423 N. Main St., Tulsa, OK 74103
Cain’s Ballroom is a historic concert venue best known as the birthplace of Western Swing and the home stage of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Tate Brady originally built Cain’s Ballroom as a garage in 1924. Within a few years the garage passed hands to Madison W. Cain and evolved into a ballroom and a dance academy, where one could pay a dime for a dance lesson.
Wills and the Playboys played their broadcast concerts at the Cain’s on an almost daily basis from 1935 to 1942. After changing ownership multiple times in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Larry Shaeffer purchased it in 1977, at which time he began booking rock bands. During the years, the venue has featured an array of acts from Jerry Lee Lewis to the Sex Pistols to Snoop Dogg. Today, Cain’s remains popular and is a top-ranked place to see a concert in the United States. —Root staff
108 N. Detroit Ave., Tulsa, OK 74103
Modern American dining up top, speakeasy jazz club below. Duet brought this new flavor combination to the Tulsa Arts District when it opened in the historic Archer Building in 2018, immediately installing itself as a twin pillar to the local music and dining scenes. How’s that for a Tulsa two-fer?
Upstairs, executive chef Nico Albert draws upon her Cherokee heritage—and many, many years of experience in the Tulsa restaurant industry—for a menu that playfully toggles between subtle sweet and spicy flavors that show up where you’d least expect. The torta ahogada, by the way, is a must.
Meanwhile downstairs music industry veteran Jeff Sloan keeps Duet stocked with talent each week, from local heroes to international jazz superstars. Lounge seating surrounds the stage making each performance intimate and rich in detail, whether you’re seated up near the action or ordering one of Duet’s bright, fruit-forward cocktails from the bar in the back. You can hear music down there every Wednesday through Saturday. —Matt Carney
2809 S. Harvard Ave., Tulsa, OK 74114
The ghosts of Tulsa’s music past haunt The Colony—you’ve probably heard the stories: Leon Russell bought the bar as a gift for his wife; a wasted Eric Clapton once performed and then passed out in the back dumpster; George Harrison played an impromptu set; J.J. Cale, too. A lot of the best tales are more legend than fact—few people know what really went on at the midtown haunt during its Tulsa Sound heyday in the ‘70s.
It’s a fact, though, that The Colony has once again become an indispensable source of live music and a gathering place for some of our most talented musicians. Come through for live, original music performed every night, to hang out with the local players and, of course, to throw back a few shots with 'em too.
Visit The Colony on Friday afternoons for Vinyl Happy Hour (they'll let you play your own records if you bring 'em and ask nicely) from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m and stay late for music. And for a true Tulsa tradition par excellence, stop by on Sunday for Paul Benjaman's Sunday Nite Thing. —Matt Carney
Tulsa Arts District; third weekend in May
Did you know that the Hanson brothers also brew beer? Hop Jam is their annual celebration of craft beer and music and it’s one of downtown’s most popular events. Founded in 2014, Hop Jam has scaled up in recent years to feature more than 100 beer brewers, dozens of musical performances (recent acts include Phantom Planet, Manchester Orchestra and John Fullbright) and, of course, a headlining set from Hanson. Hop Jam is typically held on the third weekend in May each year. —Matt Carney
Greenwood District; third weekend in June
Tulsa goes big each year for Juneteenth. A massive, annual free event held in downtown’s Greenwood District, Juneteenth takes on the feel of a big block party. It's great for families and open to the public. Recent headliners for Tulsa’s Juneteenth celebration include Morris Day and the Time and Sheila E. —Matt Carney
112 S. Elgin Ave. Suite B, Tulsa, OK 74120
St. Vitus is fun. Craft cocktails on tap, high-grade couch cushions made to repel spills and withstand boots and high heels, a DJ (or more) every night it’s open. And those lights above the dance floor! (They really do sync up with the music if you care to look.) Modeled after house and techno nightclubs like Fabric in London, it’s no wonder that there’s a line to get into this place just to dance. Take a few friends and go party the night away. —Matt Carney
1747 S. Boston Ave., Tulsa, OK 74119
Alongside The Colony, Mercury Lounge stands pat as one Tulsa’s finest club venues, booking live, original music every night of the week. Located in the South Boston District (“SoBo,” if you’re a regular), the Merc’s stage hosts Tulsa’s best local folk, country and rock players during the week and a rotating cast of touring acts—likewise mostly, folk, country and rock artists—on the weekends.
