Is the “Next Austin” in Oklahoma?

At the risk of cheap rent increasing and a Pinkberry being on every corner, I’m going to go ahead and say it — one of Oklahoma’s two main towns (Oklahoma City and Tulsa) is going to be the next Austin.

Granted, I don’t have all the fancy numbers to back this claim up, but fancy numbers are not what Okies are all about. They’re good folks who love their live music, and anyone who begs to differ should spend an evening catching a show at Tulsa’s iconic Cain’s Ballroom.

So which is it?

Well, I’d say three things:

1. People. As I mentioned, Okies are hungry for entertainment. Years of hearing you all call us a drive-thru state and immediately launching into the song — with more than enough emphasis on the OOOOOOO, thank you — has worn us thin (and we hate anything thin), and has created a monster when it comes to grasping at ways to entertain ourselves. Think I’m lying? Ask Seattle. They’re still sore over us stealing their NBA team. And doing better with it than they did.

2. Location. New York, Louisiana, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles. We’re in the middle of it all. Gas is expensive these days. Everybody wins.

3. Vision. We actually produce serious visionaries, something we don’t get enough credit for. ”This is the home of everyone from legends like Woody Guthrie and Leon Russell,” says Oklahoma City’s Okie Dope Records co-founder Rob Vera, “to critical favorites like The Flaming Lips and Chainsaw Kittens.”

Me and Tyson Meade, lead singer of the Chainsaw Kittens.

Speaking of the Kittens, I met frontman Tyson Meade for a coffee to discuss this very thing. “OKC (Oklahoma City) has such a brilliant assortment of freaks and drag queens and drop-outs and drop-ins and dreamers” says Meade, who then goes on to back up my initial claims: “you’re right, it’s Third-World cheap to live there and easy easy easy to fly anywhere from there.”

So there you go. Clean (kinda) and clear (sorta) evidence proving that one of these two cities — in the next five years — will be the new live-music mecca.

Now, we just need to fix that whole weakest beer in the country problem and we’ll be all set.

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  1. Jeff
    March 31, 2014, 1:32 am

    As an OKC native and current Texan, I would suggest this article is ridiculous, yes, but also backwards. Austin is a cesspool. Sad that some fools in OKC would wish that upon a decent Midwestern town.

  2. Jenni
    February 21, 2014, 7:34 am

    The OKC underground music scene is THE WORST it has ever been right now. Not the musicians, just no shows, current bands of my interest and I have actually tried to promote these things. It’s hard to get any kind underground music event going in OKC.

  3. Midwifeymom
    February 12, 2014, 1:17 am

    Just read the article and comments. Quite amusing after Tulsa’s “Center of the Universe Festival” drew 40,000 people to its Brady District last summer. We saw OK Go and One Republic among others, ate at the awesome food trucks, cooled off in the pop-up water park and just kicked back chilling at the Guthrie a Green (our fav green spot to chill and eat gelato).
    Yes, I’ve been to Austin. I love it! Been to the Austin City Limits Festival this past year and already bought tickets for the next one but I’ve gotta tell you, I’m so proud of my Tulsa! Love how far our downtown has come, how far the arts have come.

    So, unless you’ve been here lately, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

  4. Jon Crary
    Wilmington, Delaware
    February 11, 2014, 3:49 pm

    For someone who is looking to move to Oklahoma from the East coast corridor, I hope that OK has a huge indie scene reminiscent of that in Austin. Tulsa takes the leadership role. I look forward to visiting this city often.

  5. […] Is the ‘Next Austin’ in Oklahoma? […]

  6. Ardy
    Oklahoma City
    June 8, 2013, 9:09 am

    I respect everyone’s opinion but it seemed most just had something bad to say about both Cities. In my humble opinion nobody in Oklahoma wants to become the next Texas anything. We (as if I speak for all Okies) are, simply put, people trying to survive in the competitive world of business & tourism. I can’t help be remember every place I’ve ever lived and worked; I can’t help thinking there’s cons and pros to every City in the lower 48; some are expensive, dirty, small, large, polluted, cold, in drought, floods, earthquakes, mud slides, etc; I think it’s a matter of perspective and situaton.

