jen kirkman

Comedian Jen Kirkman brings her personal-meets-political comedy to the women of Oklahoma City
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

Jen Kirkman is a “feelings comedian.”

The New York Times best-selling author, television writer and stand-up performer’s signature comedy style highlights the absurdity of her personal experiences, from street harassment and solo travel to menstruation and marriage. Kirkman, who calls herself a “flaming liberal feminist,” also has found comedic respite in modern American politics, including election night sadness and the so-called Bernie Bros.

A sample joke from her Netflix special, release in January and titled “Just Keep Livin’?” illustrates the personal-meets-political bent she’s perfected in her two-decade career: “I don’t have time to be afraid of ISIS. I’m just busy being afraid of plain old men.”

To that end, Kirkman is performing a comedy show for a female-only audience (trans-inclusive) in Oklahoma City, to benefit Planned Parenthood’s Central Oklahoma City Clinic. In Kirkman’s words about the show, “87% of women have reported being sexually harassed … in real life and online. I want to provide a safe space for women to laugh loudly, speak freely and feel safe — and a space where I can see what it’s like after 20 years to perform to a roomful of people that have similar experiences just being on planet Earth in our bodies.”

I spoke with Kirkman at length about the show, her material, social media and the wisdom of Matthew McConaughey.

Q: How did the idea to do a show benefiting Planned Parenthood’s Central Oklahoma City Clinic come about?

Jen Kirkman: Obviously in areas like San Francisco and New York, I think there’s better access to programs like Planned Parenthood and probably people doing things for them all the time, so I wanted to find somewhere it seemed like they needed the support.

Q: This is the only all-female audience show you’ve done. Where’d that idea come from?

Kirkman: I was inspired by the “Wonder Woman” screenings and things like that, but now I sort of feel like an old lady who’s 10 steps behind as we keep growing and changing. People have been emailing me saying they’re not binary, or they’re agender, so can they come? What do I mean by women-only and trans-inclusive? What about all the other things? I’m a white, straight woman; I have privilege and blind spots. We’re all learning so fast.

 My whole point was trying to find somewhere people who have been harassed because of their gender, whether they express that subtly or overtly, can come and laugh without worrying. Not every man coming would be shouting us down or trying to hurt us, but when I taped my Netflix special last year, the women were laughing, and the men were quiet. I’ve had trouble at my shows with boys who think they know better, who think they’re feminists. I wanted to see what it felt like for everybody if they weren’t there for one night. It might be more than a show. I hope people will speak, and I’ll bring the mic around, and people can tell their #MeToo kind of stories. Honestly, a show where men come and watch that might be really informative, but that’ll be next.

Q: Americans look to their comedians as an extension of their identity politics. How do you broach that expectation?

Kirkman: Honestly, I don’t feel any expectation. It’s an interesting question, and you’re right; I can look at it as a big picture thing and see that society has an expectation. Or look at Jimmy Fallon, who doesn’t do politics, and I’m like, “Dude, why not capitalize on this time to be cool and do the right thing, or even just take an opportunity to talk about what’s on everyone’s mind?” Some people still want entertainment without politics.

I’m always preparing for my next album or special, so my material has to not be stuck in a certain period of time. In my Netflix special, I talk about street harassment and how we’re not supposed to talk about our periods. … I’ve always been sort of the personal-as-political female comedian. I talk about the generation gap, and how sad I was on election night, and I do a really silly bit about watching a Hallmark movie instead of the election results. It’s politics, but it’s really not hard-hitting. I’m a feelings comedian. I don’t want to talk about anger, but the sadness underneath it. It always comes back to me.

Q: How has being an American been different in all of your travel pre- and postelection?

Kirkman: I think people root for us because they know we’re not all terrible. In Canada, I got some booing and some guys coming up to me after shows because they love Bernie Sanders so much they didn’t want me to tell my experience. I have jokes about how his supporters harassed me and told me they were feminists; I have one about a guy who chased me into a parking garage to tell me he’s a feminist, and when I pointed out that what he was doing scares women, he said it shouldn’t because he’s one of the good ones. I was talking about aggressive male feminism that doesn’t listen to women and ironically got booed during it onstage.

Q: From a public personality’s standpoint, and someone who, when you started your career, it didn’t exist: Is social media good or bad?

Kirkman: For as much hell as social media can feel like, it’s really helpful. Is it bad to hear everyone say horrible things to me? Yes. I keep my filters on, though, and try to use it very strategically. I use it as a promotional tool, but I’m very careful now; I don’t go looking for trouble.

Also with the stuff we were talking about earlier, I get to eavesdrop and learn from people who are different than me all day long. I don’t talk to 10 people of color a day and 10 trans people or 10 gay guys, but I can on Twitter, so I can learn. Just like anything now, it’s a terrible environment for women: Whenever a new world emerges, we’re as scared as we are in a parking garage or whatever. I don’t enjoy the things everyone hates about it, but I find more positive than negative. Overall it’s evil, and also my experiences with it, at the end of the day, are mostly positive.

Q: You have a tattoo that says “JKL,” which is a reference to Matthew McConaughey’s slogan, “Just Keep Livin’.” Is that well-known? Do people know what you’re talking about?

