Dante & the Hawks like their blue collars.
Playing several gigs weekly around town, frontman Dante Schmitz and his band have been able to make a living as musicians — not an easy task.
“We gig like four-hour nights, and it’s a lot of work, getting out there and singing and playing for four hours and packing up and going home,” Schmitz said. “It’s fun to have that brotherly mentality with your band mates. We’re all out here making a buck. We’re not getting rich off of it, but we’re doing what we love, and we’re making a living doing it.”
From their porch in Broken Arrow last week, Schmitz and band mate Teddy Scott said keeping busy schedules has let them make music their job. One of those many upcoming gigs is July 26 at the Center of the Universe Festival. The band is set to perform at 6 p.m. on the Tulsa World Stage, featuring a showcase of Oklahoma musicians.
They also star in the Tulsa World Backyard Music Series this week, presenting a stripped-down version of the Hawks and the acoustic song “Emmylou.” The video can be found along with our full festival coverage at tulsaworld.com/cotu.
Schmitz was 6 when his music journey began. He started learning the piano and then the guitar as a young teenager growing up in Norman. He said that in high school, he always fit into that guitar-playing, songwriting camp.
But it was playing weekly in church that really helped him grow musically.
Even as he was still learning the instrument and his voice as a teenager, he had a steady gig that allowed him to get up on stage in front of people often.
“I think all the best musicians I worked with all grew up playing in church,” Schmitz said. “I think it’s the best environment to learn to play music, but to play with others.”
At the University of Oklahoma, Schmitz started to see a change. He always loved music, but playing gigs around Norman, he said he saw potential to make music a career.
“I played some just here and there, but in college really started writing a lot more and started pursuing this as, ‘hey, maybe this is something I could do,’” Schmitz said. “I just was like, ‘Well, I’ll do this as long as I can to not get a real job.’ And I kind of made that my goal.
“It’s always just been something I’ve loved, and someone told me a long time ago, if you can get paid for doing what you love, do it,” Schmitz continued. “I’ve always looked at music like that. People are willing to pay me to do it, and I love doing it, so why wouldn’t I?”
After school and after marrying, he moved to Tulsa, and it wasn’t long after that until he started to corral a few Hawks.
One of the first in the group was Scott, who was about to leave his current band. Scott was playing the band’s last gig together, and Schmitz was opening. Schmitz invited Scott to jam for a bit, and it took off from there.
For Scott, playing with the Hawks was a turning point. He, too, saw a future as a professional musician.
“The Hawks, that was the first time I made money playing music,” Scott said. “I couldn’t believe I got money after playing. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Another part of the Hawks’ success in booking steady gigs is that Scott isn’t the only guitar player. Schmitz has as many as seven members of the band who can come in and out if another member is busy on a particular night.
“I kind of always wanted a band to be that way because it’s just hard to get four or five guys who are in the exact same place who can commit the exact same amount of time and keep it moving forward,” Schmitz said. “It’s enabled us to keep booking gigs and not have to turn down gigs because one guy can’t make it.”
Dante & the Hawks have focused mostly on gigs, releasing two EPs since forming about six years ago, though Schmitz has released other albums on his own in the Christian genre with heavy folk and rock influences.
He tours regularly on his own, and, combined with his songwriting and constant gigs around Tulsa, Schmitz has been able to make it work here. And the work he does here likely wouldn’t happen if he lived elsewhere, he said.
“I know guys in Nashville from Oklahoma who come back to Oklahoma to make enough money to go back to Nashville,” Schmitz said. “I guess I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond where I could have an established band that gigs regularly than go out to Nashville or New York and play for nothing with this pipe dream of signing this record label.
“That’s why I love Tulsa. It’s this small-town vibe in this big city.”