Back On Stage: Oklahoma Venues Bring Back The Music

Wednesday, January 26th 2022, 9:51 pm

TULSA, Oklahoma -

For nearly a century, the iconic Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa has been a music Mecca. It's the place where superstars got their start, and where history has been made.

Chad Rodgers and his family have owned the venue at Easton and Main for two of the many decades of shows.

"I feel like it was a steady upward course of business," said Rodgers.

And then, almost like a switch, March of 2020 happened. The music stopped and the lights went dim.

"We kind of just went dead," said Rodgers.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt. Music venues and other businesses that relied on big crowds shut their doors.

"Initially it became a thing where we postponed for awhile,” said Rodgers.

But while other businesses gradually opened back up in the months that followed, the music industry lagged behind.

Some artists cancelled, others just kept delaying performances.

Across Oklahoma, it was the same old song.

Chad Whitehead operates the Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City, which sat empty for much of 2020.

"We lost almost $2 million in revenue just by cancelling everything," said Whitehead.

As the industry sat quiet, across the country, independent venue operators banded together.

Through an effort called Save Our Stages, they were able to successfully lobby congress to include $16 billion of help in the December 2020 COVID relief package.

"It really kicked off a pretty significant grass roots campaign because, we were able to leverage the fans of live music who loves venues all across the country," said Whitehead.

Because of this, and the rollout of a vaccine, venue operators had high hopes for 2021.

However, it took months for the Small Business Administration, which was administering the Save Our Stages program, to open its website to applications.

"As soon as the portal opened in May it immediately crashed," said Whitehead.

When the website was finally up and running, 17,000 applications were submitted within 24 hours.

Tower Theatre and Cain’s Ballroom eventually received the money.

"It allows us to settle all the losses from 2020 or at least most of them," said Whitehead.

Rodgers said things started to look closer to normal in 2021. With added health protocols, his venue welcomed back more shows.

They even got some consistent help from Tulsa's own Hanson. The band played a monthly concert series with fans flying in from all over.

‘"Having kind of that steady time, for such a long time helped us with just being able to bring in some money for us too," said Rodgers.

Almost two years since this all began, the country and industry is dealing with another COVID surge.

The Omicron variant is forcing some bands to postpone again, while others are working through it.

Rodgers said his team is adapting and doing its best to make sure the show goes on.

"At this point, it’s kind of just like what we've been doing all along,” said Rodgers. “We've just been booking shows and hoping no one tests positive in the touring crew, the shows don't get cancelled and hopefully there's no new restrictions."

While it may seem like a broken record, the industry, like all of America is hoping for a pandemic-free future.