Against every odd imaginable, Mercury Lounge is celebrating our 16th year in business today. Cheers to a garage turned dive bar and music venue lasting long enough to be street legal.
I felt weird composing this message in the first person but with everything that has happened this year, there isn't a way to tell our story using standard corporate messaging.
March 1st, 2020 was our busiest day, ever. In this history of the bar. We’d been working hard on building awareness and marketing our month long 15th Birthday celebrations, and that day was the kickoff. As you know, that all changed. We had 48 shows booked in March of 2020 and of course had to cancel nearly all of them.
When bars and venues closed and touring routes fell apart and the entire music industry was hit with this unprecedented setback, Mercury Lounge took some time to game plan then immediately went to work. Through luck and maybe a little bit of forward thinking, we’ve been live streaming shows from the bar, every night, for years. On the day we closed for what would be five months, we found ourselves with a pretty decent platform and a bunch of users with notifications turned on. We decided to use our gear and audience and started live streaming shows nightly, from a closed bar. When shelter in place orders went into effect, we did social media takeovers to continue delivering a nightly show to music fans at home. When bars were allowed to reopen, we put a ton of work into developing a Covid plan that would allow us to resume small cap live shows in good conscious. We started making our own merchandise in house and fired up a fulfillment program. We’ve used this ability to produce merch for bands and the bar. We developed a way to bring in bands for a small cap show and a filming of a really well done, high definition pay per view and have the honor of being the one of the first venues in the country to pull off this type of show. We’ve done everything we can to stay as innovative as possible, while making artist support a principal core foundation of our entire operation.
If you aren’t familiar with the basics of the touring industry as applied to independent and smaller named artists, it goes kinda like this; band lives in a city, band gets offered a festival or big money show in another city, band has to get there and plays club shows on the way for gas, hotel, food money. Small venues are vital to that bands ability to get from Austin to Chicago, or Nashville to LA. If you know your geography, you know that Tulsa is centrally located and on the way to EVERYWHERE. Tulsa sits adjacent to two major interstates and is an important market for routing. It is not hyperbole to say that every small venue that dies as a result of Covid is a loss to the larger eco-system of live music. Each stage that disappears represents another city that band is going to have to drive through to get to the gig that will pay their rent. Each venue that dies is another roadblock in that flow through routing that brings all your favorite bands to town, no matter what town it is. The success of Mercury Lounge in Tulsa is connected to the success of The 5 Spot in Nashville, or Antone’s in Austin, or Three Kings in Denver. If you know those venues, you know one is already gone.
At Mercury Lounge, we are die hards. I've been booking shows since I was 15, music is a massive part of my life, personally and it is a central focus of everything we do. Just because it’s hard right now does not deter us from our mission. One of the side effects of working our way through this pandemic has been that we’ve figured out what that mission is. We’ve learned how to define what we are and what we care about.
Our philosophy as a company is that “ Mercury Lounge is an American dive bar with a focus on roots music and the communities that form around it. We are committed to providing a safe space for the music fan, a professional experience for the working musician and a fast drink at a fair price.” Sounds easy but it’s not. It took a lot of thinking to take something that has existed without definition for years and put it on paper. Covid has forced us to acknowledge what we are. Now that we have that clarity, we wear it like a badge of pride.
We’ve also figured out what we are gonna do to help make sure that kid who is just picking up a guitar not only has a stage to perform on, but what we are going to do to help build and develop that artist. It’s not just about the stage. It’s about everything that goes into helping that individual take a dream and turn it into a career. We are committed to this because as music fans, we can’t imagine a world without new jams.
Our tactic is simple: strategic booking of national and regional headliners, coupled with strategic booking of emerging and seasoned local talent to leverage a larger audience and expose them to someone from our backyard. We are going to book more and more free showcases to open the stage to more and more artists. We are committed to diversity in booking and equal representation. Through our team of writers, we are using our platform to help generate content for folks that don’t yet have it. Young bands don’t always realize they need a bio or press materials to get more shows, so we are gonna help them and give them the tools they need to outgrow our little bitty stage. We are gonna use our platform to help grow our entire community, as best as we can.
And so, now, on our 16th Birthday, as our thank you to everyone that has supported us so far, we are giving away hours and hours of GREAT shows. We are running a three day streaming festival called Mercury Rising featuring a lineup that we are really proud of. We’ve been busy this whole last year and we are excited to share these showcases with you. All of the details and info on how to watch can be found at the link below. We look forward to continuing to capture and share these performances, well past the end of this pandemic.
In addition to our digital content, we still have free shows, nightly, that showcase some of the best talent we can find. We stream these shows nightly, for free, and will continue to do so as long as we can.
The truth is that for us to fulfill our goal and mission, we need help. Historically, beer sales carried the burden of show production. With a year of low capacity and half of it closed down, we can no longer carry these shows on our own. We have built relationships with community leaders and sponsored partners to help with some of the financial burden but as the dummy in charge of budgets, it is clear that in order to continue offering this benefit to the music community, we need to ask for help. It’s not punk, it’s not something we want to do and it’s something we’ve tried really hard to avoid for as long as possible. In order to keep this stage rolling hard, we’ve gotta swallow our pride. DIY till we die, except we don’t wanna die, so “do it yourself” isn’t gonna work.
We hope you enjoy the shows and if you find yourself in a position and with the want to contribute, you can at the link below. If you aren’t able to contribute, please consider sharing. Tell your friends about this little bar full of music lifers that aren't gonna stop doing the only thing they know how to do.
This bar sucks, with the support of friends like you. It’s massive and appreciated and we will pay every kindness shown forward, as long as we have a neon sign lit up.
Thank you for reading and everything. Here's to another 16 years!
Bobby Dean Orcutt
Mercury Lounge, Tulsa, OK