    All things considered Oklahoma is a good place to live as many other cities are but I doubt any of us want to be the next “Austin”…

    I do want to add, Oklahoma didn’t steal an NBA team; it was a business decision by the owner. We just happened to be looking for a team when it happened! Lucky us and Go Thunder…

  7. Mike
    Austin, TX, Scottsdale, AZ, Tulsa, OK
    April 16, 2013, 11:18 am

    As a former Tulsan who has lived in Texas for many, many years, Tulsa will never be like Austin. It lacks the economy, the people, the money, the vision and overall character. I will give Tulsa credit, they keep trying, but I go back often as I have family there and it still is a small town with big dreams. Tulsa lacks leadership and vision and has too much violent crime, poor schools, a shaky local economy and the weather is too crazy. Also, Tulsa is not a place of destination. People are not going there for vacations nor are people moving there like they are to Austin for a better life. Tulsa will always be the city it has been.

  8. Britt
    April 15, 2013, 9:06 pm

    If you haven’t visited the downtown area of Tulsa in the last 6 months, you opinion just isn’t that accurate. While still a long way to go in order to be the next Austin, Tulsa has the making of being a great creative city.

    The equality movement is moving here! What one will find is South Tulsa & suburbs are what commenters have described as closeminded & what. I just posted about our transitioning city on my art blog

  9. […] Read more from The Good Traveler. […]

  10. […] (which I would love.  Have you seen the food trucks there ran by the Pros?) Here’s the article.  Go read it. One last thing.  The OKC Thunder are making their first-ever apperance in the NBA […]

  11. David H
    Claremore, OK
    June 13, 2012, 9:09 pm

    Behold the oikophobe pack!

    I re-located from Illinois to Oklahoma in 2003. I love it. But you have to have a high tolerance for conservative behavior, which I do. Tulsa has a great musical heritage and a lot happening downtown. The music scene can continue to grow and flourish. To say it will be “the next Austin” is just shorthand. There’s no state capital, no UT. Tulsa will be its own thing. A lot of people are doing what they want around here, there’s room for everybody.

  12. EricwithanE
    Blackwell, Ok
    June 13, 2012, 4:23 pm

    Don’t listen to the haters, Aric. Things are changing in OK and we, the underground, will come out on top!

  13. Tyson Meade
    Shanghai, OKC, NYC
    June 13, 2012, 1:01 pm

    Wow, I am absolutely shocked at how vehemently anti-Oklahoma some people are. Not to cast aspersions on Austin but it is the one place that I seem to always get shafted or get paid a minimal amount even though I have been making music for nearly 30 years with a large body of work. (Emo’s I am talking to you for thinking it was okay not to pay me at all the last time I played which was to a fairly respectably sized crowd.)

    Austin weird? I don’t mean to beat up Austin but I am not sure where the ‘weird’ part comes in because it has always seemed like mainly white middle class kids who like to drink A LOT(!) who hang out with white middle class kids who like to drink a lot. One of the main attractions is the alcohol which may be an indication that AA needs to be considered.

    I think the weird part is how in the heck can real estate be so insanely expensive in Austin? Now that is keeping Austin weird!

    Speaking of weird. wouldn’t it be weird if a city embraced a band as out there as the Flaming Lips? (Anyone seen that new Erykah Baduh video – directed by Wayne Coyne – which I would say might be ‘weird’). Oh yeah, OKC has embraced said Lips! That IS weird!

    Oh and back to the real estate weirdness of Austin, OKC is weird in an opposite sense of the word. You can actually buy a fixer-upper near the downtown in a changing neighborhood for $30k or LESS! That is weird!

    OKC, incidentally, has a HUGE gay population and several gay clubs. Is this because the gays in OKC like being persecuted or is there another reason? You decide!

    At the end of the day, I suppose it has to do with where you are comfortable. And yes, the OK government does swing to the right but the people here make it weird in spite , or maybe because, of that.

    And, in as much, I am glad that you who like Austin so much do like Austin so much! Austin 20 years ago was not the same place as it is now. Here in OK, we are happy that you are staying ‘weird’ white and middle class – with all of your edgy pierced body parts and rockabilly undertones – there in Austin. (I really don’t mean to pick on Austin even though I keep picking on Austin).

    At this point, I have lived all over the world (as has Aric Queen the writer of the piece) and he is much more knowledgeable than you give him credit. There are a lot of really great towns in OK (Stillwater, Tulsa, Norman, OKC and then maybe some of which I am not even aware. I liked Medicine Park when I visited and it really did seem weird and cool! I mean that is where Care Bear retired for goodness sake!). Naturally, everywhere has the backwardness outside city limits. That is a given.

