Oklahoma City’s music scene is quickly growing, which is why local venues like the Tower Theatre are so important in building live music culture and supporting local artists. The Tower Theatre on 23rd Street has gone from a dormant theater to an Oklahoma City staple for live music and film screenings. We talked with Tower Theatre’s Chad Whitehead about why the OKC music scene needs the Tower, why independent venues are so vital to local scenes, and how people can support the Tower in bringing music to the people.
Building the OKC music scene
The Tower Theatre has become a huge attraction in Oklahoma City with local music, touring acts, and film screenings. It’s an intimate venue, but the theater is still capable of supporting huge acts like John Moreland, Wavves, and Bowling for Soup.
Whitehead said the Tower is the first mid-sized venue in the Oklahoma City metro used predominantly for concerts.
“You need a space like that to hold and build music appreciation,” he said.
The Tower Theatre opened its doors in August of last year and already has had a lot of success like their monthly Coop Ale Works Showcase, which features local musical artists.
“Our heart for building and driving the conversation forward with local music really is the heart behind the Coop Ale Works Showcase,” Whitehead said.
Swim Fan, a band based out of Oklahoma City, performed at a Coop Ale Works Showcase back in February. Spenser Powers, Swim Fan lead singer, said he had an memorable experience.
“It sounded incredible, very hospitable, and it’s so great that it’s in the heart of the city giving local bands another nice venue to play at that’s all ages,” Powers said. “It’s nice to see people wanting and helping support local art and giving us a place to feel welcomed and appreciated. It feels like a little home whenever I’m there.”
The Tower Theatre was restored in Summer of 2017 after being dormant for several years. It used to be a movie theatre, and then it was a venue for screening adult films until being turned into a music and film venue. Pivot Project bought the venue and partnered with Whitehead and his business partner Stephen Tyler to reboot the Tower Theatre and bring back a staple of 23rd Street.
Creating a culture
Local, independent venues are an essential part of creating a successful scene.
“We are very passionate about staying independent,” Whitehead said. “We love the opportunity to do that in an industry that is increasingly dominated by the big fish.”
Whitehead said a big part of managing a venue is creating culture, which is his passion.
“If you’re not an independent theatre, you’re just taking what somebody in LA or New York just kind of has in your pipeline,” Whitehead said. ”But, if you’re independent, you get to reflect what your city really wants and get to have a more nuanced conversation about where culture is going in the city, and we like that.”
Giving back – supporting local venues
Most local venues can’t exist without the support of the local community. That involves buying tickets, going to events, and helping to create that local music culture that venue operators are striving for.
Whitehead said he feels like one of the most necessary areas of growth for Oklahoma is the support of local artists, and a big part of that is supporting local venues.
“I think that a lot of us will go to a bar and enjoy a band, but I’m not sure how often we’re willing to pay a ticket price to support local music,” he said. “That’s what I’m really passionate about.”
Whitehead said he wants to create a culture in which people in Oklahoma City are comfortable paying $10-15 to support local artists.
“The talent that we have coming out of Oklahoma City is absolutely incredible,” Whitehead said. “They should not be playing for free or playing for tips or only playing at bars.”
Whitehead said the best way to support local venues is to “be supportive of what they’re trying to do in word and deed.” At the Tower, anyone can donate, buy tickets, attend events, or support the theatre in any way they can.
“We’re just really passionate about creating that space where local musicians really get to take over the big stage,” Whitehead said. “We want to build up the appreciate for local music in Oklahoma City and music in general in Oklahoma.”