Inside hanging above the bar (on the south side of the building) you’ll also find a local music icon: the neon sign that says “Big Bad Luv,” that served as namesake for John Moreland’s fourth record. And not to get all sappy on you, but my wife and I danced there the night before we got married, so the bar holds a special place in my heart. Head there on a night with a double- or triple-bill and it might just do the same for you. —Matt Carney
Guthrie Green, 111 E Reconciliation Way, Tulsa, OK 74103; late May
Hip Hop 918 has quickly become a mark-your-calendar annual tradition for the Tulsa Arts District’s Guthrie Green, drawing thousands of attendees for a big, free concert featuring old school hip hop legends. Recent headliners include Big Daddy Kane and MC Lyte. Look for it each year in late May. —Matt Carney
409 N. Main St., Tulsa, OK 74103
What would Tulsa be without you? Certainly less fun, certainly less interesting. While its strip of Main St. in the Tulsa Arts District has undergone a full-on renaissance since it opened in May 2006, Soundpony has proudly remained its shaggy, boisterous self, booking acts that run the musical spectrum and erupting each June in a wild party for Tulsa Tough.
A 21-and-up dive bar with a diverse crowd and a heart of gold, Soundpony’s ownership, staff and regulars are big parts of the Tulsa music scene. The bar books a variety of acts with a penchant for underground and up-and-coming hip-hop, do-it-yourself punk rock and metal. —Matt Carney
200 S. Denver Ave., Tulsa, OK 74103
Tulsa’s largest music venue at over 19,000 in capacity, the BOK Center reactivated what was a slow downtown district when it opened in 2008. These days downtowners and suburban Tulsans alike flock to the BOK for major concerts from some of the world’s leading entertainers, including Paul McCartney, Janet Jackson, U2, Garth Brooks, Metallica and Britney Spears.
Designed by César Pelli, the BOK’s reflective dome structure is recognizable for miles from the west side of downtown. For more on the future of this iconic Tulsa structure and its surrounding neighborhood, read up on the city’s Arena District Master Plan. —Matt Carney
304 S. Trenton Ave., Tulsa, OK 74120
Located at 3rd Street and Trenton Avenue, Church Studio was the recording space for Leon Russell’s Shelter Records from 1972 to 1976. The building, originally constructed in 1913 for The Church of the United Brethren in Christ, became a recording mecca for music greats such as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, JJ Cale, Freddie King, Phoebe Snow, The Gap Band, Tom Petty and George Harrison.
Tom Petty even signed his first record deal at Church Studio. Since Russell’s parting from the building in 1976, the studio has suffused its mythic energy into other Tulsa born greats. Steve Ripley and The Tractors record their super hit “Baby Likes to Rock It” at Church Studio, which would go on to sell more than 3 million copies.
The Studio continues to leave its mark on contemporary Tulsa Sound musicians such as Dustin Pittsley, Wink Burcham, Paul Benjaman Band, Dead Sea Choir, Jesse Aycock and the Red Dirt Rangers. —Root staff
2405 E. Admiral Blvd., Tulsa, OK 74110
Relatively new to Tulsa, Whittier Bar serves as the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood’s friendly dive, specializing in punk, noise and other strains of extra-loud rock music that lives well outside the cultural mainstream. (Believe me that I mean that as a compliment.) Cheap beer, regular drink specials and dozens (if not hundreds) of locals’ portraits on the wall liven this place up with a warm townie charm that will win you over the moment you walk in.
Here’s a fun memory. I saw the bold, noisy Philadelphia band Mannequin Pussy play a terrific show there in 2019 the same week that Pitchfork gave their record “Patience” its coveted Best New Music accolade. There was no cover charge that night, but I did put ten bucks in the hat to help them get wherever they were headed next. Whittier Bar’s the kind of place to hear a band about five years before they get big. —Matt Carney
105 W. Reconciliation Way, Tulsa, OK 74103
Built between 1912-1914 and once known as the “Old Lady on Brady,” the Tulsa Theater was designed as a municipal auditorium and convention hall by the architectural firm of Rose and Peterson of Kansas City. The Tulsa Convention Hall, as it was known for its first 40 years, was billed as the largest between Kansas City and Houston, seating more than 4,000 during an event.