    I usually have a live and let live attitude but I was driven to respond because there were so many wild accusations that needed a response. OKC and Tulsa will probably never be Austin but then really that is a blessing in itself!

  14. Sandy
    June 11, 2012, 2:42 pm

    Cain’s rocks always has. Tulsa is a awesome city born and raised and move away at 27 yrs. old. I love the music background and groove of Tulsa and miss it. Austin ok but Tulsa is sooo much cooler and the people are alot more friendly there. I used to listen as a young teen to Leon Russel rehearse in a tin building in Tulsa so many musical people from there. I was always inspired and have played the guitar for 35 years now. I hope Tulsa becomes the booming town it used to be! Biggest small town ever.

  15. Bob
    United States
    June 10, 2012, 10:37 am

    With one of the top concert venues in the country (according to numerous polls), a rapidly expanding music and club scene (think Brady Arts District, Blue Dome District, East End and Deco Districts), and historic venues like Brady Theatre and Cains…Tulsa can do this. OKC, yeah. Not so much.
    Now, about that beer crack. We’re slowly but surely developing some serious microbreweries. Marshall’s, Choc, COOP, Battered Boar, Mustang, and others. We’re trying really, really hard to turn that one around.

  16. Youknow Whoiam
    East Austin
    June 9, 2012, 3:44 pm

    The sheer ignorance of the author is stated in his lack of research. Anyone can write an article just espousing some wild claims.

    – Austin pays 100%-1000% more for its talent! Its why we stay!
    – Austin has a spring fed creek running through town for swimming and hiking, not to mention a CLEAR CLEAN COLD lake downtown.
    – We have real beer. and bring your own whisky beer bars.
    – keep austin weird is a marketing scheme, nothing more.

    Sorry, not now, not never.

  17. Orwellingly Yours
    June 9, 2012, 3:06 pm

    Tim’s comment’s got it by the tail. All of Texas, except for Austin, is Rick Perry Country pretty much. I lived in South Texas one decade…which only took two years to do. Not my kind ‘o territory. I lived in Tulsa for my friends and relatives there, but the guts of that town are solid right wing. There is a wing of the entreprenuerial in T-Town that works progressive. I say cool. And right on. But the Jesus Nazis and Old Money there got the strongest grip on the reins of things. I worked in OKC for a while, living in Edmond, many years ago. Don’t even bring up the city in my presence. When I started reading editorials in the Daily Oklahoman when I worked OKC, I thought I’d moved, unknowingly, to Berlin of the early 30s.

  18. Lincoln Douglas
    June 9, 2012, 1:01 pm

    I like how people are saying Tulsa/OKC are too conservative, and then fawn over Austin as a mesa of progressivism, which is in f**king Texas. Texas, people. Think about that. Texas. Then say it out loud: Texas. If Austin can happen in Texas, then Tulsa can happen. As a musician who has actually played in Tulsa and knows many local musicians, I can say that the arts scene there is miles beyond many other cities of similar size. The artists are some of the warmest, most talented cats I’ve ever met. Although their abilities and vision often outpace some of their audiences, the groundwork for a serious scene is there. Of course it would never be like Austin; it would be an Oklahoma version of a similar town. I remember playing Dfest several summers ago…they had 40,000 people downtown and more than 100 local bands packing every possible club in the Blue Dome district, and the only downside was that it was blistering hot. Love that town. Don’t hate the 918, y’all.

  19. David
    Southern California
    June 8, 2012, 11:38 pm

    I was raised in Tulsa, but left in the early ’70s for CA. Never moved back. I’ve visited Austin, and it is the ONLY worthwhile city in that whole state. The rest should be given to Mexico.
    Oklahoma, sadly, is too conservative (to put it mildly). I wouldn’t live there again if you paid me.

