A Chainsaw Kittens reunion highlights three days of music for Opolis’ 15 Year Anniversary festival

Opolis, a staple in central Oklahoma’s indie rock and live music communities, celebrates 15 years of concerts with a three-day music festival headlined by a rare reunion of one of the best bands Norman has ever produced.

Chainsaw Kittens, the legendary alternative rock quartet fronted by celebrated multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter Tyson Meade, is set to perform at Opolis’ 15 Year Anniversary Sept. 8 on the venue and bar’s outdoor stage, 113 N. Crawford Ave., in Norman. The anniversary celebration officially begins Sept. 7 and runs through Sept. 9. The outdoor stage is located near Opolis’ patio area.

The Kittens’ last billed reunion show was during the first Norman Music Festival in 2008, though there has been at least one other partial reunion since then.

The band launched in 1989 and became inactive in 2000. Its current roster includes Meade, guitarist Trent Bell, bassist Matt Johnson and drummer Eric Harmon.

Though the Kittens never found wide commercial success, the band’s work is noted as a key early influence for many great bands to follow, including Nirvana and The Flaming Lips. Its cult classic album Flipped Out in Singapore celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this year.

Dozens of other acts will pass through Opolis during the fest. Other headliners include The Octopus Project, a pop and indietronica band from Austin, Texas; indie rock quintet Horse Thief; and psychedelic/punk rock outfit Helen Kelter Skelter. A bevvy of other Oklahoma and Texas bands representing a wide swath of genres perform indoor and outdoor shows during the three-day celebration.

The anniversary festival is presented in partnership with Norman Arts Council and, for this year, replaces Summer Daze, the city’s annual back-to-school concert event.

Opolis held an anniversary festival five years ago to commemorate is 10th birthday. Andy Nunez, who co-owns Opolis with his wife Marian, said while he did not ever intend on operating his own venue growing up, the place has become a significant part of his life in the last decade and a half. Despite the mountain of extra work it puts on the small operation, the milestone is worth celebrating.

“Somehow, we’re still here,” Andy said.

Cat call

Andy Nunez has been friends with Bell (who also owns and operates Bell Labs Recording Studio) since childhood. When he approached Bell about possibly setting up a Kittens reunion for the festival, the band was noncommittal.

“At first, they weren’t going to do it,” Nunez said, “but I’m glad it worked out.”

Meade, in a recent Oklahoma Gazette interview, said the Kittens would not reassemble for just any venue. Many have tried to recruit the band for a reunion in the past, but Meade said the Nunezes are very good friends of the Kittens. The band ultimately agreed to the show because of its love for Opolis.

“As clubs go, it’s one of our favorite clubs in the United States because they really are band-friendly,” Meade said. “They know what it’s like to be on tour, and they treat bands respectfully.”

Though not commercially successful at the time the band was active, the Kittens are repeatedly mentioned by music publications and blogs as a highly influential act in alt-rock. The Kittens’ name can frequently be seen in lists of the “best bands that never made it big.”

“History has been very kind to the Kittens,” Meade said, “and we appreciate that.”

This is part of the reason the band does not appear out of place on the Opolis 15 Year Anniversary lineup alongside younger acts. Meade said the members consciously keep reunions sparse as a way of preserving — and even enhancing — the band’s legacy.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Meade said.

Above all, Meade is just excited to support Opolis, a venue he admires for embodying the indie rock spirit and drawing a strong and consistent crowd for local bands.

“To me, it’s like going to my friend’s house and hanging out,” he said. “It’s very personal.”

click to enlarge A Chainsaw Kittens reunion highlights three days of music for Opolis’ 15 Year Anniversary festival
Garett FIsberck
Andy and Marian Nunez poses for a photo at Opolis, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.

Music life

Both halves of the Nunez couple were members of prominent former Norman indie pop band Starlight Mints (Andy on drums and Marian on keyboard). Opolis began as a practice space for the band, which was touring around six months a year at the time. Musician friends began asking them about tour stops in the area, so the couple began hosting shows out of the venue.

“For a long time, there was a desert in trying to find places to play in the metro area, even just Norman,” Andy Nunez said. “We knew that there was a need.”

Starlight Mints played its final show at Opolis in 2009. The Nunezes then focused their attention on operating the venue.

Many big-name bands have passed through the venue in its 15 years, including Vampire Weekend, The National, The Shins, Grizzly Bear and Spoon.

Joshua Boydston, communications director at Norman Arts Council, said Opolis is one of several reasons downtown Norman has seen a cultural renaissance within the last decade.

He also praised Opolis’ legacy as an all-ages venue. It spent most of its history as an all-ages venue but became 21+ for a few years starting in 2012 before reopening shows to underage patrons in October.

The Nunezes never imagined themselves as venue owner-operators, but they are glad to still be working in music in some capacity.

“It’s what we know,” Marian Nunez said. “It chose us.”

Visit opolis.org.

Print headline: Stormin’ Norman, A Chainsaw Kittens reunion highlights three days of music for Opolis’ 15 Year Anniversary festival.

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