How do you measure success?
Sure, it could be money. It could be notoriety or your name in the minds of people around the world but it could also be balance, consistency, and even simple happiness.
Just ask Mike Hosty.
The local legend and stalwart songsmith is the subject of new documentary Oklahoma Breakdown, exploring the musician’s own decades-long struggle with having missed the limelight, only to find a very different kind of success in the happiness and contentment that comes with being a hometown hero.
Ahead of the film’s Oklahoma premiere at this year’s deadCenter Film Festival, director Christopher Fitzpatrick spoke to Oklahoma Gazette about Hosty’s improbable and indelible career and about his own long-standing infatuation that led to the creation of the documentary.
“Hosty could do what he does in front of any audience in the world and blow them away,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think we’ve all wondered over time and tried to figure out, you know, why he wasn’t bigger.”
Fitzpatrick went to school at OU in the late 90s, and first came across Hosty when the future one-man band was still performing with the group Heater. It wasn’t until a little later, when he caught Hosty at The Deli around the earliest days of his famous “residency” at the Campus Corner bar, that Fitzpatrick really took notice of the singer’s effect on an audience.
“Everybody was there, and everybody was just dancing and having a great time,” Fitzpatrick recalled. “I actually still credit Hosty’s music for how I learned to dance.”
By the time Fitzpatrick finished school at OU, he’d been fully converted into a lifelong Hosty fan, even as life took him down the path of becoming a sports videographer, spending much of his career covering the Dallas Mavericks up close and personally.
But in the back of his head, he always clung to one dream project.
“I just always had that curiosity and that big question about him. If I felt this way, did other people feel it?” Fitpatrick said. “So, in 2016, I finally went freelance and some time freed up, and that’s when I was just like, ‘Man, I want to do a documentary on you.’”
Fitzpatrick admits that it took the project a little while to start coming together as he struggled to find the story threads in Hosty’s humble “working musician” life and as Hosty himself remained somewhat enigmatic to the filmmaker.
“I had to really work on my storytelling,” he said. “One big interview we had that really gave it another level of depth was when I started talking to him about his family background. That’s when I knew that it was about more than just music and that it needed to be more.”
From there, Fitzpatrick began delving further into Hosty’s family on both sides of his life, from his childhood and upbringing in a strictly religious household to the family he’s made with his wife and son over the past couple decades.
“It just evolved over time,” he said. “I started really learning his story and finally hearing from and talking to these people in the music world. They were all saying how highly they thought of Mike and how he’s one of the most talented guys they’d seen. I started thinking, ‘Okay, I’m reading this right,’ and that’s when I really started thinking that this was a story worth telling.’”
Among those more traditionally famous fans of Hosty’s songs is Stoney LaRue, the Texas-based country-rocker that first covered Hosty’s showstopper “Oklahoma Breakdown” to massive regional success, becoming the biggest-selling single in Texas in 2007. LaRue’s success with the song finally catapulted Hosty’s songwriting onto the national stage, but also further proved that, while his songs could reach the masses, his own singular, unique persona was likely to stay buried in the Oklahoma underground.
Fitzpatrick thinks that’s at least partially because of the impossibility of translating Hosty’s live energy into a packaged product.
“He’s just so good live,” he said. “There’s nothing like him. It just doesn’t come across the same way unless you’re sitting there in front of him and he’s interacting with you and telling jokes in the middle of a song while he’s playing kazoo and playing the drums with his feet.”
After all of the false starts, family matters, health scares, child rearing, and countless re-evaluations that are all covered in the film, Fitzpatrick says that Hosty has clearly grown to love the little niche that he’s carved for himself and the contentment and confidence that comes with it.
“In America, we do glorify being famous,” he said. “Sure, you think, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to be a rock star?’ but then you think about the daily lifestyle, about not being able to walk down the street. Well, Mike Hosty can. He’s chosen his own lifestyle for himself. The value that Mike puts on success is just being able to live life the way he wants to and to play music. As much as, or more than, anyone I’ve ever met in my life, he really loves what he does.”
Fitzpatrick and Hosty will be in attendance to present the film, Oklahoma Breakdown: The Mike Hosty Story, at 3 p.m. June 12 at Harkins Theatres Bricktown 16.