Norman-based singer-songwriter Felina Rivera played her first set at Blue Doors at Tenkiller in September during the inaugural Indigo Fest — an environmentally conscious music and art festival focused on spiritual wellness and sustainability.
Rivera and her band, The Feels, had just finished their fest set when she was approached by Blue Doors owner Jane Honiker. The two sparked an immediate friendship.
“[Honiker] is absolutely the sweetest,” Rivera said. “She heard our set on the Sunday afternoon of Indigo Fest and was brought to tears by our music. She came to talk to us after we played and immediately invited us to perform the following summer for the Blue Doors series.”
Felina & The Feels is one of several talented bands scheduled to perform during the Blue Doors’ summerlong Oklahoma Singer Songwriter Series. The alternative folk-rock four-piece plays at nightfall June 2 on the retreat’s central courtyard. Blue Doors is located in eastern Oklahoma near Gore and Lake Tenkiller. Admission is $10.
The Oklahoma Singer Songwriter series, which began in April, has featured Dylan Stewart, Susan Herndon, Annie Oakley and Twiggs as past performers. Beau Jennings is scheduled to play Saturday. The series continues through Aug. 25, ending with a family jam by folk trio Tequila Songbirds. Performance schedules can be found at bluedoorsattenkiller.com.
Honiker said she could not be more proud of the musicians Blue Doors has scheduled in the first year of its series.
“All of these musicians have played for so long; they’re all super humble,” she said.
The music series began as Honiker’s way of giving back to the music community that means so much to her. Turning 60 this year, she has spent a lot of time reflecting on different eras of her life. Honiker has noticed that music is as big a part of her life now as it ever has been.
“Music has become my medicine,” she said.
Honiker said she recently began taking trips to JJ’s Alley Bricktown Pub with friend and Blue Door listening room owner Greg Johnson. (Their two businesses are unrelated, despite their similar names.) At JJ’s, she started talking to musicians about Blue Doors, and they expressed interest in playing the beautiful forested area. Word spread quickly among singer-songwriters eager to play at the retreat.
“I’m still getting calls weekly from different musicians who want to come out and play,” Honiker said. “It’s amazing.”
Honiker hopes to build upon Blue Doors’ efforts to support musical, visual and culinary artists through this series. Though the details are not finalized, she also has plans for growing this year’s series as it progresses into the summer: songwriter workshops, a festival event at the end of the summer and a compilation CD of artist performances.
The cabins at Blue Doors are a converted old motor court motel. The central courtyard is shielded with a large, round roof. Honiker said the roof structure will soon include stained glass windows from Paseo Arts District’s Prairie Arts Collective.
The area includes tables, two grills, two burners, a pizza oven and a smoker. A bonfire will be set up for the night’s musical event. Honiker said a big part of Blue Doors is community togetherness.
“[The courtyard] is a place where everyone comes up and gathers,” she said. “We don’t do kitchens in the rooms; we don’t have TVs down here.”
Though Blue Doors has Wi-Fi, they try to discourage phone and internet engagement during guests’ time at the campgrounds. Some groan over the lack of technology at first, but Honiker said most end up thanking them for the chance to disengage.
“You find that there’s a lot of common things going on around you that maybe you didn’t even realize and makes you feel more normal,” she said.
Finding her way
Felina & The Feels’ full roster includes songwriter, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Rivera, lead guitarist Craig Casey, bassist Pratibha Gautam and drummer Dustin Fox.
Most of the band’s material is original songwriting by Rivera, though she credits Casey for fleshing out her simply written songs with a grand soundscape and the rest of her band for their playing skills.
“It’s been magical seeing my songs come to life,” she said. “I’m so lucky to be playing with these people. Not only are they incredible musicians, they are kind and genuine, honest and ethical.”
Rivera grew up taking voice lessons and singing whenever she could. In college, her mother bought her a guitar and taught her to play a few chords, though Rivera said she is largely self-taught. Jewel, Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple and Tori Amos were all key influences at the time.
While attending the University of Oklahoma, she started writing songs and playing music around Norman but stepped back from the scene for a few years in order to start a family and attend law school.
Her life changed forever in 2014, when her mother died unexpectedly after a battle with lupus. That was only one part of what was an epically exhausting week.
“The same day she passed, I had finalized my divorce at the courthouse that very morning,” Rivera said. “It was a very hard day and very hard time in my life. I felt like I had the rug swept out from under me.”
Songwriting is the thing that helped push Rivera forward.
“One of the first things I did the day after [my mom’s] passing was go to her home, get her guitar — a beautiful green Ovation that I knew she’d want me to have — and started writing songs again,” she said.
Her mother had stacks and stacks of books of her own poetry. Pulling inspiration from her mother’s own words, Rivera wrote some of her own songs and began to finally heal.
Rivera would meet the rest of her bandmates through a chance meeting after a solo set she played at The Root. Casey and Gautam were at the bar venue, scouting it out as a music video location for their other band, Fresh Juice Party. Hearing Rivera for the first time, they were immediately blown away.
“My style isn’t bluegrass like a lot of the singer-songwriters in Oklahoma,” Rivera said, “and they were very complimentary of my songwriting and strong vocals.”
They began talks about playing together in the future that same night. Casey first joined Rivera for a set she played at last year’s AMP Fest, and Gautam finally joined the group for the band’s Indigo Fest performance.
Fox was later brought into the band as a friend of Casey and Gautam. The band is currently working on recording a new EP and finishing up a few music video projects. One of those music video projects is for the song “No Stars,” a Rebekah Del Rio cover that has become one of the band’s live staples.
Rivera said she loves the song partially because it gives her the chance to set her guitar down and focus on the challenging vocals.
“It’s also partially in Spanish,” she said, “and as the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, it feels good to be able to bring in an element of my heritage into my music.”
Rivera has enjoyed every minute she has spent performing with her new band and considers herself fortunate to have bandmates who are as good at being people as they are musicians.
“They truly care about their fellow human,” she said. “I’m so lucky to be their bandmate, but more importantly, their friend.”