One hundred years is a long time to remain relevant in the rapidly changing world of retail. Kamp's Market & Deli first nestled into Oklahoma City in 1910 as a grocery store, but the new ownership that shifted the site into a deli and grill is also testing the building out as a music venue.
Outside its perch at 1310 N.W. 25th, Kamp's still retains early-20th-century antiquity with art deco embellishments and a large steel sign overlooking the Asian District.
Indoors, the rich smells of the grill permeate and the portion of the building once reserved for grocery staples now is occupied by a stage with all its sound and lighting equipment. The acts booked by Kamp's don't fall into a particular style or flavor, ranging from intimate acoustic sets to Friday's free underground dance party headlined by Atlanta's two-time International Turntable Federation and Disco Mix Club champion, DJ Klever.
"Our venue doesn't just target one crowd. We want it to be diverse, and if we can branch out into every group, then we will be successful," said James Vu, who shares Kamp's booking duties with his mother, Ann Cong-Tang, the deli's owner.
Vu worked with locals Ed Crunk and John Bourke of DJ party crew Dance Robots, Dance! to bring DJ Klever in from Georgia. Bourke said he was looking for a larger venue for the collective's more sizable events.
"When throwing a bigger event like this in OKC, you have to draw from different crowds," Bourke said. "One of the benefits of teaming up with James Vu is that he knows a lot of different people that we don't."
Vu arranges and promotes events outside of Kamp's, often working in Bricktown, whereas Bourke said Dance Robots, Dance! caters to the "older underground crowd" and "the young indie rockers."
Cong-Tang began entertaining the idea of a music venue when local fiddle/guitar duo Horseshoe Road was looking for a regular gig in its hometown. The act began a weekly, Thursday-night set in 2006, and continues playing as many Thursdays as its schedule allows.
GLOBETROTTING SESSION PLAYERS
Comprised of globetrotting session players Kyle Dillingham and Brad Benge, Horseshoe Road has become known for an eclectic brand of acoustic music tinged with blues, bluegrass and gypsy swing. It also released a new album in June called "Reel-to-Reel," which features mostly originals, but throws in a few ambitious covers, such as a honey-soaked take on "Unchained Melody" and a blistering rendition of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."
Dillingham said that Kamp's gives local fans a relaxed venue in which to enjoy his band, as well as offering a chance to experience the state's unique sound.
"Different clubs from around the city love bringing international guests to our show as an example of real Oklahoma music," Dillingham said. "We are also eclectic, so we can usually play something from their home country, which allows us to positively represent the state."
Since dinner is offered during the performance, space is limited and reservations are encouraged to ensure a seat. A hectic national and international touring schedule means this Thursday's show will be the last Horseshoe Road performance at Kamp's until November. Even as the band's success grows, Dillingham insisted Horseshoe Road will continue to treat Kamp's as its home.
"It's great to have a home base. There is an innate benefit to having a good relationship with someone you work with on a regular basis," he said. "(Cong-Tang) told us to think of Kamp's as our place, giving us the feeling that we have some ownership of it, rather than just another venue that hired us."
According to Vu, the goal is to keep Kamp's a vital part of the community by drawing in patrons from as many scenes and styles as possible " a mission Bourke embraces.
"It may seem odd that we mix all these different people together, but in the end, everyone is being exposed to different cultures and different music," Bourke said. "It's really all for the better. Cross-pollination is a good thing." "Charles Martin