  20. Bassplayer
    June 8, 2012, 9:50 pm

    Wow, so surprised to see so much hate on these posts from so-called OK natives/former residents. I grew up in Stillwater, Oklahoma and loved it. Yes, I love Jesus and I love God, but I also have many friends who are gay, and, after 34 years, we’re all still friends. It’s never an issue. They respect me loving my wife, and we respect them living life they chose and want to. I do get a kick out of people so quick to paint Oklahoma as some torch-bearing, dagger-throwing society where homosexuals and atheists are supposedly burned at the stake nightly. Uh, whatever. There are conservatives and there are liberals, in Oklahoma and in every state. Why is everyone making such an issue about everything these days? Like I said, I love my church, but I also love Judas Priest and Black Sabbath (two bands I’ve photographed professionally and met before.) Let’s stop the hate, please … on both sides of the fence. Peace. :)

  21. Jennifer
    Oklahoma City
    June 8, 2012, 4:09 pm

    To all you naysayers about OKC, you’re absolutely right. There is no way OKC is the next Austin. OKC is the next BETTER-THAN-AUSTIN. Now, allow me to hock four posts. =) I do dig Austin however; just sayin’

  22. Colin
    Oklahoma City
    June 8, 2012, 3:14 pm

    OKC and Tulsa are both well on their way, in their urban cores at least, to “hip city” status. Also, there is good live music in OKC and Norman, not just in Tulsa. Remember: the suburbs suck everywhere.

  23. Pollacken
    June 8, 2012, 2:09 pm

    Typical delusional OK chatter here. I’m a native of PDX stuck living in OKC and while the city is better than it was 4 years ago when I moved here, its still pretty dumpy. It will NEVER be Austin and perhaps trying to be more like Akron is more like it. I don’t see why the author has to take a stab at Seattle too-Seattle is one of this country’s finest city and it does remain a tragedy that their NBA team was STOLEN and moved to OKC. An NBA team does not a big league, desirable city make, nor does having some sort of quasi downtown entertainment district. Tulsa has a much better chance of ever being a place people who find themselves moving to OK would consider, but neither is great and both have a LOOOOOOOOOONG way to go to become a city with the character and notoriety of Austin.
    The comments regarding attitudes about difference and politics are spot on. Outsiders, as a general rule, are not welcome here and are greeted with suspicion. OK best remains a ‘fly-over’ and ‘drive-thru’ (quite a literal double entendre in this case) in the eyes of the rest of the nation.

  24. Johnny Beemish
    Norman, OK
    June 8, 2012, 12:58 pm

    Norman Oklahoma (just south of OKC) has a music festival each year that keeps getting bigger and bigger. This year we had over 20 stages with over 280 bands over three days.

    The key element of Austin is that undefinable ‘weirdness’. Norman’s got that.

  25. Tim
    United States
    June 7, 2012, 7:55 pm

    As a native of Oklahoma City who lived in Tulsa for six years, lived in Texas, traveled to Austin many times and who now lives in Denver, I can assure you the writer is truly reaching here. While my old hometown of OKC has made some valiant strides in rehabilitating the apocalyptic dirtpile that was downtown, it has decades to go in reaching the level of enlightenment and sophistication of even, say, Kansas City.

    When I visit, infrequently though that is, people still are on streets proselytizing in Bricktown, the only street performers you are likely to see. It is still quite common for people to work God and Jesus into every mundane interaction, regardless of how well you may know them. Suburban sprawl is still largely the model of progress there, and gays, foreigners, atheists and agnostics and now, apparently, Democrats, are regarded with suspicion. For every step forward, it’s one century backward.

    For folks in Tulsa feeling superior, I would say your dreams of Austin-like Nirvana are just as unrealistic. Tulsa still deludes itself into thinking it is some kind of wealthy, cultured, petrol-citadel, which it hasn’t been for 70 years, if it ever was. (Let’s don’t talk about Greenwood, shall we?) And Oral Roberts University and Rehma are not exactly sources of pride.

    Oklahoma should set its sights far lower, like emulating Akron not Austin.

    By the way, Austin is actually reviled by most Texans, who are just as backwoods as folks in Oklahoma. Only people in the blu-ish centers of large cities like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are likely to think Austin is somewhere they’d like to live.

  26. RCM
    Tulsa, OK
    June 7, 2012, 5:58 pm

    I have to reluctantly agree with the native Oklahomans posts above. I live in a bubble of progressive friends and my daughter’s crowd seems to be a little further along the line. But the overall atmosphere here is just too tight, too hung up on divisive things like race, gay/lesbian, religion, etc. Bittersweet article actually, sad that he has a dream that will never be unless there is a tidal wave to the left.

  27. Joe
    June 7, 2012, 3:45 pm

    You forgot to mention ACM@UCO. If anything, that will have the ability to transform the music scene in OK.

  28. Phil Usher
    June 7, 2012, 3:32 pm

    So OKC and/or Tulsa want to be Austin when they grow up. About as likely as Des Moines becoming the next Chicago.

