Every Sunday, Oklahoma singer-songwriters take the stage to perform original work in a cozy narrow bar tucked inside a Bricktown alley. The hole in the wall could be easy to overlook, but it serves as home to Seventh Day Rebellion, a live-music showcase found only at JJ’s Alley.
“We wanted to create a refuge for artists,” said J.P. Harl, who has helped the event grow after its initial launch. “That is what happens when you put a bunch of artists together. They push each other to get better. They respect each other, and creativity and inspiration comes out of it.”
The popularity of the Sunday song swap grew primarily by word of mouth. Musicians told other musicians, and each week new and returning artists take the stage to play with other songwriters.
Performer Tania Warnock said the song swap allows the bar to feature more artists and gives opportunities to singer-songwriters who do not have hours of original work. Payment mostly comes in the form of drink tickets, but musicians perform because they like the venue.
‘This stage demands original music’
On a typical Sunday, two musicians take the stage at a time, and they swap original songs back and forth for about 30 minutes.
“Most stages discourage original music, but this stage demands it,” said Blake Lankford, the founder of Seventh Day Rebellion.
He wanted to create an OKC song-swap after experiencing similar environments in Tennessee. In Oklahoma, many places that offered regular opportunities to perform preferred cover songs.
“An open mic is fine, but this is a different thing,” said Lankford. “It didn’t work out originally.”
Lankford started the event at JJ’s Saloon, a sister venue to JJ’s Alley also owned by attorney Jeff Rodgers. Lankford and Rodgers tried different budget strategies, but they found the right formula at the smaller JJ’s Alley — combine artists on the stage to see how they match up. He said he works to pair artists based on their energy and dynamic.
“Most of the time, I just think it would be interesting to put one artist with another,” said Lankford. “For example, I will pair a young girl who is new and sees the world with fresh eyes with someone who has been on the scene for a long time. That kind of energy is interesting.”
After performing together at JJ’s Alley, the pairs commonly play together at later dates in different locations.
One performer, Buffalo Rogers, plays the mandolin, guitar and harmonica to create a sound he calls “Stonebilly Dirty Boogie.” He said several different genres of music fill the stage each Sunday. A local performer who plays reggae — J.J. Wood — is part of the rotation.
“What we do here rebels against anything you hear on the radio,” Harl said.
That rebellion is the group’s inspiration, and it’s why many of the performers have a tattoo of the Seventh Day Rebellion logo.
“Blake has done an awesome job. He’s cultivated this for about five years,” Rodgers said. “It’s kind of an extension of what we’re all about as a bar in general seven days a week.”
Organizers said the term has outgrown their original vision, and they get excited to when other musicians hear about the Sunday shows. Rodgers mentioned a burgeoning relationship with Tulsa musician Jacob Tovar as an example.
“He never would have come from Tulsa to our tiny little bar had it not been for the fact that people like Wink Burcham and others of that stature had already played here,” Rodgers aid. “It’s all because of the song swap.”
‘Inclusive and accepting’
The small, upstairs stage at JJ’s Alley allows artists to try out new compositions and receive honest feedback. Many of the singers said they debut songs at the bar because it provides a safe and accepting space for them.
Warnock, who traveled from Enid to perform on a recent Sunday, said she feels comfortable playing her newest work in front of the group.
“The event is inclusive and accepting, and it was like that from the first time I came here,” she said. Another musician walked up while she was leaving and gave her a hug. “See, this is a perfect example of how friendly it is here.
“Musicians can be aloof, but not here.”
The environment is relaxed. Murals and Dr. Seuss pages paper the wall. Cracked mirrors. While a Christmas tree and LED snowflakes are what you might expect to find in a city-street alley, they can be found in JJ’s Alley.
“We’re all about songwriters seven nights a week, but we get to do it from 3 p.m. to close on Sundays,” Rodgers said.
Pictures of regular patrons and workers underneath a glass countertop on the bar are intended make the venue feel more like home. Other quirky photos, odd liquor bottles and a new upstairs back patio help make the space intriguing.
“Sunday is awesome. I think there’s something about a Sunday afternoon where people are in a different mindset maybe,” Rodgers said. “It lends itself to listening to great songwriters.”
Seventh Day Rebellion begins at about 3 p.m. each Sunday. Rodgers encouraged anyone interested in performing to visit and meet the regular musicians or contact the venue’s Facebook page.