Searching for the Sound by BRYAN CANTRELL
From left, DUSTIN PITTSLEY: You can see Pittsley and dozens of okahoma-based musicians at Stone River Music Festival outside of Chandler, Oklahoma Sept. 14-16. JASON BOLAND: Catch the Harrah, Oklahoma, native at the festival he co-founded, Medicine Stone in Tahlequah, Oklahoma Sept. 22-24. LAUREN BARTH: One of the local performers at MisFest, a collaboration of female musicians, songwriters and performers at RiverWest Festival Park Sept. 15.
“Teachers, learners, incense burners, religious leaders and chronic bleeders, thieves and pirates on a ride, it’s a hippie commune bonafide.”
– Leon Russell, from Mad Dogs and Englishmen
The tour and subsequent album “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” in which Tulsan up-and-comer Leon Russell joined Joe Cocker, along with a choir, horn section and several drummers, was a springboard for Russell’s career.
The year was 1970, the same year he released his self-titled debut album. And while the tour was a big early break for the 28-year-old Rogers High School graduate, he was far from a green horn in the music industry.
As a member of one of the all-time great studio session bands, the Wrecking Crew, Russell had hundreds of recordings under his belt when he joined Cocker for the tour and live album.
Also known as the Phil Spector Wall of Sound Orchestra, the Los Angeles, California-based crew featured musicians with formal training in Jazz or Classical music who crossed over to Rock and Roll. It was the opinion of many older, traditional studio musicians at the time that Rock and Roll was beneath them. The embracing of Rock and Roll by these young musicians, which included guitarist Glenn Campbell, would devalue their craft and “wreck” the business.
It’s important to note here how much recording techniques have changed since the 1950s and 60s. In those early days, the band simply went into the studio and played a song. Everyone had to be perfect: each instrument in sync and perfectly mixed. There was no tweaking the levels after the fact, no additional tracks for solos or harmonies; what the band plays together in one room is what you get on vinyl and what you hear on the radio.
This put a premium on studio, or session musicians and many of the best musicians in the country made their livings in recording studios in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
In the 1960s, The Wrecking Crew became the most requested group of session musicians in Los Angeles, recording such iconic hits as the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds and the Byrds’ rendition of Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man.
By the time Russell launched his solo career, he had been exposed to a wide variety of musicians, styles and genres; from Elvis to Simon and Garfunkel, The Monkees to Frank Sinatra.
I bring this up because… well, because it’s a column about Tulsa music and we’re talking Leon Russell. Pretty on topic I’d say. But also because exposure to a variety of music is what music festivals are all about. And the arrival of September and cooler temperatures means it’s time to get out to some fall festivals and expose yourself! To music. You know that’s what I meant, right?
Several upcoming festivals featuring a variety of local music offer the opportunity to be exposed to some of the best musicians this area has produced. And, if you read the first half of this column, you know the bar is set pretty high. Here are a few to put on the calendar:
Stone River – Sept. 14 – 16
The 9th Annual Stone River Music Festival, on 40 acres of private wooded land three miles north of Chandler, Oklahoma, is a weekend of music, camping, and family-friendly festivities.
There are 20 bands on the lineup and it is loaded with local talent. In addition to food trucks and arts and craft vendors, there is a children’s playground, natural springs and beautiful campgrounds with late-night campfire jams.
MisFest : Music is She and She is Music – Sept. 15, 1 – 11 p.m.
RiverWest Festival Park, Tulsa
This is year two for the collaboration of female musicians, songwriters and performers. A mostly Oklahoma-based lineup, this is a great opportunity to enjoy several bands in one afternoon without leaving town. Last year’s festival is a tough act to follow, as local favorites Kalo and Branjae, among others, reinforced what we’ve all known for decades: women can rock!
Which begs the question, why even have a women’s music festival?
I like the answer provided by the MisFest website: “Because it’s still a ‘thing’ to have a female bass player or DJ or drummer, and until it’s not a ‘thing,’ events like MisFest are needed.”
Medicine Stone – Sept. 20 – 22
Diamondhead Resort, Tahlequah, Oklahoma
This is the premier showcase of Red Dirt music in the country. This year’s 6th Annual Medicine Stone Festival is three days of live music on four stages along the Illinois River.
As always, this year’s lineup was hand picked by the founders of the festival, Jason Boland and the members of Turnpike Troubadours. That hand-picked list is at 30 artists and features the best musicians that this uniquely Oklahoman subgenre has to offer.
Tom Skinner’s Skyline Festival – Oct. 14, 3 –10:30 p.m.
18th & Boston, Tulsa
I should probably hold off until the October issue to talk about this one, but I can’t resist. It was too good last year.
A Sunday afternoon/evening show across two venues at 18th Street and Boston Avenue featuring dozens of the best musicians in the area, Tom Skinner’s Skyline Music Festival is a celebration of Tom Skinner’s life and legacy.
This might be the best lineup of talent you’ll see all year. More than that, it’s an opportunity to give something back to the musicians that give so much to us.
All proceeds from the festival benefit the Red Dirt Relief Fund, a 501©3 non-profit organization that provides aid to musicians and music professionals in need. Ranging from medical bills to property damage from storms or wildfires, Red Dirt Relief Fund has donated more than $75,000 since it’s inception in 2012.
There are plenty of opportunities to broaden your musical horizons in the weeks ahead. So, whether you choose to get out of town for the weekend, or just head across town for the afternoon, get out there and keep searching, keep listening.