  29. Jo
    June 7, 2012, 3:30 pm

    Aric, thank you for posting. Those who’ve hated-up the comment section might save their expertise for their own widely-read blogs.

  30. Rascal
    June 7, 2012, 11:58 am

    I’ve agree with Chrissy 100%! NO WAY!! Oklahoma has entirely too many barries disallowing any “social trends” to take root here.

    One of the major industries that fuel modern trends is the food industry. With the street food revolution that is sweeping the popular and trendy cities in the nation, Oklahoma will NEVER be able to compete with the current antiquated and unreasonable health department regulations. Not to mention the strictest alcohol laws in the nation as noted by the author.

    Also, farmers markets are becoming social mecca in cities across the nation giving vendors and local talents an opportunity to showcase their abilities or wares for a reasonable price. Being that Oklahoma’s farmer markets are still regulated by the Department of Agriculture (an abandoned practice in most states) a huge number of vendors and talents are not allowed to participate in farmers markets; only “farmers” selling their produce and meat.

    This is just a small sample of the MANY challenges that are imposed on Oklahoma citizens by a good-ole’-boy government and the few wealthy old timers that prefer to keep things the way they’ve always been.

    I will agree that OKC and Tulsa has a FEW reasonably impressive musicians, but unfortunately, many of these talented people go to other areas once they have sharpened their skills on the OK audience.

    Bottom line, Oklahoma has a long way to advance before it will ever step in line with Austin.

  31. Jim
    Edmond, Oklahoma
    June 7, 2012, 11:52 am

    You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve lived in the OKC area all my life. OKC could be the next Austin unless you are gay, liberal, progressive, female, poor, nonwhite, not an Evangelical Christian and not an immigrant.

  32. Will
    The 405
    June 7, 2012, 11:44 am

    It’s nice that you feel pride in your state and your articles are a pleasant change from the usual travel site stuff. But, in this case, your wishes are unlike to become reality. I grew up in Oklahoma and I currently live here, raising a family. During my “see the world” phase, I lived for 5 years in Austin.

    OKC can open bars, dig a canal, and even have an NBA team, but the vibe of Austin can’t be built. It has to be grown in welcoming fertile soil. “Keep Austin Weird” isn’t just a t-shirt slogan–it’s an attitude. It’s what had people voting for a homeless man in a thong to be mayor (Leslie Cochran, RIP). Austin tolerates all kinds of behavior and lifestyles.

    Austin embraces their multicultural heritage. Oklahoma is not at that level of enlightenment. Go sit in a mainstream restaurant or bar and listen to the locals. Yes, they’re cheering for the Thunder as a team, but you’ll hear the N-word dropped and a lot of hateful comments.

    Tulsa was once very open and embracing, but that appears to be in decline. The rise of strip mall churches with activist preachers does not welcome anything that isn’t white, evangelical Protestant, and heterosexual.

    Austin isn’t perfect by any means. But the kind of hatefulness and willful ignorance that Oklahoma embraces (e.g. the Sharia law) is dampened and kept hidden.

    I would love to see weirdness escape the Paseo in OKC, but I don’t see it happening in my lifetime. That doesn’t mean we won’t stop trying, though.

  33. Joe
    austin, tx
    June 6, 2012, 11:49 pm

    be careful what you wish for.

  34. Kenna
    June 6, 2012, 7:59 pm

    Love to feel the Okie love!

  35. jason
    June 6, 2012, 7:02 pm

    Great read. Nice to see someone say good things about Oklahoma. One other thing that is taking off here in the state is the electronic scene. The state even has a website

    RazedByRobots and Nightwalker are leading the charge along with Dancerobots.

  36. Shane hood
    June 6, 2012, 6:42 pm

    i might argue that it could be both. OKC and Tulsa are only an hour and 15 minutes away from each other. This is a typicL commute in some major cities. OKC sports, Tulsa music, together unbeatable.

  37. Chrissy
    United States
    June 6, 2012, 6:32 pm

    As a born and raised Okie that has lived lots of places and currently resides in Austin, I can firmly say, “NO!”

  38. […] and chronicling his journey/zany adventures in The Good Traveler Blog.  His latest entry–Is the “Next Austin” in Oklahoma?.–is a great little feature on the emergence of the Oklahoma music scene and Okie Dope gets a […]