Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Paul Wilkes, February 10, 2022

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Update since last interview

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Partial Transcript: Okay, we're recording now.

Segment Synopsis: Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Wilkes has observed that many musicians were unsuccessful in claiming unemployment compensation. Wilkes states that 2021 was different from 2020 in the sense that there were more opportunities for musicians in Oklahoma to perform in front of live audiences. Wilkes states that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a major concern for many Oklahomans, especially since the vaccine rollout of early 2021.

Keywords: COVID-19 vaccine; COVID-19 variants; Oklahomans; Unemployment; Unemployment compensation

Subjects: Artists; Audiences; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Confidence; Federal government; Music; Musical performance; Musicians; Oklahoma; Pandemics; State governments; Tulsa (Okla.); Vaccine hesitancy; Vaccines

00:02:38 - Return to live performances / Experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic in Oklahoma

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Partial Transcript: How was that for you personally, I mean, uh, going back on stage...

Segment Synopsis: Wilkes states that most music venues in Oklahoma have not utilized any public health precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19 since the COVID-19 vaccine was rolled out in early 2021. Wilkes feels that people should be able to attend music shows if they want to, and are aware of the risk of contracting COVID-19. Wilkes believes that people should be vaccinated against COVID-19, but it is up to the individual. Wilkes thinks that there is sufficient information available for people to educate themselves about COVID-19 and get vaccinated. Several friends and relatives of Wilkes who were not vaccinated against COVID-19 suffered worse outcomes in their progression of the disease once they contracted it. Wilkes also states that no public health measures were re-implemented at music venues in Oklahoma amid the Omicron variant spike in COVID-19 cases during the winter of 2021. Wilkes says many Oklahomans are tired of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and do not want any public health restrictions to be re-instated. Wilkes believes there would be a backlash towards music venues that attempted to have a mask mandate, which would hurt the club owners financially. Wilkes also mentions that several venues in Texas closed because of financial problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wilkes says that touring gigs have been more slow to return than local gigs, but there have been some national acts touring in Tulsa recently.

Keywords: BOK Center (Tulsa, Okla.); Bands; COVID-19 testing; COVID-19 vaccine; Hard Rock Hotel (Tulsa, Okla.); Livestreams; Lockdowns (Covid-19 pandemic); Mercury Lounge (Tulsa, Okla.); Music gigs; Music tours; Music venues; Oklahomans; Omicron variant (COVID-19); Pandemic fatigue; Proof of vaccination

Subjects: Audiences; Aunts; Bars (Drinking establishments); COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Casinos; Concerts; Death; Economics; Fear; Friends; Health; Holidays; Hospitals; Kentucky; Masks; Money; Musical performance; Oklahoma; Pandemics; Public health; Restaurants; Risk; Safety; Social distancing (Public health); Texas; Travel; Tulsa (Okla.); Uncertainty; Vaccine hesitancy; Vaccines

00:11:02 - Work since the COVID-19 pandemic / Being an extra in "Reservation Dogs" television show

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Partial Transcript: You know, you had said in, in the last interview, that, you know, it's like, "Man, if, if things don't open up, you know, another year like 2020, I'm just gonna, gonna have to go get a day job." Was there ever a point that you actually had to do that?

Segment Synopsis: Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Wilkes was able to continue playing music full-time, since he had saved up some money while working at the Hard Rock Hotel in Tulsa before becoming a professional musician. Recently, Wilkes had the opportunity to be an extra on the TV show "Reservation Dogs," which is about Native American teenagers living on a rural Oklahoma reservation. Wilkes explains that he and "Reservation Dogs" creator Sterlin Harjo are both from Holdenville, Oklahoma, and were childhood friends. Harjo selected Wilkes and several other musicians from the Tulsa music scene to be extras in "Reservation Dogs." Wilkes enjoyed being an extra and observed that filming TV shows is similar to recording albums.

