I reminisce back to last January, when Cellar Door Music Group became my brainchild in form of a music blog. As a local music artist myself, I was feeling enthusiastic about being a part of the Oklahoma music scene, and I wanted to write about other musicians and venues that were in the same sea. Lauren Clare, from Allie Lauren, agreed to be my first artist feature on the blog, as I knew she would. Lauren is a good sport, a positive soul, and a true professional. I was thrilled to cover her art, life and music and the piece panned out perfectly. Grace Gordon, from the Blue Note, also agreed to do a Q&A feature on her role with the venue. Her work and notoriety in the music scene, paired with The Blue Note being one of OKC’s favorite original, live music hubs, made me I feel like I had struck gold with both of these interviews. And to this day, I still believe I did. I wanted Cellar Door to be authentic and cover people who were aligned with the idea of authenticity. Lauren and Grace were two of the best people to help ignite that vision.
A few months after the blog launch, Graham Colton shot me an email. He noticed some Cellar Door posts on his Twitter feed and thought I might be someone to collaborate with regarding his new start up, Fanswell. We set a Spring afternoon meeting at a bustling Starbucks, I had a full page of notes ready for our meeting…and used none of them. Moments after sitting down with our coffee, Graham shot me an offer I couldn’t pass up. “Would you want to curate shows for Fanswell?” It was a direct, take-it-or-leave-it kind of deal, giving me a foot into a new music role and partnership that I hadn’t anticipated. “Yes, yes…absolutely,” I told him reassuringly. In my head and heart, I knew I would work my ass off for him, I just needed him to know that.
Nevertheless, Graham and I would share many more cups of coffee over the year talking about the evolution of Fanswell, Cellar Door Music, and his newest company V3 (with Matt Stansberry) that I also ended up joining. But that’s something for a future blog post.
The first Cellar Door – Fanswell show started in a downtown yoga studio. Desirae Penton was such a sport when I approached her with the idea. At the time, I wasn’t sure what this arrangement would look like—me putting together shows for Fanswell. But I did know that she had an open, warehouse-style space that I envisioned throwing a show. “We can do whatever,” Desirae reassured me with her laid-back, non-conformist demeanor. Des and I had grown to be friends over the months as I had revived my own personal yoga practice at Hidden Dragon (I had been teaching in the years prior and seemed to lose time for myself). She was community oriented, a music and art enthusiast, and you could just feel the open door policy within her studio. Hidden Dragon wasn’t just a business, it was a tribe. Des provided a space where her students not only practiced yoga, but they shared coffee and/or wine, brought their dogs, displayed art, and grew a little closer in between classes. It was the perfect fit for live music.
Bowlsey agreed to play at the studio, I came across their music as I was browsing through the Fanswell artists. It would be an understatement to say I fell in love. “Lounge hip-hop” style music with organs, rap segments and strong, swanky female vocals…I was intrigued. And it turned out, their band members are just as rad as their sound. I’m lucky to have developed a friendship with them, catching Antiqua breakfast with Sid and Shraz when we can pin down a morning. I connect with them professionally and personally any chance I can get.
Around the same time as we launched the Overholser series, Cellar Door was gaining a relationship with The Paramount building and owners. The theater and building were undergoing some changes, but the main owner Melodie, was in the midst of setting up her upstairs event space and bar. It was a spot that was ready to host music, and our first show was a collaboration with Allie Lauren and Annie Oakley--both acts that are about as talented as you can get. Weeks after the show, I got a phone call from Red Dirt Ranger front man, John Cooper. He noticed the work Cellar Door was doing at The Paramount and Overholser, and liked our buzz. We had a long, enjoyable phone conversation, and I remember thinking, “I can’t believe he is reaching out to me.”
The Rangers have had decades of success, the members are undoubtedly music veterans and pioneers of the Stillwater Red Dirt scene. Connecting with John was a moment of validation for the grind-it-out work we had been doing with previous shows. And for this next one, Papa John’s agreed to sponsor the Red Dirt Rangers as we booked them a performance at the newly opened Paramount Room. With Kaitlin Butts opening, the show couldn’t have been more of a hit. I haven’t seen so many grown adults dancing to live local music in a long time.
