Coming attractions: OKPOP, other destinations will enrich Tulsa as music city

Tulsa-based music impresario Jim Halsey opened his office doors Friday so visitors could lay eyes on his memorabilia collection that was decades in the making.

Call it a celebration. Halsey has represented music artists, superstars included, for 70 years.

Or call it an appetizer for Tulsa’s future as a go-to place for music-related attractions. That future will include the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture. Jeff Moore, OKPOP’s executive director, told the Tulsa World this week that groundbreaking for the museum is expected to take place in the fall.

“Tourism based on pop culture is a real thing and I think it’s only going to increase as time goes on,” Moore said. “It is going to bring people from just outside the local community and hopefully bring in a lot of outside dollars and tourism to Tulsa and the state.”

Moore cited the success of The Outsiders House, a filming site for “The Outsiders” motion picture, in drawing visitors to Tulsa. The home, which is being transformed into a museum, is set to open in August, and continues to attract sightseers from around the globe.

Fast forward a few years and Tulsa will, like Nashville, be a multiple-choice city for music attractions/museums. Halsey said there will be so many attractions that people could be here for five days and not see everything — and also be entertained by a big-name music artist almost every night because of the quality of the city’s venues.

“I’m not the Chamber of Commerce,” Halsey said. “But I’m a believer in the potential of Tulsa.”

Here’s a roll call of current and prospective music attractions:

The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa’s Arts District opened in 2013. Tulsa’s George Kaiser Family Foundation purchased the comprehensive Woody Guthrie Archives in 2011. The center spotlights artists other than just the namesake. A John Lee Hooker exhibit is on display now. Marty Stuart and John Mellencamp were among music figures spotlighted in past exhibits. An Arlo Guthrie exhibit is on the horizon.

The Bob Dylan Center is expected to open in 2021. Let’s clarify a difference between The Bob Dylan Archive and the Bob Dylan Center. Tulsa is home to The Bob Dylan Archive, a collection of materials open only to qualified researchers. The Bob Dylan Center will allow the general public to interact with materials in the archive. A location for the center has not been announced, but it will be in the Arts District.

“Tulsa will be the only place in the world where visitors can explore the imagination of one of America’s most important and influential artists, while discovering their own creative voice along the way,” Steve Higgins of the Bob Dylan Center said.

“We expect the Bob Dylan Center to elevate Tulsa’s profile as a cultural destination, building on the success of the Woody Guthrie Center, Gathering Place, Cain’s Ballroom and other attractions that can only be found here.”

The Church Studio, the historic HQ of Leon Russell’s Shelter Records, could open along the growing Studio Row in the Pearl District in 10-12 months. The Church Studio Archive will be showcased in rotating exhibits. Plans include indoor and outdoor music performances, art exhibits, book signings and music education and apprenticeship programs.

“It’s definitely a music lover’s destination honoring our musical past while engaging a new generation,” owner Teresa Knox said.

The Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture (OKPOP) will shine a light on Oklahoma creatives who impacted pop culture, music artists included. OKPOP will be constructed across the street from a pre-existing music attraction, Cain’s Ballroom. Jack White called it maybe his favorite place to play in the world.

“People know about Cain’s Ballroom all over the world,” Halsey said, calling the historic venue the Carnegie Hall of country music.

Halsey would like his archives to be housed in a Legends of Country Music Museum. Halsey, who represented more than two dozen members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, said he owns the biggest collection of country music memorabilia (more than 50,000 items) this side of the hall of fame.

Halsey said the collection has drawn interest from parties in Florida, Nashville, Branson and Los Angeles, but he would like to keep it in Tulsa because it was “built” here.

“We would attract people from everywhere that would stop through here,” he said. “There would be bus tours coming to see it.”

Is Halsey’s collection destined to join other Tulsa music attractions? It’s an exciting time to be waiting for whatever is next.

“That’s kind of a cool thing for us to be right here at this epicenter of this energy that is being created with Woody, as he should be, being the anchor that other things are going to be hooking onto,” McCloud said.

“We broke the ice as far as a music museum in downtown Tulsa is concerned and an archive for a musician in Tulsa is concerned and look where it has gone.”

McCloud said it is “undeniably” the plan to make Tulsa a music destination. You can mention other cities with musical attractions, but McCloud said this: “I don’t think we need to compare ourselves to anything because we are going to become this very unique music city. It needs to grow organically.”

McCloud said Tulsa music has kind of been “our little secret,” but people are noticing now thanks to history and the contemporary music. She said the music museums will recognize the importance of historical artists upon whose shoulders current artists stand, but there’s a need to nurture a new generation in order to build a vibrant music city. “Tulsa Sound” artists sprang from the 918 in the past. Maybe there’s a sequel.

“You can feel the energy kind of bubbling,” she said. “But we need to gather the data that it takes to convince large industry organizations to develop a satellite here and invest in (the music) we have here. But, for sure, this is the place. When you talk to musicians, Tulsa is where they want to play. They want to play the Cain’s Ballroom or they want to play the BOK Center because they are special. There is a history at the Cain’s Ballroom and wanting to be associated with that. … The Cain’s Ballroom and the Brady Theater (which is being renamed the Tulsa Theater), there is music in the floorboards. You can feel it when you walk in.”

Halsey said Tulsa has become the epicenter of intellectual music property because of the Woody Guthrie Archive and the Bob Dylan Archive.

“I think OKPOP, when that gets built, it will have another impact,” he said.

OKPOP’s groundbreaking was originally supposed to occur in the fall of 2018, but Moore said infrastructure in the neighborhood needed to be updated. Among updates: OKPOP is working with PSO to relocate power lines. He said power lines will be buried and there will be no above-ground power poles on Main Street in the Arts District. That will facilitate development in an undeveloped area of the district.

“(OKPOP) is an investment of state dollars and we want it to be something that is going to have a positive impact on the city — not just from a cultural standpoint, but for future economic development,” Moore said.

When OKPOP becomes reality, Moore said it will add to the cultural fabric of the city. He wants OKPOP to offer complementary experiences when, for instance, visitors come to the city for a theater outing or a concert at BOK Center. Exhibition space at OKPOP can be used for related displays.

“They can come over to OKPOP and get kind of a broader context of the influence of said artist that is in town that night,” Moore said.

“To me, I am looking at it as a lot of cooperation between all of the entities that we have the ability to work with. One of the great things about OKPOP is we have so many connections. There is really not a storyline within pop culture that Oklahomans haven’t had a direct connection to, so whether it’s film or television or music, the artist doesn’t have to be from Oklahoma for there to be a strong connection to Oklahoma. That’s one thing that we are looking at with OKPOP is we are looking at the global influence of Oklahomans.”

Halsey said Tulsa is at a crossroads and it’s possible for the city to become a major tourist attraction with worldwide impact.

“It just needs to be organized,” he said. “There needs to be one central group that has meetings and can plan it. This is why Nashville is so successful. They have the Country Music Association there that bankers and lawyers and everybody — music publishers and artists — they all belong to it and promote that city.”

Halsey said Abby Kurin does a good job with the Tulsa Office of Film, Music, Arts & Culture and he said McCloud does a fantastic job promoting the Woody Guthrie Center.

“And there are others who do the same thing, but this could be really an important tourist center,” he said, mentioning non-music attractions like Gilcrease Museum, the Philbrook Museum of Art and the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in nearby Claremore.

It all fits into the category of having something interesting for people to experience, according to Halsey.

“This is a magic city,” he said. “It’s all about the earth and where we came from. It’s about the dirt and the oil and the water.”

And the music.