Refurbished ballroom taking on new life

Saturday, January 3rd 2004, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ It may never reach the zenith it held from 1935 to 1942 when Bob Wills' concerts were broadcast across radio waves throughout the nation, but Cain's Ballroom is now operating with a renewed vigor that hasn't been seen in years.

The evidence lies in a nearly full 90-day planner that highlights the opening three months of 2004. The roster is posted on the staircase wall leading up to the new VIP mezzanine at the club.

The modifications and additions to the Tulsa landmark took place during a million-dollar renovation that lasted through the summer and into September.

Cain's general manager Chad Rodgers and concert promoter Jeff Martinson are confident the product they are bringing in more than complements a venue recently put on the National Register of Historic Places.

After Dwight Yoakam reopened Cain's on Oct. 1, Rodgers and Martinson helped bring in 25 more acts over the next 35 days _ ranging from Leon Russell to Lyle Lovett to the David Grisman Quintet.

``I think it was really important to do some stuff early to get Cain's back on the map,'' Rodgers said. ``A lot of people had probably forgotten about the place over the past couple of years, and then when we had to close down for 4 1/2 months for renovations, we wanted to come back with a real kick. Obviously, October and November and into December, we've done a lot of shows, and we've tried to re-establish the name.''

As good as the latter part of 2003 was, 2004 looks to be even better. With acts such as Asleep at the Wheel, Merle Haggard and Reverend Horton Heat among the performers already penciled in for the coming winter, Cain's momentum should continue.

``It's definitely a good buzz around here right now,'' Martinson said. ``Now, we want to figure out a good rhythm with it.''

Much of Martinson's energy has been channeled toward bringing in bands that linger beneath the surface of commercial radio, yet are acts that have developed a strong following through constant touring and musical improvisation.

Colorado's Yonder Mountain String Band, which co-headlined with Leftover Salmon for the Oklahoma Music Experience in September, will be performing in Tulsa for the third time in the past 10 months on Feb. 4.

Fourteen days later, New Orleans-based jam band Galactic will take center stage.

``We're pulling bands in here that normally wouldn't come otherwise,'' Martinson said.

``With the jam bands, we can't take them to radio to promote. We have to rely on the fact that they're just a good act that a lot of people follow.

``I think the diversity we've brought in is good to a degree, but you can tell who people are supporting and who they're not supporting. Right now, the jam band crowds are in full support, but I still don't think everyone has been down to see a show or is aware of what's going on.''

Having never played in Oklahoma before, Galactic is taking a risk, but the band's booking agent, Tom Chauncey, said it is one that could come with a high reward.

``They're a band that plays everywhere and works everywhere,'' Chauncey said. ``But you want to put your band in positions where they can succeed, and the people of Cain's have really stepped up their operation and their commitment to getting good acts to come and play there. That's really the principal reason why we're coming to Tulsa. That, and we know there is an audience there in Tulsa for us.''

Restoring Cain's as one of the top venues in the state and Midwest has been an ongoing process that continues to develop.

A past headache, parking is the next deficiency that will be tackled. Rodgers said a lighted and secure parking lot for 150 cars should be operational, weather permitting, by February.

Either way, Rodgers knows the bells and whistles will only go so far. What matters to most people who frequent Cain's is the product being brought in, which is something Cain's has reason to feel good about again.

``We think we're bringing in quality names that Tulsa hasn't seen in a long time,'' Rodgers said. ``And it's going to last because the venue's updated and we're going to spend the money.''


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