Moving forward

by: JENNIFER CHANCELLOR World Scene Writer
3/16/2008 12:00 AM

Hanson performs at major showcase; Effects rock RedGorilla

AUSTIN -- There's a famous song written by Hoyt Axton, with the lyric "Well, I've never been to heaven, but I've been to Oklahoma." Waylon Jennings sang it. Elvis Presley sang it. Three Dog Night sang it.

Thursday night, Hanson fans heard it, too, when the trio performed the song, "Never Been to Spain," during Austin's monster music festival and conference, South by Southwest.

To many in the music scene, the lyric is symbolic of the changing face of music. To an industry flailing to find stability in a rapidly-changing world, the Tulsa trio is practically a case study in "How to Forge Your Own Path in the Music Biz, 101."

Broadcast live over DirecTV, the show by the sibling trio drews hundreds into the Bat Bar in the Austin Convention Center, ground zero for much of the SXSW festivities. Bands performed on that stage throughout the day, and their shows were broadcast across the globe. Hanson, by far, drew the largest audience.

While much of the annual music festival and conference in Austin is centered on the industry and its "major markets" -- places such as L.A., New York, Chicago, Seattle -- an undercurrent of Green Country growth ran strong and sure.

Earlier in the day, the brothers also spoke to professionals and musicians about their take on the state of the music industry, during an aptly named panel discussion called "The Moment of Truth," in which they joined members of Nada Surf, Hits Magazine and Mac McCaughan, founder of the successful indie label Merge Records.

As the program explained, " 'The Moment of Truth' is one in which artists realize they do not have the star-making machinery working for them."

The new paradigm

Hanson owns and runs 3CG Records, a successful indie label they created after splitting with major Def Jam Record ings nearly eight years ago. They've headlined multiple successful tours since then, and released several albums to critical acclaim. They're socially active, and have led international campaigns to help curb the African AIDS epidemic and treat illness in that nation.

What the New York Village Voice newspaper hailed as "the best straight-up rock band in America" has earned worldwide cred as possibly "the best straight-up scrapper success story in America," as well as becoming a model for rebuilding music industry operations.

And they thank their home city -- and state -- for helping to make it possible.

"We've never left Tulsa," said Taylor Hanson in a post-concert interview, as he and brothers Isaac and Zac relaxed around a small conference table and chatted excitedly about their home city -- growth, renovation, the music scene. The three brothers have moved all offices for their feisty indie music empire to the historic downtown area.

"We're never leaving Tulsa," he added. Zac agreed. "Think of Tulsa -- J. J. Cale, Leon Russell, the Gap Band -- all that history and the city they called their own."

Eldest brother Isaac added, "We like that company."

In an ironic nod to the title of the act's first album, "Middle of Nowhere," he said, "This all plays into the idea of being from somewhere. We are in our own city. Many bands move into other cities and claim those as home. We are home. Artists can do so much more for themselves if they just stop trying to attach to something else and focus on their talent. Tulsa has a history of artists that do that."

Referring the redevelopment of Tulsa's downtown, Isaac said, "Young people, college-age people should take a drive downtown -- really drive around and get to know the area -- and see what we were several decades ago."

"Then imagine what we could be," added Zac. "What we should be. The potential is there, we all need to support it. Our city -- Oklahoma -- is on the verge of becoming much larger than any of us, for the music industry, for business, for a national standard. We each must get involved for that to happen, though. We have to believe in ourselves."

His theme is simple: Oklahoma, the world is watching.

The work ethic

Mid-afternoon Thursday, Tulsa rock act The Effects played a 40-minute set on the stage of Sixth Street's Nuno club, where the lineup featured popular regional, indie touring acts AutoVaughn and White Light Riot. Young and old pushed into the venue to watch the act.

Men stood on seats to cheer "rock 'n' roll" as the young band rumbled into its set, an American flag nailed to the wall behind them.

The showcase was part of the RedGorilla Fest, which holds free shows in venues not requiring SXSW badges or wristbands to enter. The band worked hard and played hard, performing a whopping four sets over two days, more than most acts showcased in the actual SXSW festival.

"We're here to have fun, too, but we're here to perform," said lead singer Joel King, emphasizing the group's tireless ethic. "We're planning on being here all day."

The band averages about 200 shows a year.

Outside the venue, "Don't Hate the 918" and "I heart Tulsa" tees stood out on patrons up and down the popular Sixth Street corridor, where most of the showcase venues were located.