From trick-or-treating at Liberace's house to meeting Elvis, singer-songwriter Steve Poltz recalls some of the colorful moments of his early years in "Brief History of My Life,” one of the songs on his new album, "Traveling.” "I just one day picked up my guitar, and that song was just floating around in the air. And I started strumming my guitar and remember I said, ‘We first moved to the USA all the way from Canada / We drove across the continent from Nova Scotia to Pasadena.' And the next thing I knew I was writing this ... like sort of a way of letting people know who I am,” he said in a recent phone interview from the clown-theme Pancake Circus restaurant in Sacramento, Calif. "Sometimes, songs are destined to become like an instant live classic where it works right away and you know you're going to do that song every night. And those are gifts when you get a song like that.” Poltz, who will turn 48 Tuesday, often brings his blend of quirky humor, diverse songs and intriguing stories to the Blue Door, where he will play at 8 p.m. Sunday. But he also is coming to Oklahoma City as one of the featured performers at the WinterTales Storytelling Festival at Stage Center, 400 W Sheridan. Presented by the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, WinterTales runs today through Sunday and includes performances, workshops and a family matinee. Nationally acclaimed storytellers Syd Lieberman, Nancy Donoval and Dovie Thomason are other headliners. Poltz has played a variety of venues worldwide, first with his indie rock band The Rugburns and for the past decade as a solo artist. He uses storytelling to connect with his audience. "Whenever you have songs, there's usually a story behind them. And so, since I'm always on the road playing, it seemed my stories always led into songs,” he said. "And then I realized the story had to be exciting, because I like to think of the audience and myself as having a piece of string between us, and I don't want that string to sag too much. So, I wanted to keep their interest. So, when I started playing, if I wanted people to listen to the song, I knew I had to have a good story behind the song.” As one of the featured tellers at WinterTales, Poltz will participate in group performances with inspirational, humorous and family-friendly themes. Some of the songs he will perform at Sunday's family matinee come from his children's album "The Barn,” a musical yarn about a talking dirt bike that befriends a lonely boy. "I'm a diverse person. I would probably be diagnosed with adult ADD,” he said. "I get bored with one idea, and then I move on to the next one. And you know, probably when I was a kid in school, they probably said ‘has trouble focusing.' So, I think that's why I genre hop.” "Traveling,” released last month on his independent 98 Pounder Records, demonstrates his assorted songwriting sensibilities. "Stay Away a Little Closer,” his favorite track, is a perky pop confection about adultery. A bopping beat contrasts with the depressing tale of a scarred Iraq War veteran on "Street Fighter's Face.” And the unexpected, atmospheric opening track, "I Think She Likes Me,” has only bolstered Poltz's reputation as a quirky guy, a description he doesn't mind. "I don't like the word ‘wacky.' I can't stand that word. The way some people hate clowns, I hate the word ‘wacky.' But I like the word ‘quirky,'” he said. "I just got described as fidgety. ... Somebody, they called me the fidgety pop singer-songwriter. Quirky, fidgety, I like that. Wacky, I don't like. I don't know why.” The Canada-born and California-bred musician also created a companion compact disc for "Traveling” called "Unraveling,” which is aimed at his hard-core fans and sold only at his shows. But Poltz is best known for a song he didn't record. In the 1990s, he struck up a friendship with a struggling singer-songwriter named Jewel. They wrote the song "You Were Meant for Me,” which was a hit on her debut album "Pieces of You.” It set a record for the longest stay on the Billboard Top 100 chart. "When the song is born, if you will ... they become my kids. And maybe you have one like ‘You Were Meant for Me' that goes out and get its Ph.D. and earns a lot of money for you, but you also have another one that's really silly like "Sugar Boogers,” which is this crazy, weird song that's on my CD "Answering Machine,” and that might be just as fun to play, too, and it never earns you any money. But it's this crazy child that you had that you're just as proud of as the other one that was the overachiever,” he said. Poltz, who will lead a songwriting workshop at WinterTales, said part of the secret is "being available to the muse that's out there.” "My advice is that there are no rules and let your freak flag fly. And songwriting is like a muscle — you have to work at it all the time. And the more you work at, then that one song that you might not like will lead to the next song that you're going to end up loving. ... You just need to work at it and don't let somebody tell you there's any rules.”
Audio: Interview with Steve Poltz
Steve Poltz•When: 7:30 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at WinterTales Storytelling Festival at Stage Center, 400 W Sheridan. Tickets to evening performances are $12; matinee tickets are $3. Information: 270-4848 or www.artscouncilokc.com. •When: 8 p.m. Sunday at the Blue Door, 2805 N McKinley. Tickets are $20. Information: 524-0738 or www.blue doorokc.com.
WinterTales Storytelling Festival
Today•9 to 10 a.m.: Registration, Stage Center lobby, 400 W Sheridan. •10 to 11:30 a.m.: "Storytelling 201-Part 1” workshop with Syd Lieberman, Stage Center. •11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Lunch, open mike storytelling in the Cabaret, free event. •12:30 to 2 p.m.: "Storytelling 201-Part 2” workshop with Syd Lieberman, Stage Center. •2:30 to 4 p.m.: Songwriting workshop, Steve Poltz, Stage Center. •6:30 to 7:25 p.m.: Opening reception in the Cabaret. •7:30 p.m.: Evening performance in the Tolbert Theatre: "Humorous Stories” with Steve Poltz, Nancy Donoval, Syd Lieberman and Dovie Thomason. •10:30 p.m. Late Night Ghost Stories in the Cabaret featuring Nancy Donoval and Dovie Thomason.
Saturday•9 to 10 a.m.: Registration in Stage Center lobby. •10 to 11:30 a.m.: "Find Your Own Voice” workshop, Stage Center, featuring Syd Lieberman, Nancy Donoval and Dovie Thomason and their take on the story "East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” •11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Lunch, "Oklahoma Olio” presented by Territory Tellers, Cabaret Theatre, free event. •12:30 to 2 p.m.: "Storytelling: At the Heart of the Art of Leadership” workshop, Nancy Donoval. •12:30 to 2 p.m.: "Telling the Story to Teach History and Touch Hearts” workshop, Dovie Thomason. •2:30 to 5 p.m.: WinterTales special event, Oklahoma City Stories at the Oklahoma History Center, 2401 N Laird, featuring Gus Palmer "Telling Stories the Kiowa Way.” Information: www.okhistorycenter.org. •8 p.m.: Evening performance in the Tolbert Theatre: "Inspirational Stories” with Steve Poltz, Dovie Thomason, Nancy Donoval and Syd Lieberman. •10:30 p.m.: WinterTales closing reception in the Stage Center Cabaret.
Sunday•2 p.m.: Family Matinee at Stage Center, featuring Syd Lieberman, Nancy Donoval, Dovie Thomason and Steve Poltz.