When Courtney Patton played The Blue Door on March 8, 2020, no one knew it was going to be the last show there for nearly 2 1/2 years.
Greg Johnson has owned and operated the beloved venue for the last 29 years. He spent the downtime upgrading what may be the premier acoustic listening room in the city and possibly even the state. On a superficial level, cracks in the floor and leaks in the building have been fixed and the bathrooms remodeled. Sonically, there are new monitors, new speakers, and a new mixing board soon to be delivered.
“I figured these problems were something that I would have to work around anyway to get things fixed up to start having shows again. And it’s something I’ve wanted to do forever anyway,” he said.
On June 3, Grammy-nominated songwriter and Okemah native John Fullbright officially reopened the renovated Blue Door’s stage.
Johnson considered shutting down the venue and selling the property during the nearly 2 1/2-year hiatus due to COVID-19, but was bolstered by a dear friend and musician who urged him to reopen.
- Berlin Green
- Susan Herndon and the Bella Counsel perform at The Blue Door
“My friend Alicia Witt, who is a wonderful songwriter and actress, she sent me some money last year and said, ‘This is the start of your fundraising campaign.’ And I was reluctant to do this because I hate begging for money, but she sent me a thousand bucks. Then I did a GoFundMe campaign and raised a bunch of money and I thought, ‘Instead of just doing the minimum, lets just redo the whole thing up right. Let’s make The Blue Door look better than ever.’ Nobody really thought much was wrong with the place but me, because I live here and could see all the problems the old building had accumulated over the years,” he said.
Johnson said that he wants to retain the calm, quiet charm of the red building with the blue doors on the northern edge of the Oklahoma City University campus.
“Even though we’re a BYOB venue, I really don’t want this to be a party place or have a bar type of atmosphere, so we are discouraging that. It’s a small, intimate concert venue. You’re here for an hour and a half or two hours, and that’s about it. There is no smoking inside, not even vapes. On the patio, we tried having ashtrays but some people just wouldn’t use them. So now smoking is only allowed outside the fence. I just want people to know they are not coming into a bar. When I turned 70, I decided I was going to make The Blue Door even more special than it already was, so we have made it into a better looking place than it’s ever been. It’s a nicer, cleaner, better sounding place and just a much cooler room for live music. I’m proud to say that now it’s in its best condition ever. I just want people to know when they come in here that it’s not a bar. It’s basically just a glorified house concert is what it has really always been,” he said.
The beauty of The Blue Door is its intimacy, which it has maintained over the years. The small room holds just under 100 people, giving fans a great chance to get to chat with the performers with frequent autograph and photo opps after the show.
But the draw of The Blue Door is that it is a home for highly-talented singer-songwriters.
“I’m mostly going to be booking people that have already played here a whole lot at first and just kind of ease back into it,“ he said. “You have to realize that most of the musicians out on the road are just getting back out there too, but I doubt we will ever have shows four or five nights a week like it was in 2015 to 2017 or so. And any new acts that play here will have to be up to our high standards,” Johnson said.
- Berlin Green
- The lobby is filled with the photos and autographs of musicians who have played at The Blue Door over the years.
Blues guitarist and actor Ian Moore plays there. So does Radney Foster, who has written or co-written several songs cut by major artists like “Raining on Sunday” by Keith Urban, “Real Fine Place to Start” by Sara Evans, and “Half of My Mistakes” by Gary Allan. Seminal folk-punk band The Devil Makes Three once graced the room. Hayes Carll even mentions The Blue Door in his hit song, “Bad Liver and Broken Heart.”
There are so many more to name: Joe Ely, Chris Knight, Adam Hood and Slaid Cleaves come to mind. Beloved troubadour sage from Soper, Ray Wylie Hubbard, has graced the stage and played a show at the much larger Tower Theatre earlier this month.
Old-fashioned show bill posters — somewhat a lost art form these days — grace the walls, some of them dating back to the earliest days of the venue framed and preserved for the next generation of fans who will etch a cherished memory of a show at The Blue Door.