At the beginning of the summer, I was approached by First Christian Church to bring a music series to their 3,000-seat, outdoor amphitheater. The space was located on the north end of their midtown property and had sat dormant for decades. A year before, the Harding Fine Arts group, along with church volunteers, helped restore the amphitheater to a usable state. H.F.A. wanted to use it for their annual fundraiser, and they have hosted Hawkstock—a small, local music festival comprised of young talent—since their work in revamping the theater.
When First Christian reached out to me, I quickly identified the project as possibly more than I could chew. I quickly made a phone call to Jim Moody, who I had made contact through my husband’s work. He was someone who put together shows with national-based bands, and also had a sound system that I thought might work for the amphitheater space. I am thankful that I made that phone call, as Jim turned out to be one of the most honest, true, and kind-hearted individuals I have ever met. He became my partner in bringing music back into the concrete amphitheater, along with Lance Lightner—who propelled the amphitheater revival from the very beginning through Harding Fine Arts. He and Joe Bello were part of the Bottle Cap Barn crew—an Edmond private residence who has a history of throwing large, successful, “house shows” in their barn. Lance and Joe believed strongly in the amphitheater, spending much of their spare time replacing seat backs and securing the stage framework so people could enjoy the space as much as they had from their youth.
Along with Reverend John Malget, who has the kind of heart and open mindedness you wish in a pastor, this team pulled together and planned a Fall music season for the amphitheater. My shows would be comprised of local artists, food trucks and breweries and be coined as “Edgemere Under the Stars” (a title also revived from shows held at the amphitheater decades earlier). Jim took some routing opportunities with Mike Farris and Riders in the Sky, which were both award-winning national acts. The planning process and logistics didn’t prove to be easy, as we were jumping through hoops with permitting issues and gaining support for the venue and vision—but I wouldn’t take back a thing as we wrapped our season in November, with The Voice contestant Chase Kerby closing out the stage. Chase is a joy to work with, he has a charming and jovial stage presence, and his personality is the exact same. I appreciate his quirky jokes and willingness to be a team player. He truly has a love for music--it’s in his bones, and aside to being one of the most talented artists I have had the pleasure of working with, he has stayed true to himself and his musical art.
If I named everyone I was thankful for in this write-up, it would never end. But I hope you know who you are, everyone I have worked with over the year and who has lent their support and enthusiasm around Cellar Door. I would get messages from strangers telling me that they appreciate the work we’ve been doing, and that always means a lot. And the “me” has truly become “we.” Of course my husband was the very person who got roped into this crazy ride, and he has stood by me through the stumbles and triumphs. He now is in charge of our sound rigs, and we’ve grown into renting them out for shows and events. Ashley and Lamar Fite have also been my strongholds as they came on board as my booking team, I couldn’t have asked for better people to work with and to share a friendship. Nate Heath, who has taken care of finance & devoted time to shows. Corey Ray & Dustin Ragland, a huge thanks & recognition for your sound engineering expertise. And Cellar Door would have never made it to December without my interns and volunteers—Carson, Ben, Mackenzie, Madi, Alexa, Chris…you all are precious to me, and I owe you an endless amount of gratitude.
I’ve had a few people ask me what my ultimate vision for Cellar Door would be, what would it look like in a perfect world. And I realized I had a hard time answering that because Cellar Door exceeded any sort of vision or expectation I could have conjured up last January. It has become a community, a lifestyle, a pillar of support, and a local music platform that I never could have planned. It’s an example of how the universe truly does work in mysterious ways if we let it unfold as it should. I feel my eyes swell with tears every time I reflect on the gratitude I have for my year with Cellar Door, because it has been one that has stayed true to the the authenticity I had hoped for—but it has been a journey of true connection and passionate belief behind the beauty, the therapy, and power of music. Without music, our world wouldn’t tick quite the same way, our communities and societies wouldn’t be filled with the life and energy that it brings. It transcends languages, religions, politics, and divisions. Music is a universal heart beat, and for that reason itself, I feel privileged and thankful to have a small piece in keeping it pulsing in my niche of the world. Happy New Year from the Cellar Door Music Group, cheers to 2016 and what it might hold.