Tulsa Institution Hosts Chili Cook-Off Fundrasier

Author’s note: Much of the information for this article was obtained from the Country Music Hall of Fame (countrymusichalloffame.org)

“I left my heart in Tulsa on the corner of Easton and Main
On the Cain’s Ballroom floor, soakin’ up a bourbon stain”

– Turnpike Troubadors, Easton & Main

A reader of this column recently took issue with a claim I made in the September installment of Searching for the Sound in which I called the Church Studio ground zero for the Tulsa Sound.
“I respectfully disagree,” is how I’ll paraphrase the reader’s objection. “How can Cain’s Ballroom not be ground zero for the Tulsa Sound?”
This led to a spirited discussion about Western Swing versus Tulsa Sound and how both institutions, Cain’s and the Church, were instrumental in adding something truly unique to the American musical landscape and in the end, I was just happy that someone reads my column.
The discussion also prompted me to revisit Tulsa’s timeless honkeytonk on Easton & Main, both for its historical significance, and simply for the sake of nostalgia.
If you’re a music fan who has lived in Tulsa for more than a year or two, you have no doubt spent some time on the famous spring-loaded maple wood dance floor under the neon star and disco ball.
The 95-year-old ballroom has welcomed myriad genres since Madison W. “Daddy” Cain purchased Tate Brady’s garage in 1930 and converted it to “Cain’s Dance Academy,” but it was a brand new genre that put Cain’s on the map in the 1930s.
During that decade, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys were packing dance floors throughout Texas and Oklahoma with a style of country music that combined the improvisation of Jazz with string instruments, led by Wills’ fiddle. The new genre was called Western Swing, and in 1934, Bob Wills was establishing himself as the King of Western Swing as Tulsa’s new, 50,000-watt KVOO radio station began broadcasting Wills’ and the Playboys’ daily shows from the stage of Cain’s Ballroom.
The highly popular 12:30 p.m. radio show ran daily until 1942, when military service during World War II temporarily broke up the Playboys.
The seven-year run at Cain’s was a golden era for Wills and Western Swing, and established Cain’s Ballroom as the “Home of Bob Wills.”
Wills, whose catalog includes upward of 470 songs including the T-town crowd pleaser, “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1978, and into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Cain’s Ballroom was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2003.
Western Swing is not the Tulsa Sound, but the two genres are cut from the same cloth. Both emerged from the primordial soup of American music, combining elements of blues, jazz, country and gospel to create something original.
Western Swing is still alive, and occassionally fills the old dance hall with Bob Wills inspired tunes from bands like Asleep at the Wheel and Hot Club of Cowtown.
The Tulsa Sound is also alive and well, and will be on display at Cain’s Ballroom on Nov. 9.

Rock N’ Folk N’ Chili Cook-Off

This is a great event every year, and this might be the best year yet. Horton Records’ 6th annual fundraiser features a solid lineup that includes Ken Pomeroy, Dan Martin, Erik Oftedahl, the Golden Ones, Freak Juice and Pilgrim, but it’s the Tribute to Tulsa Music set that has me fired up.
The Tribute to Tulsa Music has become a recurring and popular act at the chili cook-off. This year, an all-star ensemble featuring Chris Combs, Paul Benjaman, Jesse Ayock, John Fullbright and more join forces to pay tribute to our city’s rich musical history.
Tickets are $15 in advance, or $20 a the door. Admission includes all-you-can-eat chili from some of Tulsa’s finest restaurants and musicians (including vegetarian and gluten-free options). Funds raised will help with operating costs for Horton Records, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides support to local musicians. Horton Records is a volunteer-based organization and has no paid staff positions.
This is a family-friendly event, with children under 12 admitted free of charge. As every year, Horton Records will be collecting donations of non-perishable food, winter coats and children’s books at the door.
The show starts at 5:30 p.m., so get the family together, grab a coat and/or a few cans of food, come to the historic landmark on North Main Street and fill that legendary dance floor like generations of Tulsans before us have.
As long as that Tulsa institution sits at Easton and Main Streets, it will be at the top of my list of places to frequent as I continue my quest to keep searching, keep listening.