The Blue Door: Oklahoma City's Premiere Listening Room
The Blue Door: Oklahoma City’s Premiere Listening Room
Oklahoma City- I recently sat down with Greg Johnson, owner of The Blue Door in Oklahoma City and talked to him about the venue and how it came to be. The Blue Door is located at 2805 N. McKinley Blvd., and has been in business for 25 years. It is a unique venue, one of Oklahoma City’s best kept secrets if you ask me. First of all it is a BYOB establishment, it isn’t a bar. You are welcome to bring a cooler full of your favorite beverages. It’s also an all ages venue, making it a great place to introduce the younger generations to fantastic music. The Blue Door also isn’t set up as a typical live music venue, with a dance floor and room to get rowdy. It seats 100 people, it’s comfortable and laid back, one of my favorite places to see music. The Blue Door is a small homey place with folding chairs set up in front of a simple stage where people come to just sit and listen to their favorite musicians. It just might have that homey feeling because it is Greg’s home, he lives at the building, and in essence you are there watching music in his living room. There’s even a Blue Door mascot so to speak, Charlie the cat, who roams around like he owns the place. Probably because he does, it’s his house, we’re just there invading his space. “I don’t want this to be just another venue. The songwriting has to be at a certain level for me to book someone. To me it’s more about the songs than anything else, and I want to keep my focus on that,” Greg said.
Greg also said he never had any plans of opening a music venue. With a background in music journalism, running a venue wasn’t really what he had set his sights on. Before he opened the Blue Door he wrote for the Austin American Statesman, The Austin Chronicle, the Daily Oklahoman, and OU Daily. He lived in Austin from 1981-1991 and got involved with many songwriters during that time, as well as worked on his Woody Guthrie Tribute shows. When he moved back to Oklahoma in the fall of 1992, Mary Reynolds, a singer-songwriter in the area, offered him to chance to host concerts in the building where the Blue Note is now, which is where she lived. Greg started bringing his friends up from Austin to perform shows, without any master plan or vision of how it would play out. Eventually he took over “Mary’s Place” when she moved to Austin in spring of 1993 and the Blue Door was born. The name came from the fact that it had bright blue doors, and he wasn’t really sure what to call it. “For something I didn’t plan on doing, it’s kinda worked out ok,” said Greg. I wholeheartedly agree.
Greg has several other musical projects going on as well; the Woody Guthrie Tribute Show he puts on each year, managing both John Fullbright and Michael Fracasson, and a weekly radio show on KOSU (91.7 OKC, 107.5 Tulsa) called For the Sake of the Song which airs each Sunday from 7-8pm. Greg stays immersed in the music scene. There’s also a documentary being made about the Blue Door, which you can check out more about at www.BlueDoorDocumentary.Com. It looks like it is going to be a pretty amazing project, and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product.
There’s a certain kind of magic within the walls of the Blue Door; from years and years worth of posters advertising amazing shows and artists covering the walls, to the simple musical décor on stage. It brings a sense of musical history, and creates a truly authentic atmosphere to just come and enjoy music. When the lights go down and the artist on stage starts playing, a hush falls through the room and people really pay attention. For the most part people come to the Blue Door because they really love music, they appreciate it and support it and want to enjoy it in its purest and simplest form. They don’t come to get wild and crazy and rowdy, although Greg says that does happen from time to time too. The Blue Door is all about the music, and this passion shines through above everything else.
There are several instruments displayed on a shelf that runs around the top of the stage. Greg pulled down an old Zither to show me. It’s a very old, but beautiful instrument, and he shows me the address printed on the inside; Southwest Harp Manufacturing Company 2805 N. McKinley blvd. It was built in the 1930’s in that very same building. “It’s pretty amazing, it’s a part of our history. This place has always been a musical place,” said Greg. Maybe that’s why the place seems so magical, it’s been steeped in the making of music for so many years. Another thing hanging on the wall in the main listening room is a poster of the first Woody Guthrie Tribute show from 1991, in a unique rustic frame that looks like it was made from tree limbs. “I actually made that frame and gave it as a gift for the first anniversary,” said Brad Piccolo, of the red Dirt Rangers. Greg and Brad reminisce for a moment about that show, and how it was before Brad officially played for the Red Dirt Rangers. “Yeah it says with Brad Piccolo and The Red Dirt Rangers, you got double billing there! How does that work?” Laughed Greg. “That was back when they would call me to come play bass for them, you know, what did I know then,” Replied Brad with his own laughs.
Many amazing artists have played the Blue Door; from the long time musicians like Tom Skinner, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Michael Fracasso, Brandon Jenkins, Mike Mcclure and the Red Dirt Rangers (who stopped in while I was there to discuss an upcoming live album they will be recording there), to local favorites like The Damn Quails, John Calvin Abney, Samantha Crain, John Fullbright, Mama Sweet, Travis Linville, Dylan Stewart, The Annie Oakleys, and so many more in between. You can check out a full line up of shows, and find out more information about the Blue door at www.bluedoorokc.com.