Kirkman: No … (laughing) I think if it were more mainstream or my initials weren’t JK I probably wouldn’t have done it. It came from the writers’ room on “Chelsea Lately,” where anytime he came up, I would rush to his defense, like, “Guys, he seems really nice.” He started saying it after his dad died, and he has foundation for kids or whatever. It turned into a joke where whenever I would have a touch of good luck, like catching a flight someone else missed, my friends would say, “Oh, that’s JK livin’.” I never thought of myself as someone who had good luck, so it was sort of this moment in my life where I realized I don’t have to be who I always thought I was; I don’t have to be this sort of negative person. It’s really dumb, but it’s symbolic to me of how at any point you can change your perception of yourself. Now I think of myself as someone who’s really lucky. It means a lot to me on a weird level, and it’s technically a funny story.

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stories from the resistance

Excerpt. Originally published in The Tulsa Voice.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes

“When Donald Trump was elected, we began the fight of the century,” said Aaron Wilder, media officer for Planned Parenthood Great Plains and the organization’s political affiliate, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes. “The election was bleak for us. Pence has a record of being one of the most anti-women legislators of all time.”

Once the results were in, Wilder said both organizations hit the ground running.

“I know what losing feels like as a progressive in Oklahoma, but typically, win or lose, you get an opportunity to take a breath and decompress, relax, think and plan again,” Wilder said. “For Planned Parenthood and lots of organizations, that breath never came.”

Prior to his current position, Wilder was the Oklahoma organizer for PPGP and PPGPV. He said the challenges, however daunting, came on the heels of two years of steady growth leading up to the election and an influx of support afterward.

“Since November, we’ve identified more than 4,000 new supporters in Oklahoma, a 29 percent increase,” Wilder said. “We’ve been able to translate that into real political power for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes and reproductive rights in Oklahoma.”

In January, PPGPV trained 300 Oklahomans to become activists in the federal fight over the Affordable Care Act. In April, they activated protesters to attend Republican Representative Jim Bridenstine’s town hall. The organization endorsed two candidates, Jacob Rosencrants in Norman and Karen Gaddis in Tulsa, in special elections this year. Both won seats in the State House.

Wilder said the expansion continues with new staff positions open, including the Oklahoma organizer role he vacated. A new health center is slated to open in Oklahoma City in March, with another breaking ground in Tulsa next year.

“We’ve been part of Oklahoma’s fabric since 1937,” Wilder said. “Planned Parenthood Great Plains is strong and isn’t planning on going anywhere.”

Levi Parham

by Pete Lacker

During last year’s Standing Rock protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Oklahoma songwriter Levi Parham found himself at a crossroads.

He released his 2016 album, These American Blues, with Music Road Records, a label co-founded by Austin songwriter and former Oklahoman Jimmy LaFave and funded by Kelcy Warren. Warren is the CEO and chairman of Energy Transfer Partners, the operators of DAPL.

Protestors demanded Parham and other artists sever ties with Warren’s label. The songwriter called his contract with Music Road “basically like charity.”

“Nobody was going to make any money,” he said. He had never met Warren and landed at Music Road only by way of LaFave’s support.

For Parham, it was a gray area: He had no relationship nor any connection with Warren, only assistance from the label’s small staff. He credits songwriter Samantha Crain for putting the issue into perspective.

“She told me, ‘You’ve got to stand on the right side of history,’” he said. “I had to make a decision.”

In November 2016, Parham opted out of the second album in his contract and made a statement on Facebook, a subtle move with heavy implications.

“It meant publicly separating myself from people … who wanted nothing more than to help me and giving up knowing … I’d have the opportunity to make art,” Parham said. “Jimmy was going through cancer at the time. It was all a whirlwind of emotion.”

Music Road still owns These American Blues, which Parham did not have the funds to buy back. He said communication with the label about the album has been difficult but that his decision was the right one.

“I don’t regret it,” Parham said. “It was the best way I could stand in solidarity with Standing Rock.”

LaFave passed away from spindle cell sarcoma in May. DAPL began shipping oil to customers in June.

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wild heart ranch

Wild and Free
for Oklahoma Today

By Lori Duckworth

Those who visit Wild Heart Ranch, a wildlife rehabilitation facility outside Claremore, likely will meet Pat. Pat looks something like a half-shaven turkey or a miniature ostrich. Curious and docile, she has probably seen better days, but it’s hard to say, because nobody even knew exactly what Pat was when she was rescued in April.

“She was found running around a shopping center with no feathers,” says Annette King, Wild Heart Ranch founder. “We weren’t sure at first, but we know now that she is a Cornish hen.”

Pat’s in good company with Wild Heart’s other residents: several talking birds, a free-roaming crow, the office bulldog, a pig, a donkey, and Keebler the lemur, a circus veteran who spends much of his time snuggling with teddy bears.

With this motley crew of unlikely mascots, it’s easy to see what King means when she says, “We take the odd kids, the hopeless. We fall in love with all the broken ones.”

Wild Heart Ranch began on a lark in 1996. King, then working for an insurance company, started rescuing horses, cats, and dogs. She brought so many to her land that she had to move permanently onto a larger property to care for them and eventually had to purchase the farm across the street to accommodate all her rescues. When a friend brought her a pair of orphaned baby raccoons, she decided to get her wildlife rehabilitator license.

“I had no idea what I was doing, but I had to figure it out,” King says. “The first seven months, I was brought 860 wild animals.”

Since its founding, Wild Heart Ranch has rehabilitated 57,000 animals. King says she owes the ranch’s above-average save rate to Google and help from veterinarians like Claremore’s Lesleigh Cash Warren, as well as some of her own twelve years’ experience as a veterinary technician.

