ACM@UCO Performance Lab teaches students by day and entertains Bricktown by night 

Bare-chested but for the pink sweater hanging open over his shoulders, Twiggy Mauck stomped, thrashed and yowled his way through an impassioned version of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" with his band.

And it was 10 a.m. on a Monday " just another day in the life at the ACM@UCO Performance Lab, Oklahoma City's newest music facility. 

Sinful no more
After class

The band performed as part of Live Music Workshop, a mandatory class for instrument performance majors studying at the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Located at 323 E. Sheridan, the ACM@UCO Performance Lab is the latest development in the "School of Rock"-esque institution's arsenal, as well as the newest coup for Bricktown nightlife.

"It really is a classroom that doubles as a venue," said Scott Booker, CEO of the school. "In our mind, it is a classroom first."

There aren't that many classrooms that host touring bands on the side. But even an evening show by Durham, N.C.'s The Mountain Goats on Oct. 6 played a role in the education of ACM@UCO's student body.

"Students major in music production, performance and business," said Susan Wortham, COO of the school. "Having a venue meets the needs of all three types of students."

It's this education-first mind-set that helps determine what shows end up at the Lab.

"Students have to be able to participate in some way, shape or form," Wortham said.

Opportunities planned or realized include music production students running the sound and lights for concerts, music business majors designing posters and coordinating promotion for concerts, and instrumentalists auditioning to be a touring solo artist's backing band.

The unique opportunities offered by the Performance Lab are not lost on the students. Taylor Gary, a first-year guitar major from Dallas, played a set at "LiveLink," a biweekly concert series that features student acts.

"It's really cool that I go to a school where they try to set things up and get your name out there," Gary said. "As far as venues that students our age can be playing, this is definitely high up."

And he's not talking about the height of the stage.

The venue, formerly a dance club named Purely Sinful, bears no traces of its past. The 365-person venue has been remodeled, updated and outfitted with high-class design and equipment.

A small foyer leads directly into the space, which is one large room. The charcoal walls feature brick pillars and tasteful mirrors. The decent-sized stage is set at the back, with the full room splaying out in front of the bands.
This wide-open feel appeals to Gary, as does the sound it allows.

"It reminds me of the House of Blues, with the big, open area," he said. "The PA and the sound system are great. People said it sounded amazing."

Touring band Wye Oak's bass-heavy indie rock tested the sound system, and patrons did not come away disappointed. The sound was crisp, full and loud. 

"The sound is above most venues," Gary said.

Any band, however, is not above the audience very much. The several hundred people listening to The Mountain Goats were privy to an up-close view. Lead singer John Darnielle leaned off the stage and into the audience several times to exchange high-fives, make handshakes and even sing directly to a female concertgoer.

If that enamored fan wasn't intoxicated enough by Darnielle's attention, there are plenty of places that she could have gone to celebrate in surrounding Bricktown.

Jeannette Smith, the newly appointed executive director of Bricktown Association, thinks the venue will contribute to Bricktown's atmosphere.

"It's a great opportunity, and not only for the school," Smith said. "It opens our doors, and it's a little more welcome to everyone. It's going to help us continue to grow the positive, family element in Bricktown. Everyone can come down: family, siblings, high school students."

The all-ages, no-alcohol element at the Performance Lab is especially valued by Wortham.

"Any time we expose any youngster to the arts, I think it's a great thing," Wortham said. 

But it's not just the younger demographic venturing out to Bricktown.

"I haven't been to Bricktown to see live music in a couple of years, because there haven't been any reasons to," said Seth McCarroll, lead singer and guitarist of Norman band Gentle Ghost, who attended the Wye Oak/Mountain Goats show. "I very much enjoyed my experience watching Wye Oak play at the Performance Lab."

The concert left him with a desire not just to watch shows there, but be an active participant.

"It's a great room. I'd love to play there," he said.

With students, local musicians and touring acts all desirous of gigs at the new location, it would seem that the venue would be flush with cash. Not so, said Wortham.

"Sometimes we'll make a little money, and that goes right back into a fund for the Business Development Center. With our (audience) cap what it is, we're not getting rich," she said.

ACM@UCO keeps the space's student priority front and center, but its side benefits are still a boon to Bricktown and the local music scene.

"Our concern isn't money from beer sales," Booker said. "Our concern is putting on a great show in a good venue and providing a place for our students to learn."

top photo Twiggy Mauck leads fellow students in Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" Photo/Mark Hancock
bottom photo Stephen Tyler, staff technical coordinator, mixes sound for the students. Photo/Mark Hancock

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