Music documentary

Oklahoma music documentary series ‘Play It Loud’ wins back-to-back Emmys

A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahman.

Turn it up: Oklahoma music series ‘Play It Loud’ wins second Emmy in two years

Chad Mathews had a specific and surprising combination in mind when he developed the idea for the Oklahoma music documentary series “Play It Loud.”

“I said I wanted it to be a cross between Anthony Bourdain and ‘Austin City Limits,’ and he (his longtime collaborator Adam Hampton) kind of looked at me like, ‘Huh? “He was kind of like, ‘OK?’ “, recalls Mathews laughing.

“Then when we started filming, that first episode, it was like, ‘OK, we’re onto something here.”

“Play It Loud” last month won a Heartland Chapter Emmy Award for Best Interview or Discussion – Program, Series or Special for its spring 2019 episode featuring Oklahoma City rapper and activist Jabee. This is the second year in a row that the web series, which launched in the spring of 2018, has won an Emmy.

“It’s an honor and it’s humbling, but it also shows, I think, the strength of the voice that we’re trying to find,” said Hampton, author and host of “Play It Loud. “.

“I hope the audience relates to me, and then I relate to the artists — and then all of a sudden, grandmas who would never have listened to Jabee are bouncing their heads to his music.”

An episode of the musical series Oklahoma "Played the strongest" featuring OKC rapper Jabee won a Heartland Chapter Emmy Award. [Photo provided]

Day work and side concert

With “Play It Loud,” Mathews wanted to combine his day job as Marketing Director of the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort in Shawnee with his longtime gig as one of the partners at Outsiders Productions, a production company independent filmmaker based in Shawnee, starring Hampton, Kenny Pitts and Jason Alexander.

“It was a long thought process between, ‘OK, how can I engage the Great with the Outsiders and have these two co-exist in a beneficial way?’ We’ve got a big stage here and a big venue, and we needed the branding. … I knew what the Outsiders could bring to the table. So that’s just how it came together” , Mathews said.

“How it came together creatively is Adam’s screen presence and his writing and his storytelling, but also Jason Alexander, he’s really the creative force behind the look and feel in the editing and this whole process, the tools that we had and that we developed over the years, and it became something quite special, I think.

Specializing in independent feature films, short films and web series, the Outsiders had never done a series of interviews and musical performances or a purely commercial project before. But Mathews didn’t want to do a typical version of either.

“The way Chad introduced it to me, I had understood that we were sort of going to go into the interviews a bit like that scene in ‘Jaws’ where (Richard) Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw compare scars. We’re going to m sit here and kind of talk about my journey as a filmmaker, actor and creator and their journey on their way to their destination,” Hampton said.

“The idea is to kind of be spiritually all about connection. So this was never meant to be just a full interview, ‘let me ask a question and then they’ll answer it’…and then the performance. Hopefully, it would be supported by a conversation that somehow balanced the genres between film and music.”

Adam Hampton is the writer and host of the musical series Oklahoma "Played the strongest." [Photo by Chad Baker, for The OKlahoman]

Various voices

“Play It Loud” ended its fourth season in February. Each episode includes an introduction by Hampton, an informal musical performance, a frank and varied interview between the host and the artist and finally a performance by the whole band on the stage of the Grand Casino.

Each season features four diverse musical acts from Oklahoma and culminates in a concert featuring these artists at the Grand Casino.

“Composing programming has always been a conversation about ‘what are the interesting stories to tell?’ My stipulation has always been that it has to be someone who works on original music and resides or grew up in Oklahoma,” Mathews said.

“Part of what bothers me about Oklahoma’s history is when you think about Deep Deuce and the jazz scene that emerged in that area and at that time in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, we don’t’ I think we don’t talk about it enough because we don’t recognize our artists of color enough in this state so to bring in somebody like Jabee or Branjae or the Allie Lauren project, I don’t know how we could do a show like this, not include them and then say we’re being completely honest about what we’re trying to do.”

Last year, “Play It Loud” won its first Emmy for a Season 1 episode featuring Levi Parham, an American singer-songwriter from McAlester, who is about as musically different as you can get. from the newly awarded episode with Jabee. Other Oklahoma musicians who have been featured on the series include Choctaw folk singer-songwriter and activist Samantha Crain, husband and wife duo The Imaginaries, multi-instrumentalists John Calvin Abney and Travis Linville, solo band Mike Hosty and red earth music. pioneer Mike McClure.

“There’s no shortage of fantastic red earth bands, but (Chad) has been very adamant about not wanting to turn this into a sad Adam Hampton acoustic playlist. We want to listen and talk to artists that I don’t I may never have heard of it,” Hampton said.

“The way I look at it from story to story is that more often than not we’re telling the story of an underdog. That’s what’s connective and that’s what inspires me on the show and the artists. … That’s definitely where I come in as a writer and a host. And you’re not telling an underdog story in that state unless you’re reaching out to everyone, at every level .

Telling these stories of the underdog authentically often means hitting the road with the artists to places like the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art in Tulsa for OKC-based Israeli blueswoman Bat-Or Kalo or the Blue Door listening room for the singer-songwriter “Queen of Oklahoma”. Carter Sampson. This kind of mobility is unusual for a branded musical series.

“I didn’t want it to be just a ‘Live from the Grand Casino’ (series). …Usually we try to find places that mean something to the person: it’s a place where they played or a place that inspires them or some kind of connection with them. I always tell them that I’m independent of the location; if we have to go to a different stage and film there … let’s do it where it makes sense for the artist and helps add to the story,” Mathews said. “My bosses have been very patient with me trying to figure that out — and I think putting that (Emmy) material on the table kind of helps.”

Although the coronavirus pandemic should make filming a little more complicated, the Outsiders have already lined up artists for season 5 of “Play It Loud”, including The Damn Quails co-frontman Bryon White, the indie-rock singer of OKC Sophia Massad and New Tulsa Sound standout Paul Benjaman. For Bethel Acres native Mathews, the show’s fifth season will come full circle by featuring Nashville, Tennessee-based country hitmaker Wade Hayes.

“He’s actually from my hometown. He’s the first person I can remember being a professional musician. So it’s always been on my mind to tell his story, just because he’s the first example that I have this, ‘Oh, you can even make music or art a job and be successful,” Mathews said. “It’s crazy that a lot of the creativity comes from that part of the world… and we’re starting to see this series branch out and that leads to something else for Outsiders.”

Check out the “Play It Loud” music series at www.grandresortok.com/playitloud.

-BAM