Last spring and summer, King and her volunteers—including her husband Dan Hardt—cared for, among others, baby armadillos, skunk kits, cottontails, ducks, chickens, possums, raccoons, owls, turkeys, and bottle-fed fawns. All orphans are housed indoors at first and, once old enough, are moved outdoors into pens. If healthy, they’re eventually released into appropriate natural habitats.

Wild Heart takes as many as 250 calls per day, and King and her crew refer and offer advice to some and take in animals from others. Occasionally, she’s asked to assist in a capture, and many of her emotional stories are detailed on Wild Heart’s website: a hairless raccoon runt mistreated as a house pet; a wolf kept chained around the neck; and a terrified cougar cub that had been caged and abused.

King worked several jobs—vet tech by day, bartender by night at one point—to fund her efforts, even borrowing against her own home. During a period of financial struggle in 2001, the local game warden asked her to take in a mother dog and nine puppies that had been dropped at the home of Sandy Brooks, then-wife of Garth Brooks. She reluctantly accepted as a favor to the warden and found facilities to take care of the dogs. When Brooks later called to adopt one of the puppies, King explained she wasn’t a dog rescue and gave Brooks the number to the shelter. The pair ended up spending hours on the phone discussing wildlife rehab, and a week later, Brooks showed up to volunteer, sparking a friendship that has been fundamental to Wild Heart’s continuation.

“I couldn’t borrow any money for my facility after the real estate market crashed,” King says. “I was ready to close down. Sandy suggested I become a nonprofit and offered to fund my paycheck and pay the bills. She’s been making that donation for the last ten years. It’s more than incredible.”

On a relative shoestring budget of donated funds, Wild Heart Ranch matches the capacity of much larger facilities. It’s not glamorous and often is thankless, but King says saving creatures like Pat at Wild Heart Ranch is where she’s supposed to be.

The Buffalo Run Casino and Resort in Miami is hosting a fundraiser for Wild Heart Ranch November 4. Tickets are $50. (918) 230-2134 or Wild Heart Ranch, (918) 342-9453 or

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Band Q&A: Berry
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

By Josh Newman

For 15 years, Midwestern indie pop band Berry has been writing and releasing its intricate, experimental pop songs. From the band members’ early days as Chicago roommates, beyond the frustration of the music industry and to the members’ current lives, spread across the country in a variety of careers, Berry’s creative nucleus has maintained its pull.

The band, which meets by phone regularly and travels to create music together annually, has completed a new album, “Everything, Compromised,” along with producer Paul Klimson (John Legend, Erykah Badu). In celebration, Berry is embarking on a brief tour of some of some of its members current hometowns, as well as Oklahoma City, in which Berry’s long had creative partners.

All four members of the band answered some questions for The Oklahoman about Berry — past, present and future. They’ll perform at Speakeasy on Thursday with Samantha Crain and new band WAD, featuring members of Student Film.

Q: Berry seems like it was a pretty prolific, active band for so many years when you lived in the same place. What eventually pulled you all in different geographic directions?
Joey Lemon: Living in the same house together had kind of an equal-and-opposite-reaction effect on us. Our nucleus had become so tight that we kind of had to explode. We’d pushed and pushed and pushed as a band, and it was hard to see any progress with music as a “career.” I think we were all a little tired of that prospect, so we had to go find other “careers” in order to make music a “joy,” together, again.

Q: Relocation is something that has pulled a lot of bands apart. Was it always clear that you planned on collaborating long-distance?
Lemon: We left our last full-length album, “Blue Sky, Raging Sun,” unfinished when we dispersed. We knew we had to finish that, and we did. We eventually released the album, and we toured, but it wasn’t clear how we’d actually proceed from there. We never said that we were “breaking up,” so I think that helped. Shane has always been a driving force in our continuation, though. He came late to the Berry game, so he’s always had a little more motivation to re-create our unique time together in Chicago.
Paul Goodenough: In hindsight, it is easy to say it was clear all along we should find our way back into regular, sustained, intentional, musical collaboration. There is a powerful force we are all drawn into when we work together, and that I think we all desire very deeply to connect with.

Q: What are some ways the band’s physical separation has informed the way you work together?
 Shane Bordeau: Supporting each other and being in touch has become crucial. Times when we haven’t been in touch for two weeks or more really put a strain our ability to work together. We have to put intention into staying connected.
Matt Aufrecht: The time we spend together physically is precious and focused. We can essentially create the outlines for entire albums in a handful of days.
Goodenough: I have learned to be more emotionally invested in my bandmates’ lives. It is just as important that we celebrate each other’s highs and console each other’s lows in daily life as it is for a certain percussion track to get recorded or for a particular press inquiry email to get sent.

Q: With so many self-produced records in your catalog, why was it the right choice to hand “Everything, Compromised” to Paul Klimson?
Lemon: PK mixed our first full-length album. Since then, he’s always been this distant source of inspiration. With “Everything, Compromised,” I was really struggling (with the) live tracks we’d recorded as a band. I was fighting a lot of depression that led to apathy, and PK started kicking my a– … not literally. He’d heard about these songs, and he wanted to hear them. PK is probably the only person I’d trust to help out, so as I finished up vocals and overdubs, I just started dropping everything on him. We haven’t looked back.

