Every time we go to Oklahoma City, we manage to cram in five meals a day, at least one brewery and a handful of murals while also finding new surprises around every city block. But on this past long weekend in OKC, we added another kind of art to our roster: live music! We also explored a new side of Oklahoma City to us by venturing out to the city’s entertainment neighborhood Chisholm Creek for Topgolf and iFLY.
If you haven’t been to OKC, the fact that it has such a burgeoning art and live music scene may surprise you, but those in-the-know are fully aware that the city has positioned itself as the nucleus of artistic activity in this intersection of the Midwest and American South. In fact, in 2013, OKC was named an “Our Town” city by the National Endowment of the Arts, which sparked a bigger plan to integrate artwork and artistic vision throughout the metropolitan landscape. As someone highly appreciative of a city government’s support of the arts as it is unfortunately rare, I love the driving philosophy behind AMP Up OKC:
Creative cities provide engaging environments for residents and visitors, extend opportunities for life-long learning, and help preserve community history and identity. Over the past two decades, Oklahoma City has been steadily transitioning into a modern, urban city that is proud of its unique Native American and Western heritage.
Prior to the Our Town award, Oklahoma City adopted a One Percent For Art Ordinance in 2009—meaning that one percent of construction budgets for buildings and parks be allocated to public art—as a way to demonstrate its commitment to building a great community in which to live, work, play and visit, recognizing that people move to and invest in cities that offer a strong link to arts and cultural activities. If only every city, small and large, would adopt such a mission!
You don’t have to be a resident to appreciate the artistic spirit of the city either. Whether you’re traveling to OKC alone, with your family, with your spouse or in a group, here are some of the coolest ways to experience live music, experimental art and other forms of live entertainment during your stay.
Live Music in Oklahoma City
So many of my favorite country artists hail from the state of Oklahoma: Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire. But surprisingly, much like Nashville, OKC’s musical heritage is not all about country. It’s edgy, it’s gritty, it’s jazzy, it’s rock ‘n roll, and there’s a whole underground scene going on that we didn’t even have a chance to explore—yet.
Saint Sessions at Saint’s Pub
My jazz-loving husband always looks for any opportunity to sit in on a saxophone delivering the improvisational, and the Saint Sessions in the Plaza District—indisputably our favorite neighborhood in town—delivered. This weekly Thursday night show exemplifies the region’s New Jazz Revolution, and it’s just $10 a head for entrance. Saints Pub is on the smaller side, perfect for a date night or evening out with friends, but if you’re traveling with a large business group, you might check out one of the larger venues that host OK Sessions like the Skirvin Hotel.
Perhaps one of the most iconic local venues is the Art Deco-y Tower Theatre, which was OKC’s original theatre house, dating back more than 80 years. Tower closed down in 1989, and aside from a brief stint in the 90’s where it briefly reopened, it officially debuted to the public once more in 2016 as a live entertainment venue after nearly $7 million in renovations. Today, it hosts bands of all size and genre; while there, we saw a show by lovelytheband and just barely missed Broadway star and YouTube sensation Todrick Hall. Tower also has an ongoing Projector Club Presents series where it airs cult favorites like Poltergeist, Shaun of the Dead or Hocus Pocus for $10, plus a nominal processing fee. Plan to grab a cocktail before or after at adjoining neighborhood bar Ponyboy.
Jazz at the Skirvin
One of the newest jazz experiences in town, the Skirvin Jazz Club is the brainchild of the Saint Sessions creators and was recently added to the lineup at the Skirvin. The historic hotel now offers live jazz during brunch every Sunday from 11am to 2pm, as well as periodic Friday night shows in the Park Avenue Grille. Even if you aren’t dining at the restaurant, you can order a drink, pull up a chair and enjoy the show. The Skirvin’s Red Piano Lounge also offers free live music Wednesday through Saturday nights every week, and the pianist is always taking crowd requests.
Theater and Stage Performances in Oklahoma City
If live music isn’t your thing but stage performances are, then there are plenty of options for you, no matter when you’re coming to town.
Civic Center Music Hall
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a Broadway fan, thanks to a mom who instilled a love of show tunes in me from a young age. In fact, my mom and I have had the Broadway series season tickets in Tennessee for more than 20 years. However, I was traveling when Fiddler on the Roof came to Nashville this summer, so how serendipitous that I was able to catch it on its final day at the Civic Center for OKC Broadway’s week-long run.
Civic Center Music Hall is home to OKC Broadway, which brings a dozen or so touring shows to town each year, big hits like Hamilton, Hello Dolly, Miss Saigon and many, many more. Ticket discounts are available for groups of 10 or more, and if you’re bringing in a business group, you can also book out the hall’s dedicated event space for a pre-show cocktail party. Civic Center Music Hall also hosts local repertory groups and individual performances from touring artists like Megan Hilty and hometown hero Kristen Chenoweth. One thing to note is that backpacks and bags larger than purses are prohibited in the Civic Center (something we learned a little too late!), so plan accordingly and leave larger bags in your hotel or at home.
