Tulsa: Tailor-Made for Music Lovers

An alternative streak fuels this oil town. A mural on downtown’s new Woody Guthrie Center shows the Oklahoman songwriter holding a guitar tagged “This machine kills fascists”—words he scrawled on his instrument in 1943 but not the ones his name usually conjures.

“‘This Land Is Your Land’ isn’t just a campfire song; Guthrie really was a radical,” says Deana McCloud, executive director of the museum. Tulsa likewise is often misunderstood.

With an art deco skyline of gargoyles and spires, the city has long been rich in the arts, from Cain’s Ballroom—displaying paraphernalia from famous headliners including Bob Wills, the Sex Pistols, and Wilco—to a glassblowing school and the 19,000-seat BOK Center.

Additions such as the Woody Guthrie Center and a downtown branch of the Philbrook contemporary art museum have reinvigorated the historic Brady Arts District.

The 19-story Mayo Hotel, a 1925 landmark with Doric columns, seemed fated for demolition a few years ago; now renovated, it attracts post-arena-concert crowds to its rooftop bar (part of a suite where Elvis Presley once stayed). And on any given night at Soundpony, whether punk or electronic, the music is always free and original.

“We were weird before Austin,” says sculptor Colleen Stiles. “We just kept it to ourselves.”

Tip: Explore the Brady Arts District the first Friday of the month for free museum admission, music, and art shows.

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This piece, written by Steve Larese, appeared in the February/March issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

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