Q: What’s your connection to Oklahoma? And to the other artists on the Speakeasy show’s roster?
Aufrecht: We first played with Student Film at a festival in Texas, and they became one of my all-time favorite bands. I made it my mission to play with them as much as possible. Now, whenever we get the chance to play shows, Oklahoma is pretty much mandatory.
Lemon: We met Sam Crain unrelated to the Oklahoma scene. She was studying at a small music program that Paul and I went to on Martha’s Vineyard. I remember hearing her sing around campfire and thinking, ‘Damn, she’s good.’ A year or so later, I booked a solo tour with her. She was a workhorse and an awesome person to collaborate with, so we later booked a Berry tour with her. I recorded her first EP and her full-length album.
Goodenough: There are some appreciable similarities between downstate Illinois where we started and Oklahoma. Lots of weekend piety and church camp, conservative politics, racial injustice and mostly latent, some notably and tragically explicit, white supremacy. Cultural force-feeding from MTV and SPIN. I don’t think it is a big stand I’ve taken or anything, but I have always gravitated towards other people who are similarly fed up, and are seeking other ways of being faithful, political, social and artistic. Sam Crain, the Student Film guys, and lots of people we’ve met through them; we just really vibed with them. We’re kindred spirits.

Q: What happens after this run of shows (and with this new album finally complete) for Berry?
Goodenough: We have poured the foundation for eight more songs. I’ve been really eager to get working on them, as I know we all are. I look forward to us continuing to make new friends and collaborators.
Lemon: More of the same, I hope. We have a start on another album; this one PK has been with from the beginning, so we’re all pretty excited about finishing that. We’re also feeling a certain level of urgency. In the current political/social climate, it seems important to maintain our voice. I think we’d like to keep gathering and recording and playing shows. Maybe we’ll actually try to sell some music instead of giving it away.

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I got to sample the new brunch menu at Ludivine. All of it. At a table of food writers and Instagrammers, people who use words like “offal” and don’t flinch when a Bloody Mary (or Russ, in this case) has a tentacle sticking out of it. Dream Sunday.

I wasn’t on an official assignment; in fact, most of the publications I freelance for were well-represented at the table. I, on the other hand, was just there to eat, squeal with delight, and formulate opinions. A few of my notes:

The Bloody Russ: The octopus braising liquid is in the tomato cocktail. Some bitters, Worcestershire…very traditional except for the pleasant seafood aftertaste. Totally into it.
Lobster and Grits: It is what it says it is. The grits were excellent; flavorful, with separate grains instead of just the mushy pile of cheese grits usually are. Pleasant and light.
Lox Bagel Benny: A freaking EVERYTHING BAGEL-FLAVORED bread pudding with a sweet, smooth corn cake texture, house-smoked lox (very high in salt; I’m into it), and poached eggs with a cream cheese fondue. Beautiful presentation, and very rich.
Huevos con Tamales: I know this is sacrilege, but these are the best tamales I’ve had at any restaurant anywhere. Super crisp masa, and a rich porky filling made of offal—hog’s head. Great balance in the salsa verde.

Those four items make this absolutely worth the trip during the brunch’s six-week trial run. Other highlights: Pain Perdue using Esca Vitae’s perfect brioche (skip the foie gras, totally unnecessary), goat bacon, and the waffle is…the best waffle I’ve ever had. Perfectly crispy, Belgian-style, with an ultra-sweet Madeira syrup. The kind of waffle that makes your kids want to eat sweetbreads. The Croque Tartine was excellent but fairly standard, and the steak and eggs were surprisingly anti-climactic compared to the boldness of the other dishes.

Here’s their shot of the menu:

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Brussels spouts
for The Tulsa Voice

By Greg Bollinger

Dim lighting, antiqued damask wallpaper, ragged frames housing paintings of cowboys on the range. In the air, the din of conversation, clinking glass, classic country, and the aroma of … fries?

The Dutch word wirwar means “hodgepodge.” It’s a fitting name for Wirwar Tulsa, a Belgian honky-tonk, where Belgian beers and street food and American hillbilly music collide.

Broken Arrow native J.D. McPherson, a partner in Wirwar Tulsa, tours Belgium often and frequents Wirwar Turnhout, the concept borrowed for the Tulsa edition.

“I always go in there and hear old American country music; that’s a pretty common thing to run into,” McPherson said. “That’s a neat thing when you’re far from home. It helps you feel grounded.”

McPherson accidentally pitched the concept to partners Mike McLaughlin and Alex Desai, who were already in talks to bring a restaurant to The Boxyard.

“I mentioned in passing to Mike that I had a dream of someday opening a Belgian steakhouse,” McPherson said. “They called me back and said, ‘We want to do that.’”

Wirwar boasts a wide selection of Belgian and Belgian-style beers, many sourced from monastic breweries in Belgium.

“Belgium has the oldest, greatest beer culture. Every type of beer has its own glass—the ephemera is a big deal,” McPherson said. “They use wild yeast. It’s never the same and infinitely more exciting than any beer on the planet.”

The complexity and wildness of the Wirwar’s beer menu touches both sides of the price—from $2 to $20 or a little more—and flavor spectrums. There’s something for everyone here.

“If someone doesn’t know about beer, but they want to try a Belgian, I’d go with Achel,” a Belgian Trappist blond, said General Manager Chase Cline. “If they’ve tried everything, I might go with [Ommegang’s] Rosetta. It’s a sweet, interesting style that isn’t carried everywhere. Kind of a dessert beer.”

But you have to have a meal before you have dessert, and Wirwar offers an array of Belgian-style street foods, like a rich beef carbonnade (eat this with a strong, dark quad beer), liege waffles topped with speculoos, Burn Co. sausages, and the quintessential Belgian street eat, frites (which, McPherson implores, are to be eaten with mayonnaise and not ketchup).

