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Poet, singer-songwriter to play Red Brick Bar in Norman



Missouri native Luke Mitchem did not grow up on country music. Perhaps it is a broad generalization, but kids who grew up in western Missouri and lived an hour or more from anywhere are likely to be fans of the genre.

“I grew up listening to singer-songwriters like Jim Croce and early Bruce Springsteen,” Mitchem said. “My mom would occasionally play Barry Manilow to drive my dad crazy, too.”

Mitchem is touring in support of his fifth album, For You, I Built a Mountain. His Sept. 10 show at Norman’s Red Brick Bar, 311 E. Main St., will be his first in Oklahoma. He is a solo act, just vocals and a guitar, an instrument he taught himself to play after college.


“I was living in D.C., and my friends were married and having kids,” he said. “I’d bought a guitar a few years before but never learned to play.”

In that transitional period after college when young adults marry, settle down and have kids, determined singles find new circles and new areas of interest. Mitchem started writing poetry in college, but only as a poetic endeavor. The idea of songwriting entered his mind later, when he picked up the guitar.

He played locally in the Washington, D.C. area at first, a place that is not exactly well-known as a musical hotbed.

“There are some rock acts,” Mitchem said, “and punk was big for a while. The community of singer-songwriters kind of compete with each other for the good venues, and there are some great venues in D.C.”

Still, Mitchem was not sure about making a career in music. He admits that he was even afraid after releasing his first album. Fear, though, is part of the independent musician’s life.

“On the road, I worry if I’ll make enough to buy gas or get a hotel room,” he said.

Most independent singer-songwriters can tell countless stories of sleeping in a car between shows in unfamiliar towns.

On this tour — which lasts nine weeks and includes 23 shows — Mitchem has already logged 6,800 miles, and he plans for another 5,000.

The newest album is his fifth studio project, and he funded half of it with a Kickstarter campaign.

“I had friends try it,” he said. “Everyone is afraid when they put a crowdfunding campaign out there. My friends either asked for too much or not enough, so I thought half would be good.”

He exceeded his campaign amount, but he said he will need to wait at least another year before trying it again.

In the meantime, he’s planning a 100-show tour for 2016 in order to meet established musicians and learn the lessons he has yet to learn. Mitchem is also planning on releasing a short story collection next year. The title of his recent record comes from the title of one of his short stories, and the stories in the collection inspired some of the songs.

Mitchem is a storyteller and a poet, and that translates into his music.

Print headline: Transient soul, Writer, singer, songwriter — Luke Mitchem does it all.

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