In 1930, architect Bruce Goff designed an Art Deco remodel of the interior in an effort to make the theater a more elegant destination for people visiting Tulsa, which was quickly becoming known as “The Oil Capital of the World.”
The theater bore the name of W. Tate Brady, an early Tulsa businessman whose signature is on the charter that incorporated the city in 1898. However, due to Brady's connections with the Ku Klux Klan, Tulsans pushed for the removal of Brady's name from public spaces in recent years. Owner Peter Mayo publicly vowed in December 2018 to change the theater's name to Tulsa Theater the following year.
And even the building itself is complicit in the ugliest chapter in Tulsa history. The National Guard used the theater to confine African-Americans during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, considered by many to be one of the most violent and destructive this country has ever seen.
The theater underwent additional renovations in the 1950s, and the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Phil Collins, Bill Cosby, U2, Merle Haggard, David Copperfield, Robin Williams, Phil Vassar and Motley Crue are just a few of the acts that have performed at the historic theater. —Matt Carney
222 N. Main St., Tulsa, OK 74103
In my heart of hearts I am a slacker and a smart aleck so when Soccer Mommy opened for Stephen Malkmus at Vanguard in 2018, I briefly reached indie-rock nirvana. But I’m also quite curious and omnivorous in my musical tastes and fortunately Vanguard caters to those interests as well. They book hip-hop, emo, metal, party rock and, really, whatever else. With reasonable prices behind the bar and a small mezzanine above the stage, Vanguard a regular player in the Tulsa music scene. —Matt Carney
5 S. Boston Ave., Tulsa, OK 74103
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and Museum is located in the historic Union Depot Building downtown. Recognized by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1988, the Hall of Fame was originally housed in the Greenwood Cultural Center. The Union Depot was Tulsa’s central railway station until closing in 1967. After sitting empty for nearly 20 years, $4 million was allocated in 2004 to purchase and renovate the depot, where the Hall of Fame has been housed since 2007.
More than 100 musicians and groups, recognized for their contributions in jazz, blues and gospel music, have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The annual induction ceremony is held in November. Zelia N. Breaux (1880-1956), who dedicated her life to advancing music education in Oklahoma’s African American schools, was the first inductee. Since the first induction, the Hall of Fame has continued honoring Oklahoman musicians of many different cultures and backgrounds. In 1999, the Hall of Fame gave its first Jay McShann Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of musicians who have enriched Oklahoma’s music during their lifetime. —Root staff
1336 E. 6th St., Tulsa, OK 74120
A charming dive with plenty of room for interaction between band and audience, Blackbird is the Pearl District's most consistent purveyor of live music. Walk this way if jam bands and songwriters strumming acoustic guitars are your thing. —Root staff
320 S. Trenton Ave., Tulsa, OK 74120
Cratediggers, take note! Music industry veteran Mike Nobles opened Studio Records in the spring of 2019 and takes pride mixing quality used records in with brand new releases. Currently operating out of a residential building along the budding Studio Row, vinyl is organized by genre, with specialties like jazz, country, R&B and each in their own bedrooms. (Pop/rock and Nobles' front desk controls what was surely once a living room.)
Stop in to pick up the latest release, browse for an hour, or request a special order. —Matt Carney
102 E Reconciliation Way, Tulsa, OK 74103
The Woody Guthrie Center, home to the Woody Guthrie Archives, preserves the legacy and life story of Woody Guthrie.
Located directly across from the Guthrie Green in the Tulsa Arts District, the Center works to communicate the social, political and cultural values found in his vast body of work. It is also a repository for Woody’s writings, art and songs and an educational resource for teachers and students everywhere. Visitors will find artifacts like Woody's original handwritten lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land," as well as instruments he owned and original recordings of his work. —Root staff
1020 S. Rockford Ave., Tulsa, OK 74120
Okay, yes, with locations in Kansas City and Dallas, Josey Records is technically a chain, but they're a chain that does the record business the right way. They book small concerts from time to time, keep a modest collection of local artists' work in stock and are more than happy to point you toward your next favorite band.
Stop by their spot in the Pearl District if you're in the market for a new turntable or just looking to do a little crate-digging. Josey carries new vinyl releases, old favorites, CDs and even tapes. Oh, and they'll even buy old stuff off you whenever you decide to get out of the game. —Matt Carney