Beyond Wirwar’s June 24 grand opening, there are special events in the works in partnership with the Belgian-owned New York brewery Ommegang, including a “Game of Thrones” tap takeover and a music video series.

A hodgepodge it might be, but other than the fry mayonnaise, “nothing we’re offering is unfamiliar to the Oklahoman palate,” McPherson said. “It’s steak, potatoes, waffles. It makes a whole lot of sense to dress this up as an Okie-friendly environment. Belgian beer, all the food that goes with it, and country music … it’s kind of a perfect little scene.”

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the hop jam

Concert review: Hop Jam Beer and Music Festival 2017
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

By Nathan Poppe

I’m not a festival person.

By that, I mean the crowds, the chaos, the parking, the sheer length of time people stand outdoors in a constant barrage of smells and sounds. I once watched a row of portable bathrooms catch fire, the resulting plume of black smoke curling through the sky behind the stage. None of that is for me.

On the other side of my first Hop Jam — Sunday’s craft beer and music festival founded by Tulsa pop-rock band Hanson four years ago — I’m happy to report I might’ve met my festival match. In the vein of Nathan Poppe’s Hop Jam recap from last year, here are a few observations from the fest’s fourth edition:

  1. When I spoke with Taylor Hanson before this year’s Hop Jam, he said the festival had no specific inspirations, only that they wanted it to be “world-class,” of the caliber of other festival events with longevity like Coachella and Bonnaroo. Hop Jam is tiny by comparison, and that works to its advantage. I arrived shortly before the official public start time of 3 p.m. to see a line from the craft beer area stretching all the way to the main stage at the other end of the festival. But only a short time later, everyone had gotten where they needed to go, in a shockingly orderly fashion. I revel in that level of organization. (Hanson bingo: I spotted all three brothers at different times, carrying radios and appearing to deal with various festival management ins and outs.)
  2. Sixty-five breweries is a lot of breweries. Ticketed beer patrons were given a small Hop Jam tasting cup on a detachable lanyard, and word has it the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission was out and about watching the size of the beer vendors’ pours. That’s probably for the better, since theoretically, one could sample 200-plus types of beer in the five-hour tasting window, were he or she methodical about it. (I did not do this. But for the record, my favorite new beer I tried was the Anderson Valley G&T Gose.) Taylor Hanson noted that many of the craft breweries they contact for the festival are only now looking into distributing their goods in Oklahoma because of the industry’s brief tenure here. Hopefully Hop Jam proves the existing market for them.
  3. When you’re standing in a parking lot for three hours, 76 degrees might as well be 90.
  4. Props to whomever is curating the Hop Jam main stage lineup. It’s a healthy mix of local talent (this year’s Oklahoma artists were Count Tutu, John Fullbright and Johnny Polygon) and national acts. This year’s offerings, South African alt-rock band KONGOS and neo-soul act Mayer Hawthorne, are famous enough to draw a crowd and polished enough to entertain festivalgoers unfamiliar with their music.
  5. Hanson fans love Hanson. Hop Jam fell on the fourth day of a long member weekend, where “fansons” from across the country flock to Tulsa to participate in a number of private events, including a Hansonopoly tournament, karaoke and a concert only available to fan club members. Even though their Hanson cups had runneth over at this point (just kidding, ABLE!), dozens of dedicated fans parked it in front of the main stage hours before the music actually started, in order to get a prime spot for Hanson’s headlining set over five hours later.

Hop Jam drew an impressive crowd on a Sunday when downtown Tulsa had at least two other concurrent festivals nearby. Despite a sanctioned five-hour drinking session for many attendees, the crowds remained fairly tame, and many of last year’s complaints about long lines seem more or less resolved. As Hop Jam continues, it’ll be interesting to see how and if the festival affect the craft beer industry in Tulsa and elsewhere in the state, and whether it takes on a life more its own and less connected to Hanson, the band.

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Tulsa’s Hanson readies fourth rendition of beer and music festival
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

By Jiro Schneider

Twenty-five years ago, nearly to the day, Hanson — then ages 11, 9 and 6 — performed what Taylor Hanson calls “the first proper concert we did that wasn’t a family reunion or in a living room,” a set at Tulsa International Mayfest in the Brady Arts District.

The precocious trio’s work ethic manifested even then, and over the next four years, Isaac, Taylor and Zac performed often, released two independent albums and acquired a manager, whom they famously found busking while at South By Southwest in Austin.

What happened next, you probably know: In 1997, the release of “MMMBop,” the lead single from Hanson’s major-label debut “Middle of Nowhere,” charted at No. 1 in 27 countries, including the U.S. “Middle of Nowhere” sold 10 million copies worldwide and set ablaze a whirlwind period of international touring and press saturation.

That era also marked the beginning of the Hanson fan club, a subscription model that includes limited-edition merchandise, exclusive songs and web content and invitations to attend two annual retreats, one held in Jamaica, and an annual Hanson Day in Tulsa — actually a multiday event, held this weekend, that includes private performances, karaoke, photo ops and songwriting lectures given by the band.

“It really feels like it’s bigger than the three of us. It’s very much a celebration of the community,” Taylor Hanson said, when I spoke with him last week by phone from Tulsa. “A lot of the folks who have stuck with us, it’s pretty amazing. They’re good friends as a result of connecting through music and have known each other for 10, 15, 20 years.”

