platform is without value. It might not be the best way to enjoy our favorite musicians, but it is a good way to survey the musical landscape and discover artists with whom you may not have crossed paths with otherwise. It’s also still the safest way to hear live, local music.
One of the silver linings to emerge from 2020’s shelter-in-place spring is Coffee with Cassi, a weekly live stream featuring the immensely talented Cassi Stephan performing original songs as well as covers, and welcoming special guests to her 9:30 a.m. Saturday show. Take a break from the morning news and go to to start your Saturday with some great local music. Your soul will thank you.

I look forward to seeing you again. It’ll be different to be sure: an elbow or fist bump instead of a hug, no arm-in-arm singing at the tops of our lungs, but as God is my witness, we will keep searching, keep listening.