Travis Linville is modest, modern Oklahoma folk icon 

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The scope of Oklahoma folk looks drastically different now than it did even five years ago, a veritable oil boom compared to the slow trickle that had preceded in the years — even decades — prior. Artists like John Fullbright and Parker Millsap are hogging the Americana spotlight on a national scope, nabbing Grammy nods and glowing reviews across the country and opening the door for other Okies (like John Moreland, among others) in the process.

Talking with those artists, lots of names and faces come up as a credit to the Sooner State’s reclamation of the folk music throne, but if there’s one that always comes up without fail, it’s that of Travis Linville.

He’s a humble guy quick to refuse much credit at all. But even he can’t deny his closeness with any and all of them, perhaps the smallest acceptance the fact that many consider him the godfather of modern Oklahoma folk.

“At some point or another, from producing records and grinding out the Oklahoma singer-songwriter bar thing for so long, you run into everyone on their way up, their way down and their way sideways,” Linville said of knowing just about every Americana musician from around these parts. “On a personal level, that’s where it comes from, hanging out before the national spotlight was on any of us.”

It’s more than networking or proximity. It’s true friendship, and there are precious few as beloved by their peers as Linville.

“I think about John [Fullbright] and I hanging out in my old studio,” Linville said, laughing. “He’d come over and play piano for me because he had nothing better to do. There were lots of late nights spent just goofing off, and if you had told either of us that we’d be doing a sold-out show in a theater together, we would have had a nice, long laugh about it. We couldn’t have fathomed how that would even go down.”

Playing Friday at The Deli, Linville might not be known the same way his friend Fullbright or former guitar pupil Millsap are, but his fingerprints are out there for the world to see and hear all the same. He’s the Oklahoma roots scene’s Swiss Army knife, a guy who can do a little bit of everything and has done a little bit of that for everyone.

And he’s fulfilling a life goal by earning a living playing music full-time for two decades now, which is all the Norman songwriter could really ask for anyway.

“I always felt like I was supposed to be playing music,” Linville said. “That focus keeps you in. It’s about diversifying and saying yes to different kinds of gigs. All of those things together can help you squeak out an existence.”
After a longtime residency at The Deli, a stint helming a recording studio and more, he now splits his time between solo endeavors, other odd music jobs and a steady gig as a sideman for critically acclaimed Houston singer-songwriter Hayes Carll. It’s a busy life, but it’s one that always keeps things interesting.

“When I have some time to put out a record or play some shows on my own time, it always feels fresh,” Linville said. “I’m approaching something exciting as opposed to something a little worn out.”

The folk troubadour found just enough time to record and release Out on the Wire, his latest EP, in April. He has paired it with 2012’s Sun or Moon for a full vinyl LP available now.

“As a whole, I’ve progressively done more of what it is that I’ve been wanting to do,” Linville said. “Trying to capture what it is I am actually trying to do isn’t as easy as it seems like it should be. Out on the Wire, though, I’ve honed in on who I actually am.”

Linville is a songwriter’s songwriter who is quickly realizing there’s very little point in bending his will to the prescribed rulebook on how to make music. He has done it long enough and shaped enough careers for others to know there’s no right way to do it anyway.

Print headline: Balancing act, A godfather of modern Oklahoma folk talked about how he became a king of all trades while shying away from the credit he deserves.

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Joshua Boydston

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