Keywords: COVID-19 vaccine; Hard Rock Hotel (Tulsa, Okla.); Hometowns; Jason Boland & the Stragglers (Artist); John Fullbright (Artist); Movie scenes; Music bands; Oklahomans; Pilot episodes; Reservation Dogs (Television show); Roger Ray (Artist); Samantha Crain (Artist); Songwriters; Steel guitars; Sterlin Harjo; TV shows

Subjects: Artists; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Communities; Extras (Actors); Friendship; Guitars; High schools; Holdenville (Okla.); Honky-tonk music; Hughes County (Okla.); Income; Indian reservations; Indigenous people; Martial arts; Money; Music; Musicians; Native Americans; Oklahoma; Pandemics; Rural; Singers; Songs; Teenagers; Television; Tulsa (Okla.); Vaccines; Wages

00:19:56 - Musical creativity during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: I wanted to talk to you, uh, about when things were still locked down and, you know, I asked you then, you know, how, how are you staying inspired and creative...

Segment Synopsis: Wilkes states that he experimented with different genres of music during the initial COVID-19 pandemic lockdown that were outside of his comfort zone, including soul and bluegrass music. Wilkes learned to incorporate elements from different genres of music into his own performances and expanded his musical perspective in the process. Wilkes was able to practice and stay sharp with his music while in lockdown by performing at livestreamed shows from home or in empty venues. Wilkes initially struggled with motivation during the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, since being home all the time made it a bit difficult for him to practice and play music.

Keywords: Audio recordings; Experimentation; Livestreams; Lockdowns (COVID-19 pandemic); Motivation; Music shows; Musical notes; Oklahomans; Practice

Subjects: Artists; Audiences; Bluegrass music; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Creativity; Genres; Jazz; Learning; Music; Musical performance; Musicians; Oklahoma; Pandemics; Pop music; Public health; Social distancing (Public health); Songs; Soul music; Tulsa (Okla.)

00:23:28 - Livestreaming musical performances

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Partial Transcript: So, you just mentioned, um, livestreaming...

Segment Synopsis: Wilkes recalls that he played various livestreamed events at places like the Mercury Lounge in Tulsa during the initial COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the spring of 2020. Wilkes observes that audiences initially embraced livestreamed performances, but largely abandoned online concerts when in-person alternatives became available once again. In Wilkes' experience, livestreamed performances became a thing of the past after the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in early 2021.

Keywords: COVID-19 vaccines; Livestreams; Lockdowns (COVID-19 pandemic); Mercury Lounge (Tulsa, Okla.); Music gigs; Oklahomans; Pandemic fatigue; Road gigs

Subjects: Artists; Audiences; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Music; Musical performance; Musicians; Oklahoma; Pandemics; Public health; Social distancing (Public health); Support; Tulsa (Okla.); Vaccines

00:26:00 - Touring gigs versus local gigs during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: Talk to me about the road gigs. Um, why do you think there's, a, a, lag time between them and the local gigs?

Segment Synopsis: Wilkes believes that touring bands have not re-emerged as much as local gigs due to the varying levels of public health restrictions surrounding COVID-19 in different states. Wilkes thinks it would be more difficult to draw crowds of people in states that have greater public health restrictions currently implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19. Wilkes also thinks that bands touring in states with less stringent public health measures against COVID-19 would find it easier to draw a crowd for shows. Wilkes also believes that the age of the fans who follow the band plays a role in the success of music tours during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing the older fans of John Fullbright as an example.

