6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday
113 N. Crawford, Norman
Oklahoma enjoys a special place in the scope of American music, producing the likes of Woody Guthrie, Garth Brooks and Leon Russell.
But it’s not always been the best place for someone like Andy Nunez and his wife, Marian — respectively, drummer and keyboardist for the Norman-based Starlight Mints.
Although the ’90s and early aughts brought indie-pop favorites like the Mints, The Flaming Lips and Chainsaw Kittens out of the Sooner State and into the world, there wasn’t an ideal spot in town to book similar bands from elsewhere across the nation.
That’s precisely where the Nunezes stepped in.
“There was a big, empty void,” Andy Nunez said. “People weren’t bringing in the shows we wanted to see. Some people in Oklahoma City kind of were, but no one in Norman at all. Being a college town, it seemed like someone needed to do it. It’s turned into — by accident — our full-time job.”
Using contacts with booking agents and managers gained during the Mints’ heavy touring days, what was intended to be a rehearsal space became Opolis, where bands like Spoon, Vampire Weekend and The Shins since have performed. It opened in August 2002.
“Without Opolis, college rock — now simply referred to as ‘indie rock’ — wouldn’t have a place in Norman,” said Chris Harris, owner of the Hook Echo Sound recording studio in Norman and a member of shoegaze trio Depth & Current, which performs Saturday as part of Opolis’ 10th anniversary celebration. “Very few other venues offer shows featuring nationally touring bands that are culturally relevant to college students and young adults. There will always be bars and bar bands in any town. Opolis is more than that.”
As Starlight Mints took a break after 2006’s Drowaton, Opolis started gaining steam. The venue maintained a steady slate of shows — even as the group headed back out on the road in support of 2009’s Change Remains — all tailored to its particular sensibilities.
“We’re a taste-oriented venue. If you’re on our page, it’s great. If you aren’t on our page, it’s probably not great,” Nunez said. “But if you don’t like listening to what you are doing, I don’t see the point in doing it.”
The Nunezes have maintained a certain level of quality control to the acts they bring in, which, in turn, has made Opolis a special place for local bands to perform.
“We’d like to be a destination,” he said. “Rather than nursing them from the beginning, we’ll pick them up once it’s got going on its own.”
“Playing there, I feel, is a privilege in a way, and bands treat it as such. I wanted to play there for six years before I actually did,” he said. “I have trusted [Andy and Marian’s] input on my music, and without the Opolis, bands may not have a guidance they can trust.”
Opolis has played an integral role in giving bands like Colourmusic, Evangelicals and — most recently — Broncho a place to gain traction before heading out across the country; the Nunezes have provided them with a few tricks of the trade to help them thrive on tour.
“Hopefully, it helps,” Andy Nunez said. “Bands need a place to play where the goal isn’t just to get wasted or be distracted by hormones — somewhere where it’s about listening to the music in front of them.”
Friday and Saturday’s Opolis X is a celebration of the strong, local scene that the venue has had a huge hand in fostering. It features almost 20 acts, all but one from Oklahoma.
“Being able to play there three times with three different bands in one day is something high-school Tommy could have only dreamed of,” McKenzie said. “Thank you, Andy and Marian, for everything you have done for Norman and me.”
In its Opolis gigs, Depth & Current played to new crowds while opening for Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and Stardeath and White Dwarfs, among others.
“All of these shows put us on a stage in front of an enthusiastic crowd that had no preconceptions about our band,” Harris said. “They took us for what we were, right there. Those experiences are fantastic, and it’s those opportunities that we would have missed out on if not for Andy and Opolis.”
The Opolis a decade from now likely won’t look like the Opolis of today, Nunez said.
“It’s been 10 years, and we haven’t mixed it up,” he said, yet remaining mum on what’s in store. “It might be time to.”
But with artists like Twin Shadow and The Melvins already booked for fall, it’s likely the one thing that never will change is the good music spilling out the door, into the streets of downtown Norman and beyond.