In some ways, Oklahoma City is exactly what you suspect: a sleepy, reactionary oil town lodged in the lower gut of the Great Plains—but Thursday through Sunday, during the enamel-liquefying screech of the destination punk fest Everything Is Not OK, the “Big Town” earns the mantle scrawled across the top of this year’s crudely-drawn show flyer: Freak City, USA.
The copy goes on: A weekend for the weirdos, the freaks, the real rockers, the punks, the punx, the mods, the electro-hippies, the skins, the rejects, the losers, the dropouts, the ‘kids,’ etc. For the last three years, this has been the soul of OKC’s fiercest counter-cultural expression and one of the most formidable festivals of its kind in the country.
In addition to bringing DFW-connected institutions like Wiccans and defunct Denton destroyers Elix-r in past years, Everything Is Not OK (EINOK) has also featured marquee national barnburners like Sheer Mag and Downtown Boys during this four-day ruckus that obliterates OKC each Spring.
Out-of-control punk shows happen all day long in outdoor DIY art spaces, smokey dive bars, historic farmers markets and vegetarian cafes throughout town. It’s a stunning show of strength for what might seem to be the least-punk city in the United States.
“It really surprises people that we do this here,” EINOK founder and organizer Roz Adams says. “It’s like something you might expect in Chicago or New York or LA—but with a more low-key feel, because obviously Oklahoma City just isn’t a city like those cities. That’s why it’s cool.”
Like Dallas gems, OKC’s best qualities aren’t obvious. You have to do some digging, and find your people, to really get a sense of what’s special here—and, if you care about DIY music and culture, EINOK is the best way to get a taste of DFW’s oddball neighbor to the north.
Breakfast Punks in Little Saigon
Oklahoma City’s vibrant Asian District always surprises first-time visitors. This area near 23rd St. and Classen Blvd. was a relocation point for many South Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon in 1975, and today most of the businesses in this colorful, walkable district are Vietnamese-owned. This part of town is a good first stop, as it’s the quickest way to shake off any preconceptions you might have about the city.
Drop by pan-Asian superstore Super Cao Ngyuen to fill your basket with trinkets and candies for sustenance between sets over the next four days. Take note of Pho Cuong down the street and plan on nursing tomorrow’s hangover with a bowl of the best pho in a pho-obsessed city. (Others might point you to rival Pho Lien Hoa—also excellent—but be sure to bring cash.)
“There’s always a lot of good hanging out,” Adams says. “I book the fest so you have time to wake up and get food or whatever. Then you just go to shows all day—and they’re all kinda spread out across town, so you really get a chance to see a big chunk of the city.”
Those twin pillars of leisure and chaos will support Dallas band Pink Thing during a free “breakfast show” with Brainsmasher and Natural Man on Saturday morning while regulars enjoy their vegetarian breakfast burritos at the Asian District’s beloved crunchy institution, The Red Cup. Of all EINOK’s weird and wonderful show setups, this one stands alone in its delightfulness and potential for unhinged, buck wild A.M. ass-kicking. Don’t sleep in.
Braum’s Country Blitzkrieg
Oklahoma has more drivable miles of Route 66 than any other state in the country, and part of the historic highway forms the southern border of the Asian District on 23rd St. See goofy, ‘gramworthy Mother Road landmarks like the giant Braum’s milk bottle perched across the street from a 27,000 square-foot golden geodesic dome that was one of the first of its kind in the world. (This architectural gem, which has survived multiple demolition attempts from reptilian developers since its construction in 1958, will be the site of an under-30 art show called Momentum OKC on Saturday night.)
From there, it’s a quick drive up Western Ave. to the 89th Street, OKC’s version of Denton’s bygone Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios. They’ll be hosting Little D’s Razorbumps—whose vicious and playful debut, Hellrazors, has been gaining national attention since its release earlier this year via Pop Wig—on the first night with Lumpy & the Dumpers and Royal Brat. Kansas City’s Warm Bodies, who channel the frantic no-wave howl of James Chance & the Contortions, will also be on the bill. A song from the band’s 2017 tour tape, Eat Snot and Rot, seems especially appropriate in the context of EINOK: “We Don’t Care How They Do It In New York (Cuz We’re Good Old-Fashioned Crazy!)”
“I try to bring a group of bands from each city,” Adams says. “If I get one from Kansas City, like Warm Bodies, then I’ll try to get three or four bands from there. So they have some of their friends around, and maybe they’re more comfortable making new ones. They might be playing for 200 people, but the 20 kids up front are from their hometown and they’re just going off.”
True Freaks Only
Adams’ own American Hate will play with Mozart and The Bug late Friday night at Delmar Gardens in the Farmers Market District—an aesthetically distinct part of town that feels more Santa Fe than Southern Plains. Local punk hangouts Warehouse B and Strange Exchange will be hosting visual art shows here as well.
Adams has been booking shows in his hometown for more than 20 years, and the runaway success of his one-of-a-kind festival—which he “can neither confirm nor deny” will end its run after this year—is a testament to his dedication to a scene that has a lot more heart than resources. “Growing up, it was like, whatever band would come here—we love ‘em. So punk to me was always this insane spectrum of music ranging from bubblegum pop to the craziest heaviest music you could imagine,” he says.
That spirit animates this festival whose audacity and improbability are baked into the DNA of the town it calls home. There’s an unexpected charm here that’s easier to love than you might think. But make no mistake: it’s a weird place—and not in the Austin marketing campaign sort of way. It’s a strain more akin to the “prairie madness” that gripped white settlers who lost their minds on these lonely, wind-battered plains.
“That’s why we call it Freak City,” Adams shrugs. “It’s true freaks here, man.”
Jezy J. Gray writes for TravelOK.com. As well as he knows the city, he’s been unable to share the secrets of its freak side at his day job.