If you haven’t kept up, here’s what those Hanson fans already know. Following a turbulent split from their record label after the release of 2000’s “This Time Around,” Hanson, then barely out of high school, formed an independent record label in order to retain control of their music. Isaac is now 36, Taylor 34 and Zac 31. 3CG Records, named for the three-car garage the band recorded in as kids, has released four Hanson records, most recently 2013’s “Anthem,” which reached No. 22 on the Billboard 200.

3CG has been housed for a decade in a former warehouse space in the Brady District, and the operations at Hanson headquarters include not only their record label, but a studio space and workings of the band’s nonmusical passion project, Hanson Brothers Beer Co., which launched its flagship pale ale MmmHops in 2013 — a tongue-in-cheek nod to Hanson, the band, turning 21 that year.


Which brings us to The Hop Jam, Hanson’s craft beer and music festival, now in its fourth year. With a comprehensive array of international beer vendors and a music lineup, including John Fullbright and Mayer Hawthorne (and, this year, headlined by Hanson), the festival aims to breathe new life into an already-storied area of Tulsa.

“For the last 10 years, we’ve been set up on Main Street. This area is really a music hub in Tulsa, with the heritage of Cain’s Ballroom, the Brady Theater,” Taylor Hanson said. “Building on all those things, what better place to host our festival than the neighborhood where it all started?”

Sunday’s Hop Jam features 65 brewers (Hanson was diplomatic but noted he’s particularly excited about Canada’s Unibroue) doling out samples of more than 200 different craft beers. The 21+ craft beer area is ticketed, but the festival’s music, located just outside the beer grounds, is free to the public. Past Hop Jams have attracted a reported 40,000 attendees.

While partnerships between Oklahoma craft brewers and musicians isn’t new — COOP Ale Works has long sponsored musical events, including a stage at Norman Music Festival, and Anthem and Mustang host concerts in their breweries, for instance — Hop Jam is the first beer-centric event of its scale in the state with music free to the public in a thriving city space. They’ve managed to somehow balance the family-friendly festival crowd with alcohol enthusiasts.

“We saw the potential to create something greater than the sum of its parts,” Taylor Hanson said. “You have the craft beer community beginning to grow but without a larger forum to draw in new fans. We thought this event could bring out music fans who could then get exposed to the craft beer community. When you put those things together, you create a kind of happening, you create a moment. You kind of have to come up with a reason to not go.”

Hanson is capitalizing on the crowds to do some good as well. Proceeds from the raffle of a hop-shaped custom guitar as well as ticket sales from a curated brewers’ dinner benefit the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, a tradition nearly as long as the band’s career.

“All the way back to our first major tour, people would bring us gifts. At some point, we had to say, we’ll never be able to appreciate this much adoration, so we directed people to the food bank,” Taylor Hanson said. “We wanted to know that enthusiasm was directed in a way that made a difference. To us it’s just a natural fit to find a real, organic way to support the community when you have such a positive event bringing people together. It’s a way to channel some really good energy into something that makes a difference.”


Just before Hanson’s own festival performance this year, they’ll be inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, a timely honor in the band’s 25th year. After Hop Jam, the band embarks on a world tour aptly called the “Middle of Everywhere.” This year the band also will release a Christmas record (their first since 1997’s “Snowed In”) and a greatest hits compilation that includes one new single, “I Was Born,” out May 26.

“We chose ‘I Was Born’ ” — the refrain of which is, ‘I was born to do something no one’s ever done’ — because it is just completely to the vein, just true optimism, unjaded, unadulterated,” Taylor Hanson said. “This idea of really believing in what’s impossible is what’s kept us going, always being interested in the future.”

Unsurprisingly, Hanson’s affinity for Tulsa factors heavily into that future. As likely patron saints for the second coming of the Tulsa Sound, a torch suggested to Hanson by Steve Ripley of the Tractors, the band recently has worked with several area artists representative of those same influences, including Paul Benjaman, JD McPherson and John Fullbright.

“It’s that fusion of melody and gospel and rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, a tinge of Red Dirt. A lot of these artists are part of that lineage,” Taylor Hanson said. “Tulsa’s always had a music heritage, but we see a real through point, a real organic heritage that a lot of us who grew up in Oklahoma feel, whether we mean to or not. It’s coming through in our songs.”

One collaborative project in the works celebrates the work of Leon Russell and other canonical Oklahoma music. “We were so devastated to lose Leon Russell last year. When he passed, it was just like a ton of bricks,” Taylor Hanson said. (Taylor Hanson performed at Russell’s memorial service, and the band performed a tribute to his music at 2017’s SXSW.) “It reminded us so vividly why you can’t wait.”

The forward thinking that catapulted Hanson to widespread success as kids has lingered. There are plenty of nostalgic laurels to rest on. … One glimpse at this year’s interview headlines reaffirms that: Haircuts! The ’90s! MMMBop! … but from Hanson’s point of view, there’s too much work yet to do: “I guess the short of it is that I’m excited to still be using all of our creative energy towards new challenges, new musical challenges. It’s not about replicating what you’ve done.”

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hayes carll

Austin songwriter Hayes Carll returns to Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

Brooklyn, NY – December 18, 2015 – Hayes Carll. photo credit: Jacob Blickenstaff

Five years passed between Austin songwriter Hayes Carll’s acclaimed 2011 record, “KMAG YOYO (and other American stories)” and the 2016 release of his latest album, “Lovers and Leavers.”

The former found Carll at the peak of his tongue-in-cheek, character-driven storytelling: The title track is from the point of view of a baby-faced G.I. on the front lines, and “Another Like You,” about a hardline Republican and Democrat finding common ground in a one-night stand, topped American Songwriter’s list of best songs of 2011. Carll’s knack for straddling touchy themes like war, politics and religion with a dose of acerbic humor spoke to fans on both sides of every fence, in whiskey-soaked clubs and honky tonks across the country.

