On Thursday my wife and I took a short road trip to a tiny town called Perkins. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Perkins, Oklahoma. Not many people have. In fact, I spent the first eighteen years of my life living less than an hour away and have family sprinkled throughout rural Oklahoma – and before this week I had never heard of Perkins. But it’s a real place, a farm town of less than 3,000 people about 60 miles north of Oklahoma City. We went to Perkins because someone up there was sponsoring a concert featuring three musicians we’d never heard of, and we’d seen an advertisement for it on Meetup. Or Facebook. Or in the “What’s Happening” section of our local paper. Something like that. Low key, with exceptionally low publicity. Anyway, we didn’t go because we had high expectations for the show, but just to point our toes in a new direction for an evening.
One of the musicians, a woman named Carter Sampson, remarked in her opening comments that she would soon be heading off for a European tour. Apparently (and this was a big surprise to me), the Europeans are absolutely mad for the genre sometimes called “Americana” or country/folk, with a special fondness for music rooted in none other than Oklahoma. This seemed incredible. Europeans love Oklahoma music? Somehow this woman I was seeing perform in tiny Perkins was in the Top 10 of the EuroAmericana chart and I was pretty certain I couldn’t find one person of my acquaintance anywhere in Oklahoma, much less in California, New York or Texas, who had ever heard of her.
Hearing of the European appreciation for Oklahoma made me start thinking, in turn, of the negative slant most Americans hold towards our state — the common assumption, sometimes unstated but often explicit, that all the “good stuff” in America is on one coast or another or, at the very least, in Chicago or Houston or another “real” city. I lived in California for more than 15 years. I heard Okie jokes, Red State comments, Bible Belt stereotyping. People used the term “flyover state” in front of me without hesitation – apparently deeming it to be a designation so right and true that they couldn’t hear their own arrogance. And, unfortunately, the disdain we feel from our neighbors is contagious — sometimes even Oklahomans can have a hard time appreciating our state.
So all of this rumination led me in a circle back to how my wife and I have been surprised by the number of beautiful places we’ve found and interesting and dynamic experiences we’ve had in Oklahoma over the past six months. Although we strive to be open-minded sorts who can find adventure and happiness anywhere, we had started our new life here with some built-in negativity that actual experience has now shown me was way off-base. There’s a lot in Oklahoma that is worth exploring and worth telling other people about – and, starting with this post, I’m planning to do just that!
So … back to the concert … I’ll give the punchline first. The concert was fantastic. As mentioned, it featured three artists – Carter Sampson, a singer/songwriter with a big voice, Travis Linville, a troubador with amazing guitar skills and an engaging swagger, and Kyle Reid, another great guitarist who played part of his set on an awesome homemade cigar-box guitar. The three were playing together, sort of, but also separately – i.e., they were sharing a stage and supporting each other musically, but each is an independent musician and each led the stage for different parts of the show. They were all talented, professional, and stage savvy. Both my wife and I agreed that we would go see any of the three of them again. But the best part of the show was seeing these amazing musicians in a setting that perfectly suited their understated, authentic vibe. The concert was in the “Old Church” of Perkins – which is exactly what is sounds like. A tiny, one-room church built more than 100 years ago. My wife and I were in the very last row (of 8 rows) and could hear every note they played and every side comment they made. You want to talk to the musicians? They mingled with the crowd during intermission. You want to raise a ruckus during the show? Unheard of. The crowd was completely attentive to the music. The show went on for three hours and then they played an encore.
For those of you who are interested, this concert was part of the Cimarron Breeze series, the next installment of which will feature Jimmy LaFave on June 18th (my wife and I will be in attendance!). If you do head up to Perkins for the show, we liked our dinner at El Mexicano (great chips, salsa and queso, tasty chicken enchiladas, cost for two people without drinks and pre-tip was $15). They also sell beer at the concert – just drop $3 in the jar. It’s an honor system. That plus the $15 dinner plus the general neighborly vibe made us feel like we were about 60 years away from California. In a good way.