Day 1 was a scorcher, at least according to the standard set by Oklahoma City’s frozen tundra. The high for the day peaked at about 83, but at times, it felt even warmer. Thankfully, The Buffalo Lounge had just the remedy.
I arrived at the downtown Austin venue — this year at Avenue on Congress, just between Fourth and Fifth streets — shortly after 11 a.m. and was immediately struck by the venue’s ambiance. The inside is dimly lit and loungey with a long bar area when you immediately walk through the door. Beyond the bar is a seating area complete with couches, pillows and an elevated stage for more intimate performances.
The walls are adorned with buffaloes and projections highlighting some of the most prestigious Oklahoma musicians.
The majority of the action was going on upstairs, though. When you walk onto the wood-deck rooftop, you have two options: turn left for the bar (always a solid maneuver) or right for the music. The downtown setting provided an elegant backdrop, with the iconic Frost Bank Tower literally right across the street. As Tulsa trio Summit was soundchecking onstage, about to kick off the day’s activities, I grabbed a water from the bar (others, a beer) and soaked it all in — the scenery and the H2O.
A total of 10 acts performed during the Oklahoma Soundcheck day party, which was free and open to the public. The lineup included a diverse range of talents spanning several genres: Summit’s breezy alt-rock; ADDverse Effects’ party-pumpin’ hip-hop; and Chelsey Cope’s longing, blues-tinged Americana.
Speaking of Cope, it was during her first set when I was first asked by a non-Okie passerby, “Who is this?” I was asked this several times by a variety of people, some from other countries.
The highlights of the day, for me at least, were a trio of Oklahoma City-Norman acts. IndianGiver, on the heels of their new EP, Understudies, wowed with cavernous guitars, baroque horns and graceful vocal harmonies. The band’s new material translated exceedingly well to the live stage, with shades of Grizzly Bear lurking in the foreground.
Skating Polly, meanwhile, plowed through a high-energy set exclusively featuring songs from its new album, Fuzz Steilacoom. Anyone who has seen these two girls play knows what they bring to (and knock off) the table. Oh, and Babes in Toyland’s Lori Barbero decided to stop by for the set.
Prettyboy — the full-band moniker for Norman’s Jacob Abello — dazzled with a set chock full of new material. Abello’s unabashedly catchy blend of ’80s-fueled synth pop had the crowd in a tizzy. If you weren’t dancing during his set, you were in the minority.
Later in the evening, the wristband/badge-exclusive Oklahoma Showcase highlighted some of the more distinguished Oklahoma acts — some SXSW veterans, others new to the show. For an event that wasn’t free and open to the public, the turnout was jarring. The rooftop can hold probably a couple hundred patrons, and the place was packed.
That said, the attentiveness of the crowd during Tulsa crooner John Moreland’s set was commendable. Moreland plays a lonesome, quiet blend of folk, yet the bulky crowd was clinging to every word. At times, you could nearly hear a pin drop — and it was lovely.
For Stillwater indie-pop vets Deerpeople, you’d think playing SXSW would be old-hat by now (I think they’ve played the last five years), but you wouldn’t know it by their set. A heavy dose of stage antics, a flute and a dizzying array of lights secured their set as the most memorable. Oddly enough, it occurred to me as they were playing that they are Oklahoma’s cutest band that might blow your mind. And for some, they probably did.
In the midst of a rapid ascension in notoriety, the buzz surrounding Parker Millsap’s set was as palpable as the rasp in his voice. The Purcell native has such a strong command of the stage, his audience and his songs that you’d think he was twice his age. His crossover appeal — from hipsters to 10-gallon-hat-wearing good ol’ boys — is both broad and potent, with songs about small-town life and hard-hitting issues alike.
By this point, Millsap’s reputation is seemingly approaching mythical status. You could feel it in the crowd.
Hopefully that momentum will carry into Day 2.