History of the Blue Door

The Blue DoorThe Blue Door began somewhat by accident. After living in Austin for nearly a decade where I was involved with the singer/songwriter community as a music journalist, publicist and host of Woody Guthrie concerts, I returned to my native Oklahoma in the fall of 1992, with no idea of ever becoming a music concert promoter. I was maybe going to move to Nashville to get an ‘industry’ job, or possibly write for the Nashville Scene or the Tennessean. The music journalist angle I may have been able to pull off, but as for working for a label, publishing company or any number of music biz jobs I was gently reminded by my friend Kevin Welch of the pitfalls of such an idea. Knowing my taste and my temperament, he flatly said, “Brother I am afraid if you did come to Nashville, one of two things might happen. You would either get killed or kill someone.” He knew how much I hated what has happened to mainstream country music, and with my big ole mouth I would have pissed off someone along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I love Nashville and I have many songwriter friends there, but he was right regarding me being in the mainstream business there.

So, still not sure what I was going to do, or even if I was going to stay in music, I took a job working at a emergency shelter for kids. Then my sister changed my life with a single comment to Mary Reynolds. After church one Sunday, Fran said to Mary, “My brother has moved back from Austin and if he doesn’t get involved in music I don’t think he is gonna stay here.” Then Mary replied, “I have this funky place over on McKinley where I live and I have done some concerts there. Maybe he can bring some of his friends from Austin to do some shows.” It was really that simple. A few months later, in January of 1993, I convinced my friend Michael Fracasso to come to OKC and do a gig at Mary’s place. She called it Hotel Bohemia and we used her snail mail list of about 100 names, and lo and behold if 50 folks didn’t show up to see an unknown singer/songwriter from Austin. Michael wrote “Back To Oklahoma” on the way up here, and since then he has been one of the most important artists that we present.

After Michael, I called on friends such as Jimmy LaFave, Michael Elwood & Beth Galiger, The Red Dirt Rangers, Ray Wylie Hubbard, who all came and played before we were even calling it The Blue Door. In May of that year Mary moved to Austin and I moved in the back of the building and renamed it The Blue Door, simply because I had no idea what to call it and it did have two bright blue doors in the front. We sold out that show weeks in advance, and even KWTV came out and interviewed Kevin and featured The Blue Door on their newscasts that evening.

Kevin Welch, May 1993

“Damn this is easy,” I thought. Little did I know how untrue those words were. It wasn’t long before most all my friends from Austin came here: Iain Matthews, Peter Keane, Buick McKane, Lisa Mednick, Alejandro Escovedo, Butch Hancock, Sara Elizabeth Campbell, Steve James, Bruce Robison, Beaver Nelson, Jud Newcomb, Troy Campbell, The Bad Livers, and on and on. Then Chris Smither came calling, as did others from Austin and elsewhere: Ellis Paul, Greg Trooper, Lucy Kaplansky, Don Conoscenti, Dave Alvin, Vance Gilbert, Cheryl Wheeler, Bill Mallonee, The Kennedys, Chuck Pyle, Vance Gilbert, Patrice Pike, Bill Morrisey, Arlo Guthrie, Sara Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, Eliza Gilkyson, Chris Whitley, Paul Thorn, Todd Snider, Kieran Kane, Mike Henderson, The Dead Reckoners, The Sidehill Gougers, Dedringers, Terri Hendrix & Lloyd Maines, Bill Kirchen, James Talley, Malcolm Holcombe, Bob Childers, Tom Skinner, Jared Tyler, Greg Jacobs, Paul Geremia, John Hammond, Jim Lauderdale, Melissa Ferrick, Jon Dee Graham, Terry “Buffalo” Ware, and of course Mary Reynolds with her partner Louise Goldberg. So many others as well.

Since those early years, we have grown to become Oklahoma’s premiere venue for performing songwriters, hosting such legends as Jimmy Webb, Joe Ely, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, David Lindley and Tom Rush. We love working with new songwriters who are developing their audience and always welcome the best in bluegrass, folk, rock, country and blues.

Greg Johnson