Keywords: COVID-19 vaccines; John Fullbright (Artist); Mask mandates; Midwest; Music gigs; Music tours; Oklahomans; Proof of vaccination; Seniors; The South; Vaccine requirements

Subjects: Arkansas; Audiences; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Concerts; Crowds; Health; Masks; Oklahoma; Pandemics; Public health; Risk; States; Texas; Tulsa (Okla.); Vaccine hesitancy; Vaccines; Worry

00:28:09 - Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on gigs

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Partial Transcript: So, talk to me about your life right now.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkes now has music gigs about four or five times per week. Wilkes explains that he is part of a music residency at several venues, an agreement in which music venue owners agree to have specific musicians perform on a certain day of the week indefinitely. In the Tulsa music scene, Wilkes explains that local bands play during the week and regional bands come into town to play on the weekends. Wilkes plays a variety of music genres, from honky-tonk to soul/bluegrass fusion music. Wilkes mostly spends his days off watching TV or playing video games, since he became accustomed to not going out during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Wilkes believes that he has been more successful in booking gigs since there has was pent up demand from audiences to attend musical performances in-person. Wilkes also attributes the increased amount of bookings he receives to fewer touring bands coming into Tulsa because of uncertainty tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: Bands; Demands; Finances; Girlfriend; Lockdowns (COVID-19 pandemic); Maggie's Music Box (Tulsa, Okla.); Mercury Lounge (Tulsa, Okla.); Music bookings; Music gigs; Music residencies; Music venues; Oklahomans; The Colony (Tulsa, Okla.); Weekdays; Weekends

Subjects: Americana (Music); Artists; Bars (Drinking establishments); Bluegrass music; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Concerts; Genres; Health; Honky-tonk music; Jenks (Okla.); Leisure; Music; Musical performance; Musicians; Oklahoma; Pandemics; Songs; Soul music; Success; Teachers; Television; Texas; Tulsa (Okla.); Uncertainty; Video games

00:36:33 - Musicians and job stability / Possibility of moving outside Oklahoma

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Partial Transcript: But you know that i--the idea of waiting for the other show to drop is pretty common, uh, amongst gig economy workers. Talk to me about how, how it is to live in that kind of situation where you know at any moment the bottom could drop out.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkes understands that the uncertainty and lack of stability inherent in being a full-time musician is off-putting to many people who are accustomed to having a steady paycheck and insurance benefits. Wilkes believes that full-time musicians go into the profession with a labor of love approach and are less concerned about the lack of job security that accompanies a career in music. Wilkes thinks it would have been hard for him to get through the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown without his extra savings, since he was essentially an out-of-work musician during this time. Wilkes explains that it is important for musicians to establish connections with one another in order to book enough gigs to make a living. Wilkes would like to move away from Oklahoma and experience a different lifestyle than the one in his home state. Wilkes was considering a move to Seattle when he began to become successful in the Tulsa music scene and decided to stay there.

Keywords: Bands; Connections; Lockdowns (COVID-19 pandemic); Moving; Music gigs; Music shows; Music venues; Networking; Oklahomans; Songwriters; Upright guitars

Subjects: Americana (Music); Artists; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Folk music; France; Gig economy; Guitars; Income; International travel; Lifestyles; Music; Musicians; Oklahoma; Pandemics; Portland (Or.); Seattle (Wash.); Singers; Songs; Stability; Stress; Success; Travel; Tulsa (Okla.); Uncertainty; United States; Wages; Worry

00:43:31 - Recent album recordings / Final thoughts

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Partial Transcript: Are you doing any recording?

Segment Synopsis: Currently, Wilkes has several albums that he collaborated with different artists on slated to be released during the spring and summer of 2022. Wilkes has worked on albums with artists in the Oklahoma music scene. Wilkes is thankful that he got to be an extra on the TV show "Reservation Dogs" and hopes to be in another upcoming movie from creator Sterlin Harjo. Wilkes would like to do more work as an extra in the future and enjoys playing more gigs than he did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: Audio recordings; Cassie Latshaw (Artist); Chris Blevins (Artist); John Fullbright (Artist); Kenny Cornell (Artist); Movies; Music bands; Music gigs; Reservation Dogs (Television show); Sterlin Harjo

Subjects: Albums; Artists; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Extra (Actors); Money; Music; Musicians; Oklahoma; Pandemics; Songs; Television; Tulsa (Okla.); Uncertainty; Work