It’s no stretch to say that Alan Orebaugh is among the finest young guitarists in the southwest United States. He has set a standard on stage and in the classroom that’s a sterling example for all aspiring players of the popular musical instrument. Never a front man, Orebaugh is sometimes a semi-anonymous studio session player. He has recently devised an ingenious method for regularly showcasing his talents while bringing along other musician friends for the ride.
It’s a no-admission charge every Monday evening at The Deli called “Alan Orebaugh and Friends.” The gentle giant of a man began remarks in his typically self-effacing way.
“I’m not very entertaining on my own,” he said. “I’m just a guitar player.”
Orebaugh tempered that modesty by saying that where he excels is playing with other people. And that he has done in these parts for 17 years in outfits such as Blue Collar Cartel, Resident Phunk, Mama Sweet, Stoney LaRue and No Justice. He has a skill set that includes being able to learn other people’s songs in a flash and even when unfamiliar with the music having an intuition for falling right in with the groove.
“I originally wanted to make these Deli shows an instrumental trio thing which I still might do,” he said. “But while working on that I called all these great singer/songwriters I know and invited a different one every week. The stipulation is they have to play with me.”
Orebaugh followed that with a laugh.
“It’s kind of a weird reverse thing for me because I’m the common thread but not always the center of attention,” he said.
These hand-picked Orebaugh partners and their appearances with him are taking on a structure that audiences may be able to count on for some time.
“Camille Harp will be with me the first Monday of the month,” he said.
That’s a salient indication of Orebaugh’s generosity with the spotlight right there. If anyone in town is going to attract attention its attractive female vocalist Harp with the heart-melting pipes.
“Second Mondays will be with Gabriel Marshall,” he said. “Which will be cool for him because he doesn’t have to play Damn Quails’ songs, he can play anything.”
Orebaugh rattled off no less than eight more names of talented folks he’ll be appearing with on these happy Monday nights. He was quick to point out that The Deli has free early evening shows with other artists every day except Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“Part of the fun for me is that it’s not the same thing every week,” he said. “I’m trying to structure it with Camille, Gabe and an instrumental trio being regulars and then the last Monday being wild card night with a rotating cast of musicians.”
There’s a seat-of-the-pants quality to these shows that Orebaugh makes successful because of an aforementioned ability to seemingly read his collaborators’ musical minds.
“It’s my magic super power, I guess,” he said. “It may come from my years of teaching music and working improv. But the trick is to make it sound like something, not just noodling with a bunch of guitar licks but like a part of a song.”
Orebaugh has learned over his years of performing that’s it’s not all about him. Taking the audience into consideration is key, along with having your gear together and being nice to people.
“You have to have empathy for the people you’re playing for,” he said. “There’s a mood in every room and you have to learn how to read people and tailor your performance to every situation.”
Being sensitive to crowd reaction or lack thereof and changing up the set list accordingly is part of that reflection.
“If there’s a somber mood in the room I can make my guitar solos bend that direction,” he said.
Orebaugh grew up in Ardmore. There was a music store but no live music scene. At age 5 his folks told him Santa Claus couldn’t fit a drum kit down the chimney but probably a guitar. Orebaugh had his mom pester the music store guy to give him lessons at 8 instead of the house preference for age 9. He went on to be a guitar teacher himself at the American Music Academy at the University of Central Oklahoma and McMichael Music in Norman.
Besides being a musician here, Orebaugh is also an enthusiastic proponent of Norman’s music scene.
“There are good things happening here,” he said. “Both on Campus Corner and down on Main Street, I’d like it to be even more vibrant than it ever has been.”
By any measure Orebaugh is an attractive part of that vitality.
If You Go
What: Alan Orebaugh and Friends in concert
Where: The Deli, 309 White St.
When: 7-9 p.m. Mondays
Alan Orebaugh will be hosting a rotating entourage of musicians to accompany him at his free Monday Deli showcases.