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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Maybe there’s something about the way that we were all stuck inside for a year that put us into a more intimate, rustic, salt-of-the-earth mindset. Maybe the crumbling economy has so many of us feeling the ol’ “workin’ man’s blues.” Maybe we’re all just dying to get out of the house and get footloose.

Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say that country music is back right now.

Whether it’s rock, pop, folk, or even jazz, it seems like there are bands and musicians of all stripes openly embracing their love of country music and its influence, and this coming weekend, OKC audiences will have the opportunity to catch no fewer than five different perfect examples of the genre’s versatility around the city.

The Mavericks (Tower Theatre – Friday, October 8th)

Kicking off the weekend is one of the best possible examples of a band that has flown their “country and western” flag for as long as they’ve existed. 

The Mavericks, true to their name, have always been insistent on doing things their own way. Crossing traditional, old-school country songwriting with not just pop mentality, but with a heavy helping of Elvis-style, Las Vegas bombast, The Mavericks have spent more than 30 years unabashedly embracing their love of the genre and its most lauded legends.

Hailing originally from Miami, Florida, they’ve also often flirted with adding Latin touches to their music inspired by their South Floridian surroundings as well as by the Cuban and Hispanic backgrounds of founding members Raul Malo and Eddie Perez. They finally jumped headlong into that heritage with their newest album, 2020’s “En Espanol.”

Catch them performing songs from that album, along with loads of hits and favorites from their legendary 30-year career Friday, October 8th at Tower Theatre.

Brandon Birdwell (Ponyboy – Saturday, October 9th)

Ever since Taylor Swift took her early success on the Modern Country charts and made a hard turn towards the top of the pop world, it’s become increasingly common to see pop-oriented singer/songwriters indulging their country sides, adding some twang and small-town storytelling into their folk-pop.

Oklahoma’s own Brandon Birdwell isn’t afraid to get a little twang-y in his indie-folk, as is evident on his new album “The Cardinal & The Coast.” There’s no better Saturday date night than relaxing with drinks upstairs at Ponyboy and enjoying Birdwell’s soft, country-tinged songs of introspection appropriately beneath that big, illuminated “OKLAHOMA” sign.

Brandon Bridwell
Brandon Bridwell. Courtesy of the Artist.

Lake Street Dive (The Criterion – Saturday, October 9th)

If your Saturday nights are reserved for dancing, then The Criterion has you covered with Lake Street Dive.

Easily the most difficult-to-define act on this list, and arguably one of the hardest acts to define anywhere, Lake Street Dive’s unique style is as firmly rooted in country and classic Americana styles as it is in jazz and soul music. 

Though each member boasts a classical education in music and a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of different styles and genres, one of the most consistent elements tying it all together is singer Rachael Price’s distinctive voice. 

Born in Australia but raised in Tennessee, Price’s vocals always carry a clear bit of southern twang, and when paired with the band’s love of invoking swing-jazz and big band era pop music, it all pushes Lake Street Dive straight into Western Swing territory, an area in which the band clearly revels.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (The Criterion – Sunday, October 10th)

Jason Isbell is definitely one of the strongest driving forces behind pushing country music back into the realm of “serious” music and away from the “pop factories” of Nashville and the Modern Country charts.

With a workhorse attitude and a knack for honest, hard-hitting songwriting, Isbell and his untouchable band, the 400 Unit, have created an acclaimed body of work that would make any of the outlaw greats of country music proud, even when they’re blasting through some of the hardest-rocking material you’ll hear anywhere.

A clear disciple of the early legends that established country music as a dangerous and bluntly candid alternative to pop and folk songwriting, Isbell has become (along with the like-minded Sturgill Simpson) one of the torchbearers of the current “country rock” revival.

Touring currently in support of 2020’s “Reunions,” Isbell and his band are also readying the October 15th release of “Georgia Blue,” an album covering classics from a host of Georgia-based acts, including at least two beloved REM songs. 

Not only is it the perfect project to recast these songs in a more country-oriented light, and to showcase the clear country influence there beneath the surface, but the entire project actually originated as a promised celebration for fans upon the presidential campaign victory of Joe Biden. 

A staunch advocate for voters’ rights, Isbell has pledged the full proceeds of the album to charities such as Black Votes Matter, Fair Fight, and Stand-Up Georgia, proving that country music definitely isn’t just for southern conservatives.

Garth Brooks (Diamond Ballroom – Monday, October 11th)

And of course, what would any discussion of country music and its influence across genres be without the man that practically created “crossover country” decades ago?

The mighty Garth was in the middle of a mammoth, sold-out stadium tour, playing for up to 90,000 people per night, when the COVID-19 Delta Variant began to rear its head and cause nationwide concern. Brooks, who has been vocal about the need for vaccinations and safety measures, made the decision to cancel all of his remaining stadium slots and refund all ticket purchases back in August.

But rather than rest on his laurels (and his millions of dollars), he decided to launch a small tour of bars and clubs around the country where tickets can only be won in radio contests and where proof-of-vaccination can be more easily screened and maintained.

Country music
Garth Brooks.

After partnering with Oklahoma’s Jake FM to provide tickets, entries climbed to more than 10,000 in just forty minutes, and broke one million hopeful entrants in just roughly two days, even though there are only 700 tickets available.

That sure looks like proof that the love of country music is alive and well here in OKC.

(It’s worth noting that every show on this list will require proof-of-vaccination from all audience members, proving once again that the practice is becoming the norm across all avenues of the music industry.)

How to get tickets

Tickets for The Mavericks at Tower Theatre and Brandon Birdwell at Ponyboy can be purchased online at towertheatreokc.com and Eventbrite.

Tickets for Lake Street Dive and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at The Criterion can be purchased online at criterionokc.com.

Tickets for Garth Brooks at Diamond Ballroom can be won by listening to Jake FM. Official rules for contest entry can be found online at jakefm.com (though there’s already a fair bit of competition.)

Last Updated October 5, 2021, 11:19 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor