Music is central to the culture in Stillwater.
On The Strip and at house shows in residential areas, Oklahoma State students listen and perform. From classic Red Dirt to indie rock, students are creating their own sounds to color the Stillwater music scene.
Trent Fletcher, a wildlife ecology and management senior, came to Stillwater for the Red Dirt scene. Open mic events across town were the first places he went to start breaking into the music scene.
“Open mic nights are kind of where I got started in Stillwater,” Fletcher said. “I knew those were the places to meet musicians. I went there and started meeting musicians and getting (to be) really good buddies with Issac. That was one of my main goals, moving to Stillwater, I wanted to be a part of the Red Dirt scene going on up here. I knew this was the place to go for it, and I felt like I had a chance to do something with my songs.”
Although Stillwater is known for that brand of sound, the music landscape has room for a variety of genres. Members of Humdrum Sun prefer the close atmosphere of house shows. Chris Raun, Seth Fish, Ashlyn Ruley and Josh Bollock organize the small scale concerts to exhibit their indie rock sound not often heard in the Red Dirt capital.
Fish explained how the house shows can create environments for niche audiences more than shows at traditional venues do.
“I think the main difference is at shows (at traditional venues), you’re playing with other bands who, their style isn’t cohesive with your style," Fish said. "And it’s just kinda the music scene in Oklahoma, and in Oklahoma City and Tulsa specifically, is really all over the board. It’s a lot more fun playing with bands that we know and fit our style, and we can call our friends that have bands and just set up a house show and just have a good time.”
Fish and Fletcher play different types of music, but as student musicians, they both have to juggle school work, part time jobs and practice.
“It’s been rough,” Fletcher said. ‘I’ve had a lot of support, though ... On the weekends is when I go play. I prefer to play two shows a weekend if I can. Right now I have two weekends until December open, so I stay pretty booked up. A lot of long nights and no sleep.”
Humdrum Sun has the added difficulty of meeting to practice with everyone.
“The hardest thing is collaboration because we all care about it a lot, it’s just a matter of when can we all get together,” Ruley said. “It is such a team effort. It has to be something when we all get together and work together to practice.”
Fletcher and Humdrum Sun also differ in the audiences they attract, but both see familiar faces in the crowd from show to show, whether those people are house show junkies or open mic regulars.
“If anything, there’s a lot of people who appreciate it and just are really supportive,” Ruley said. “They genuinely enjoy the environment. That’s really cool to see."
Because Stillwater is a college town, its music scene is constantly going through cycles as bands form and then disappear after the members graduate.
“Everybody keeps telling me, ‘Man, you should of been here three or four years ago when everybody was still in town, that’s when everything was popping,’” Fletcher said. “I didn’t get to experience any of that because I’ve been here less than two years, but the amount of time that I have been here, still a good hub of musicians and a wide variety of different styles of music.”
Humdrum Sun is a group of seniors. Although the members aren’t planning to let go of the band and making music, they have seen the cycle at work with bands like Men of Action and the ThunderSluts, who used to play in Stillwater.
“Bands will be here for four years, five tops, and once they’re gone, it’s kind of recycled,” Fish said. “It’s just kind of a cycle, basically. Bands are here, and when they end up graduating and leaving, the baton is passed on.”
This cycle characterizes the Stillwater music scene. People from small towns find like-minded people who like the same tunes and have a common love for music.
“This music scene in Stillwater is more than just country music, it’s a whole blend of sounds,” Fletcher said. “It’s really, to me, just doing things independently and just writing honest lyrics and not taking shortcuts and music at its rawest, most pure form. Everybody up here plays a different style. I think it’s just pretty cool to see all these different musicians doing different things in different venues and coming back here to Stillwater.”
Ruley didn't always expect to play house shows for fans in her college town, but the experience has been rewarding.
“I went through this phase when I started discovering music where I was like ‘Oh, I want to be in a band,’ very jokingly, never imagining that this would be me,” Ruley said. “I didn’t think I would have a support group for it... Just finding people who not only have been bandmates and people who appreciate and want that kind of music in Stillwater has been really cool. For any student who is thinking about it, you’ll find a fan base for sure.”