Okie Twist-Off celebrates an entire culture of custom cars and brash music that its organizers openly describe as "trash culture."
What that culture sounds like and looks like isn't as simple as one might think. Organizers Kevin Burden and John Manson both pointed to the legendary 1980's Oklahoma City venue The Bowery Club as their inspiration. As full-fledged members of the Bowery generation of Oklahoma music fans, the two took the eclectic and lowbrow spirit of the club as a template for what the car show and concert should be.
"The Okie Twist-Off definitely has that Bowery feel, where we were throwing in all kinds of music," Burden said.
Part of the challenge, Manson said, to having such a diverse music lineup is establishing trust with the audience, so that visitors unfamiliar with some of the booked bands are still confident they'll be entertained. Unlike other custom car shows across the country, Okie Twist-Off doesn't just focus on rockabilly, but instead combines a variety of styles, with the unpolished and strident spirit of garage rock as the unifying factor.
"Rockabilly is certainly a part of it, but no one promotes this as a rockabilly show," Manson said. "We call it a 'Kustom Culture' event, which incorporates roots, garage rock, punk, Americana, primitive blues, neo-honky-tonk and surf."
Local pioneers The Fortune Tellers are reuniting for a slot at the Twist-Off, prior to headlining an Aug. 22 Bowery reunion Show at VZD's. The band featured Greek brothers Miho and Basile Kolliopoulos, and split up in 2000 when Miho returned to Greece. As an architect, Miho Kolliopoulos travels to Oklahoma from time to time for work, and Manson, who once served as The Fortune Tellers' manager, was eager to bring the band onboard.
"I do credit the Fortune Tellers with destroying my morals and many, many synapses," Manson said, with a laugh. "They were a sort of house band for the Bowery and were playing when the punk crowd and the rockabilly crowd were first fusing, back when the Stray Cats and people with flattops and steel toes were first getting together. The Okie Twist-Off is a latter-day fusing of that."
Basile Kolliopoulos has played both previous Okie Twist-Offs as part of The Reverb Brothers, and sees the festival as celebrating styles of garage rock often overlooked.
"I'm a big fan of roots, rockabilly, roots rock and blues, and the festival represents that side of the scene in Oklahoma City, which is not something that is in the front lines," he said. "The music scene is permeated by The Flaming Lips and that type of alternative music."
But rock 'n' roll is only one half of the Okie Twist-Off. Burden said that while the car show remains a consistently popular draw, the Twist-Off has progressively shifted the emphasis more toward music.
"The first year we pitched the car show as the top bill, and last year we flipped the bill," Burden said. "The old car show guys don't really care about the music " they are just there for the cars. We hadn't really thought that part out, so now we are putting even less emphasis on the car show, because we'll get these old-timers who just saw the car show on the poster, and when they get there, it was a little more than they bargained for."
The Bowery generation, according to Burden, grew up with the combative spirit of punk fused to the stylized soul of roots rock and rockabilly, and are more agreeable to having garage rock blaring through the speakers at a custom car show.
The true value of the Okie Twist-Off, Basile Kolliopoulos said, is to introduce that convergence of sights and sounds of trash culture to a new generation of fans.
"We need younger people to be aware of this music, and for that, the Okie Twist-Off is great," he said. "It's not music that is trendy and popular " it's music that we like and really believe in. It represents an entire culture."
Okie Twist-Off Pre-party begins at 6 p.m. Friday at the Prohibition Room, 1112 N.W. 23rd. The concert and car show takes place at noon Saturday at 66 Bowl, 3810 N.W. 39th. "Charles Martin