Open season at The Colony
Local musician Cody Clinton offers singer-songwriters a unique showcase.
Open mic night.
The very phrase is awkward. Uncomfortable. Cringe-inducing. It conjures for me the following scene:
That guy (all of us knew that guy) who played a little guitar in high school but never pursued the instrument seriously, has decided that tonight is the night. Tonight, his Big Musical Moment — the one he fantasized about while strumming purposefully yet unnoticed in the corner of a frat house kegger — will suddenly materialize out of thin air simply because he summoned the courage to write his name on a list.
And that guy, after a couple of awful, hackneyed renditions of Sublime’s “What I Got” or Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” with vocals off-pitch and guitar out of tune, will slink back to his barstool, glowing with the rush of adrenaline, while stilted applause trickles out from the tiny fraction of the assembled audience polite enough to offer it.
And then, unmercifully, torturously, it’s the next guy’s turn. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Fortunately, Cody Clinton doesn’t want to hear that guy or anyone like him. Over the past few months, he has attracted a regular following of like-minded musicians and music lovers who share his vision of a different kind of open mic night.
Clinton is best known in Tulsa as one half of the excellent folk-rock duo Desi & Cody, but he’s ubiquitous as a lead guitarist all over the Tulsa music scene. He started “Singer-Songwriter Night” on Monday nights at The Colony, one of Tulsa’s most reliable venues for original live music, with the hope that he might attract folks who aren’t interested in playing (or hearing) the same poorly-performed, clichéd covers that infest most other free-for-all stages. He wanted to find serious songwriters, serious musicians, who have well-honed original material but no other outlet to showcase it.
The experiment has worked better than he could’ve ever hoped.
“I never expected this many people to show up,” Clinton says one Monday night as the sign-up list is so full he has to flip the page over, which by all accounts has become the weekly norm. “And it surprises me week after week. I don’t know what it is. Open mics can usually get really bad, but there’s something about the vibe here. We keep getting these great musicians just coming out of the woodwork.”
That vibe can probably be attributed to the collective admiration among the regulars, which is immediately apparent once the performances begin. A hush falls over the crowd. People listen. They applaud supportively. A shared enthusiasm for the entire enterprise is palpable.
Clinton and regular Monday bartender Nate Alexander chat about the event’s early incarnations, during which this coveted vibe hadn’t completely coalesced.
“People used to come in and do their three covers,” Alexander says. “But the crowd just kind of ran them off. Not in a mean way or anything, it was just sort of understood. People got the point pretty quickly that this wasn’t that kind of thing.”
Clinton originally offered the musicians an opportunity to record their sets, but the amount of signups swelled so quickly that he had to abandon that aspect for logistical reasons. He’s still toying with the idea of choosing a performer each week for an extended set, beyond the standard three songs that is the Monday night rule.
Whatever its future, this weekly showcase, which Clinton wasn’t even sure would attract enough interest to fill up just one night of music, seems to grow in popularity with every passing week. Even on “slow” nights, the audience at The Colony dwarfs a typical Monday night bar crowd.
“We’ve got something special going on here,” Alexander says. “And it’s not going away.”
It’s funny — I’ve heard that exact sentiment from all corners of the Tulsa music scene for a couple of years now, and it’s true every time. Then something like Cody Clinton’s Singer-Songwriter Night comes along and makes it even truer.
It makes you wonder: What’s next?
August’s best bets for live music
8/11 Milkdrive, Jacob Tovar and the Saddle Tramps, Whirligig; Guthrie Green
Austin “jazz grass” string band Milkdrive will set downtown to shaking with a show that “crosses genres, geographies and generations.” Throw in local honkey tonk troubadour Jacob Tovar and his merry band, plus longtime Tulsa mainstays Whirligig, and you’ve got quite the enjoyable Sunday on the lawn.
8/23 Elephant Revival, Vanguard Music Hall
Independent film director Mikey Eberle describes the band thusly: “When I hear Elephant Revival I am struck by my inability to define it. I am forced to confront the music as it is, connecting to it with a virgin spirit of mind. Consequently it feels like I am experiencing music and all its joys for the very first time.” Sound like something you might be interested in? Featuring a couple of guitars, an upright bass, a fiddle, a washboard and some hauntingly beautiful voices, this eclectic, folk-inspired ensemble is no stranger to Tulsa, and if you have yet to catch them, now is the time.