To the general public, the current face of country music is dominated by GQ models with chiseled, square jaws who are more proud of their frosted tips and designer Western-wear than their music. But not the outlaws of Norman’s Empty Bottles. Not now, not ever.
“As a personal preference, I just don’t like pop country,” bassist Charley Reeves said. “That’s what those guys like Willie (Nelson) and Waylon (Jennings) were fighting way back when in the ’70s. They got to Nashville and they wanted to be country stars, but the machine out there had a certain way they wanted them to sound on the radio, and they didn’t have that kind of voice. The Empty Bottles is a celebration of these guys who stuck to their roots and didn’t let the machine destroy them. It’s in our being.”
Paying homage to the classic country sound of the bygone outlaw era, The Bottles started off as an impromptu, one-off gig, performing the entirety of The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album at the Okie Noodling tournament. When the public cried for more, the boys were happy to oblige. Reeves believes The Bottles’ success lies in the fact that these are “timeless songs” that most Oklahomans grew up with.
“I’m 41 years old, so I remember growing up in southwest Oklahoma and my parents listening to all that stuff,” Reeves said. “There’s just something about the pure simplicity and understated nature of the music. That’s what’s great about it; it doesn’t have to be complicated or showing off to be powerful and fun and beautiful.”
While many of the Bottles’ shows are packed with lovers of old country, they’re also equally packed with indie-rock fans who are hungry for this style of music, and it’s one of the reasons the group hasn’t split town for Nashville or Austin like so many of their contemporaries.
“We get a pretty big hipster crowd. I don’t know if it’s, like, the cool thing — like drinking PBR — but the crowd seems to be a complete mix of people,” Reeves said. “Young people who I would think don’t know these songs —
and sometimes they don’t — but we teach them the songs they don’t know.
It’s an opportunity to hear this kind of music in a cool club, something
people don’t get to hear normally. People keep coming back.”
With their upcoming show at the Opolis, The Bottles are hoping their infectious roots music will catch on to an even bigger crowd of folks looking for some rowdy fun.
“People who haven’t heard us can expect a throwback to a honky-tonk time,” Reeves said. “We’re just some guys up there, loving what we’re doing, playing our hearts out, enjoying it and having fun, and that really transfers to the audience. It’s open for a party, it’s open to sit and listen, and I think that’s what live music is all about: going out and having a good time with great music.”