“Lovers and Leavers” is a world away. In measurements of time, it was five years and 53 days. In measurements of life, Carll saw hundreds of nights on the road, went through a divorce and fell in love. The Hayes Carll who went into the studio to record this album had a deeply personal list of themes to cover, and the plaintive record, by comparison to “KMAG,” is downright sparse and displays that gravity in spades.

As Carll wrote in the album’s artist notes: “ ‘Lovers and Leavers’ isn’t funny or raucous. There are very few hoots and almost no hollers. But it is joyous, and it makes me smile … It’s my fifth record — a reflection of a specific time and place. It is quiet, like I wanted it to be.”

Q: I think you’ve been pretty classically misunderstood by a lot of your fans. What’s the quote about irony that you like? Not everyone gets it?

Hayes Carll: Yeah, Ray Wylie Hubbard dropped that one on me. I’ve found it to be true. People take what they will from most forms of art, and it can be a losing battle to try and control how it hits them or how they interpret it. I’ve written a lot of things that I didn’t intend to be taken at face value but were, unfortunately, by a lot of listeners. That is one of the challenges of using irony or writing in a character that isn’t me.

Q: Your new record for me felt like you drawing a line in the sand a bit about what kind of artist you are in the present. Was there trepidation about making that statement?

Carll: I was drawing a line in the sand. I didn’t want to leave as much gray area for interpretation. I wanted to make a singer-songwriter record because I wanted intimacy and connection to the material that I hadn’t previously had or communicated. I am becoming more private and developing stronger boundaries as I get older. The opposite of doing that just isn’t that much fun anymore. I had some trepidation in that I was afraid I wasn’t offering something for everyone as I had tried to do in the past, but I’m not Wal-Mart. I’m an artist with a specific thing to say at a specific time.

Q: When you were choosing the songs for “Lovers and Leavers,” did you set out to purposely create the mood of this record?

Carll: Yes. I set out to make what I thought of as a singer-songwriter record. I wanted it to exist in its own world and give the listener the aural equivalent of a close read, if they chose to listen that way. I wanted it to have a sonic signature, but one that was not overwrought or overthought. And it isn’t. I chose the songs I chose because they were the ones I felt closely connected to, and if I didn’t feel that, I didn’t force them into the record.

Q: Why was Joe Henry the right producer for these songs?

Carll: I knew that Joe has the confidence to stop producing. Not everyone does, and a song can end up with way too much tweezing and piling on instead of being allowed to stand on its own as a composition. He displays that in his own recordings and those he makes for others. I trusted that he knew what to do with the kind of record I told him I wanted to make. And he did — we finished it in five days. Not a whole lot of polishing there, which I think was the right choice.

Q: Your girlfriend, Allison Moorer, is a prolific writer of great songs and many other things. Have her methods affected yours?

Carll: Her discipline and work ethic, and understanding that it doesn’t all come out at once, have given me more perseverance in my own work. She’s also good at making sure she stays inspired by sort of constantly looking for sources, staying curious and enthusiastic about all art forms. Her curiosity and open-mindedness inspire my own. She also doesn’t give up on ideas and revises until she can’t anymore. I’ve tended to give up when the inspiration died until recently. I know now that good writing is rewriting most of the time.

Q: What are you reading or listening to lately that you find inspiring?

Carll: I just read “CVJ: Nicknames of Maitre D’s and Other Excerpts from Life” (by Julian Schnabel). Allison picked it up recently, and I read it before she got a chance to. It holds a lot of great advice for artists — how to stay engaged, how to listen to and trust yourself and your own instincts rather than listen to others and putting their opinions before yours. Musically, I’m into Rayland Baxter, Gregory Alan Isakov, Dawes and Jason Isbell a lot these days.

Q: Are you strict or academic about your artistic process? Or is there a particular head space you have to be in to get things done?

Carll: No. But I need time, and having my head be clear does help.

Q: What do you do differently to mentally prepare for a Cain’s Ballroom show versus many of the quieter theater shows you’ve been doing this year?

Carll: I like using the different muscles for different types of shows, and after I’ve been doing more of the quiet, acoustic shows, it’s fun to get a little rowdier. The quieter shows are more open emotionally for me, but the trio and band shows are more open musically since I don’t have to do every bit of the work. Both are their own special way of communicating.

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samantha crain

Okie songwriter Samantha Crain flexes creative freedom on new record
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

photo by Dakota Lewallen

Norman-based songwriter Samantha Crain has long been lauded for her dramatic, character-driven songs. Much was made in the media about her effusive musical storytelling, the tiny woman with a very big voice and an acoustic guitar, and Crain latched onto this public persona for upward of a decade.

“I got described as this girl who sits in a cornfield and writes songs,” Crain said in her media material. “And I went with it, because I didn’t really know who I was. I realize now that I missed out on a lot of creative freedom by treating my songwriting so preciously.”

There’s less acoustic guitar, more technicolor and an abundance of unpretentious humor on her fifth offering, “You Had Me at Goodbye,” out Friday via Ramseur Records. Turning the lens inward has been fruitful, as “YHMAG” paints a more complete picture of Crain as she exists outside of music journalism: a loud talker, both confident and self-effacing, sweet with sharp edges and startlingly funny.

