With new curtains up, renovated Tower Theatre opening

Published Thursday, February 16, 2017
by Molly M. Fleming

On Saturday, the curtains will rise for the first show at the renovated Tower Theatre.

But getting the theater opened as a music venue required some curtains to go up.

In 2014, the Pivot Project bought the historic theater on NW 23rd Street and adjacent office and retail space. The group turned the theater over to Levelland Productions in February 2016 when renovations were complete.

Levelland Chief Operating Officer Scott Marsh said once the concert operation company took control of the venue space, it learned it needed some large curtains to help with sound quality.

That became a challenge when his team had to figure out how to do that in a historic building. If it was done incorrectly, the state historic preservation office could have turned down the Pivot Project’s request for tax credits.

“What we ended up having to do was to build a steel structure to hold the weight of the curtains that didn’t affect the plaster walls,” he said. “If you drill too far into the building, you really affect the structure. We had to go in and fabricate a custom steel structure that’s attached to the wall. It has some anchor points, so it didn’t go too far into the wall.”

Hip-hop artist Jabee will be the first to test the sound quality on Saturday. He’s joined by L.T.Z., Grand National, Soufwessdess, and Zie.

Marsh said it was important to Levelland for the first show to be a local artist with a national draw.

“Jabee has some national credibility and has a lot of respect in the hip-hop music scene,” said Marsh. “From a music-lover’s standpoint, he’s been promoting Oklahoma’s music scene for years. We felt like it was a great opportunity to further the conversation that hip-hop is a popular genre and popular in Oklahoma City.”

Like the theater, hip-hop has a long history in Oklahoma, said Hugh Foley, professor of fine arts at Rogers State University and a founding board member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Rhythm and blues figures Lowell Fulson and Roy Milton were popular in the 1940s. Then, in the 1970s, Tulsa’s Charlie Wilson and the Gap Band hit the national stage. Wilson has worked with Snoop Dogg, Master P, and Dr. Dre.

In more recent years, Muskogee’s Ester Dean has worked on tracks with Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry, and R. Kelly.

Foley said having Jabee as the first artist says a lot about the venue’s future.

“I think it’s a good sign that the folks running the theater want to do something that’s youth-oriented and Oklahoma City-music oriented, he said. “It says they’re going to be more than just another medium-sized rock venue.”

Marsh said the venue now gives Levelland three places to bring in live music, with crowd sizes ranging from 500 people at the ACM Performance Lab to 3,500 people at The Criterion. The Tower will hold about 1,000 people.

“The Tower becomes this great midsize venue,” he said.

Bringing in 1,000 people to the east side of NW 23rd Street is going to give a boost to the area, said Jonathan Dodson, a partner with the Pivot Project. David Wanzer and Ben Sellers are also with the group.

Pivot has one 1,700-square-foot space available for lease near the theater; otherwise, the top and bottom floors are leased. The next place to open in the strip will be the Bunker Club, operated by the Pump Bar’s Hailey and Ian McDermid.

Dodson said the Pivot Project team is excited about the opening.

“Our dreams were for this to not just be a state-known venue, but a regional venue,” he said. “We don’t think there’s anyone that represent the hip-hop scene like Jabee.”

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