The Lyric Theatre has anchored the Plaza District since opening in 1963. This 281-seat, Broadway-caliber theater is home to a professional acting troupe that puts on nine shows a year, like The Rocky Horror Show, The Cat in the Hat, Matilda and A Christmas Carol. The theater offers group experiences that include backstage tours.
Interactive Art in Oklahoma City
Perhaps my favorite thing about Oklahoma City is the fact that it’s brimming with public art; not just murals either, but also 3D installations of all kinds. On our most recent visit, for example, the traveling Musical Swings were visiting Bicentennial Park in front of the Civic Center for just under a month. They’ve moved on now, but the city is also full of permanent examples of modern art that are accessible to the public like the Skydance Pedestrian Bridge with its 197-foot-tall scissor-tailed flycatcher, Scissortail Park and Myriad Gardens, which is home to Crystal Bridge and a quartet of sculptures.
The Plaza Walls are an outdoor art gallery featuring rotating murals that change annually. They’re spearheaded by Oklahoma Mural Syndicate, a four-year-old nonprofit run by Kris Kanaly and Brandi Guthrey, and feature some of my favorite local artists like Kanaly (aka Pyramid Guy), Sullystring, the Holey Kids and Denise Duong alongside out-of-towners such as Few and Far Women, Kiptoe and Plastic Birdie. The walls completely transform during Mural Expo at the Plaza District Festival, which takes place over the last weekend of September each year, but you’ll also see a few new surprises crop up throughout the year.
Mix-Tape at Factory Obscura
Factory Obscura, which was made famous by the Flaming Lips when they once occupied it, is now owned by Steve Mason and is one of the more out-of-the-box attractions you’ll find in Oklahoma City. It’s as if you cracked open a creative’s brain and poured it all over the building like the wax from a melted candle. This art collective’s mission statement is that “the future is collaborative,” and therefore they’ve invited other artists in to help create Mix-Tape, 6,000 square feet of family-friendly immersive space—including a psychedelic piece by Lips frontman Wayne Coyne—that can’t be adequately described, only experienced. Tickets are $15 for adults, and Mix-Tape is open Wednesday through Sunday.
Other Group Activities in OKC
There’s no shortage of activites for groups of all ages and size to do in Oklahoma City—from live sporting events like a Thunder game to a Ride OKC bike-and-brew tour to an afternoon at the Boathouse District—but on this last visit, we headed out to Chisholm Creek, a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-used neighborhood that’s booming with entertainment options, for an afternoon of activities.
Topgolf Oklahoma City
I love the Topgolf trend that’s engulfed the United States. Physical activity while eating, drinking and hanging out—and engaging in a little heated competition—with friends? Sign me up! This wasn’t my first Topgolf experience, but it was my first time doing the VIP package, which is ideal for a small group. For $150, you can book the VIP package, which gives you two hours in the bay, a pretzel and charcuterie board, a tub of bottled waters and fresh cookies, not to mention a dedicated VIP entrance. It’s definitely the economical way to go if you have a group of six.
In addition to 102 climate-controlled bays at Topgolf OKC, there’s a conference room that seats 10 to 15 people, with WiFi and a buffet option, and plenty of different event spaces to rent, including the option of a full buyout for groups that number in the hundreds. Each bay has three TVs, which can be customized to a group by adding corporate logos and the like.
iFLY Oklahoma City
As someone who went skydiving in her youth and loved the thrill but has no desire to tempt fate ever again now that she’s older and wiser, iFly is the perfect compromise. This indoor skydiving experience teaches you how to tunnel dive by a brief training session, followed by a series of 60-second flights in a simulator. You can work your way up to all sorts of flips and tricks in the wind tunnel the more flights you get in as you learn to control your movements. Even cooler? The iFly Oklahoma City branch works with local STEM kids to teach them about aerodynamics, then let them get out in the wind tunnel and go for a test flight. Talk about hands-on learning!
iFly also offers team-building experiences for corporate groups and the option to host holiday parties and other company events via buyouts.
For more Oklahoma City travel inspiration, start here:
- Meet Scissortail Park, OKC’s Latest Urban Oasis
- Best Group Dining Experiences in Oklahoma City
- The Best Murals in Oklahoma City
- Urban Whitewater Rafting in Oklahoma City
- 11 Reasons We’re Obsessed with OKC
- Oklahoma City’s Art Game is Strong: Check Out These Creative Stops
- How to Explore OKC by Streetcar
- Baby, It’s Cold Outside: The Best Indoor Winter Activities in Oklahoma City
- 27 Epic Summer Adventures in Oklahoma City