Q: Is allowing yourself to be kind of poppy and funny in your songs something you’ve wanted to do before but stayed away from?
Samantha Crain: It’s not like I was holding myself back. I was maybe not aware enough of myself or tuned-in enough to realize that was part of my personality I could inject into the songs I was writing. This album would’ve been the first time I would’ve been able to pull that out of myself.

Q: Did you study any pop records for this while to get into a particular head space for this kind of writing?
Crain: Not a whole lot of modern pop music, but I did kind of deconstruct and look a little closer at David Bowie or Beatles songs. Because we know those as pop songs, we automatically align that with meaning they’re common or simple, but actually the reason they’re so magnetic is there’s something unique about them, key changes and weird half bars. That’s what makes them catchy, I think. Those and “Toxic” by Britney Spears.

Q: You chose to work with John Vanderslice again for this album. How did he react after hearing the new songs for the first time, since they’re so different?
Crain: John’s always excited to get people out of their comfort zones. He likes it when people feel like they’ve maybe jumped in a pool that’s a little too deep. And he’s right; he has some sort of emotion to work with. When you feel completely confident and safe with a group of songs, it’s really easy to not capture any dangerous moments because you’re so locked-in. It’ll sound good, but it won’t necessarily be that exciting. I also kind of gave him free reign, like, ”If you have an idea that maybe you think I wouldn’t have been OK with in the past, but you think it could be something really cool, then let’s just go for it. Let’s try it.”

Q: It was crazy to me that the first few seconds of the record are like “Mr. Sandman,” that kind of happy 1950s pop, and then it becomes modern really quickly. Are the finished songs anything like you imagined them going into the studio?
Crain: Some of them went completely different directions. “Antiseptic Greeting” is pretty spot-on. I wanted that to be like a “Mr. Sandman” but maybe if somebody took some psychedelics before they wrote that song. “Dear Louis,” I knew the feel of that song was going to be pretty upbeat and punky, power pop. “Smile When” was a big surprise. I wrote that song to sound like a Bruce Springsteen ’80s arena rock song, and it got turned into a Talking Heads thing. Drums, bass and vocals. All of the instruments are me doing vocals. That was JV. He said, “This is going to make you feel uncomfortable.”

Q: You have such a long relationship with him now, it is OK for him to say that now.
Crain: We’ve definitely built up a rapport at this point. He’s never been one to walk on eggshells, but since we’ve known each other for five years now, he knows that if something turns out weird and I get mad at him for a second, it’s not a big deal.

Q: The promotional photos for this album are super cool. You picked a local photographer, and then Jarod Evans, of Blackwatch Studios, directed the video for “Dear Louis.” How much of this is you having an idea and pulling people close to you into it, and how much of it is you putting your trust in people because they know you personally?
Crain: In the past I was hands-off when it came to the visual aspect, and it’s always been a little bit unfulfilling once I got the finished product. I tried to really take the time, this time around, to have a clear vision of what I wanted for photos and the music video and to relay that. Dakota (Lewallen) is a great photographer to work with because he’s really young, and he’s still learning and excited about different kinds of photography. I caught him in this stage where he was really into doing studio photography. He was making scenes.

Q: This record is your “autobiographical” record, is what people are saying. Being from Oklahoma sort of inserts this context for artists, and in the past I feel like you’ve rejected that a bit. But there are all these things very Oklahoma references — a song from Woody Guthrie’s journals and a song about Will Rogers and a response song to a Jimmy Webb song, and he’s from Elk City. Was any of that an intentional way to provide a sense of place?
Crain: Those are just things that seep out of me. I never go into any sort of project thinking I need to represent Oklahoma in any way. If anything, I would prefer people get a different view of the state. It’s not just the Oklahoma postcard that you’re getting. There are other things going on, a ton of great visual artists, an underground hip-hop scene. I would like people to get a little bit confused about what’s going on in Oklahoma.

Q: “Red Sky, Blue Mountain” is sung in Choctaw, but to make a new traditional song is sort of touchy territory for a lot of people. How careful do you feel you have to be putting a traditional Choctaw song on your album, surrounded by American pop songs?
Crain: The reason I can put this song on the album because I’m kind of done thinking about what everyone else thinks traditional Native American culture should be. I’ve talked about this with Sterlin Harjo and Ryan Redcorn and other Native artists. You can stand by and watch a culture try to hold onto the little bits of uncolonized traditional stuff and eventually die out because the new people don’t feel like they can be involved because they’re not brown enough, or they don’t speak the language fluently. Or you can be proactive and get younger Native artists feeling comfortable creating art, because technically, if a Choctaw person makes art, it’s Choctaw art. I’m trying to be proactive. I’ve captured all that I can. In order to get people excited about keeping the language alive, I think songs can keep traditions going by making them growing and thriving culture rather than one that people are forgetting.

Q: How connected are the recorded versions of these songs versus the live performances of them? This record seems extremely difficult to re-create live.
Crain: We are trying to re-create the album pretty much the way it was recorded, and it has proven a challenge. This is the most stressed-out I’ve ever been about band practices. We’re using tracks. I’m still not sure how it’s going to work. I’m not doing any solo shows on these tours. I didn’t even write half of these songs on the acoustic guitar, so I wouldn’t even know how to do it.

Because I did spend so long having a very direct and clear idea about the visual and sonic aspects of the album, I want to be able to control that in a live setting. In the past that maybe wasn’t the most important thing. I just had songs, and the songs were what I was really invested in. With these songs, it’s more about the whole package of the album rather than the songs individually. I want to try to be able to re-create that. And … we will see how it goes.

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