D.C. Rally Brought Red Dirt Music to the Masses
Searching for the Sound by BRYAN CANTRELL
NO NUKES: Thousands of protesters descend on the nation’s Capital May 6, 1979 in response the the nuclear disaser at Three Mile Island. Red Dirt pioneer Bob Childers was among the musical acts at the rally.
Photo by Dorothy Marder
“Can we make an honest effort, can we see beyond our greed, sunshine, wind and water is all we really need.”
– Bob Childers
The song, “Sunshine, Wind and Water” from Bob Childers’ debut album, “I ain’t no Jukebox,” may be the most important song in the history of Red Dirt music.
Known as Dylan of the Dust as well as the Godfather of Red Dirt music, Childers’ 1979 protest song caught the ear of organizers of a national no-nukes rally.
The rally took place in Washington, D.C., May 6, 1979, barely a month after the Three Mile Island disaster in Harrisberg, Pennsylvania, and was the nation’s largest gathering of anti-nuclear protesters ever to that point.
Estimates vary depending on the source, but anywhere from 65,000 to 125,000 protesters from coast to coast descended on the nation’s capitol, where they listened to speeches, marched and chanted, “Hell no, we won’t glow,” and enjoyed some of the era’s best music.
Graham Nash, Arlo Guthrie, Jackson Brown and Pete Seeger are a few of the acts sharing the stage with Childers that day. Joni Mitchell made a rare public appearance to sing an updated version of her hit song, “…they paved paradise, put up a nuclear hotspot.”
The 32-year-old Childers taking the stage that day marks the official coming-out party for Red Dirt music, a genre that is still growing today as bands like Turpike Troubadoors and Jason Boland and the Straglers continue to pack venues and gain national notoriety.
Born in West Virginia and raised in Ponca City before moving to California to study music at Berkely, Childers was an Okie by choice, insisting that, “California had the money and the reputation, but Oklahoma had the magic.”
He’s known as a bit of a gypsy traveler, although details of these travels were never sufficiently documented, as Childers’ autobiography, Riding with the Rangers, was never completed. Unfortunately, he never really got into the details.
“We found a book that Bob started, Ridin’ with the Rangers… and Bob didn’t have anything but titles,” recalls Childers’ friend John Cooper of the Red Dirt Rangers. “He had titles for all the chapters. There wasn’t any material, he just had titles. I thought that was so great and that was so Bob Childers.”
In 1972, he met fellow Red Dirt pioneer Chuck Dunlap and decided to make Stillwater home, marking the end of his gypsy travel days.
He established himself as one of the best songwriters in the state over the next few years before teaming up with Jimmy Lafave, who was instrumental in getting Childers’ 1979 debut album recorded.
Staying true to my commitment to Searching for the Sound, I have searched for “I Ain’t No Jukebox,” and it appears to be about as rare as the Guttenberg Bible. (A bit of an exageration, you can get a used LP online if you’re willing to pay $300 plus shipping). However, you can hear an excellent version of Sunshine, Wind and Water, performed by Scott Evans, on the three-disc, various-artist collection, “Restless Spirit: A Tribute to the Songs of Bob Childers,” an outstanding collection of Childers songs for a much more budget-friendly $33.
Last May, another tribute to Childers, the eighth annual Bob Childers’ Gypsy Cafe in Stillwater, featured dozens of the best Red Dirt musicians around and raised more than $30,000 for Red Dirt Relief Fund, a 501©3 non-profit organization that aids musicians and music professionals burdened with medical bills or other financial hardships.
Bob Childers’ Gypsy Café is the largest fundraiser of the year for , and while the ninth annual festival is seven months away, the second-largest fundraiser of the year, Tom Skinner’s Skyline Festival, is right around the corner.
Sunday, Oct. 14 from 3 – 10:30 p.m. across two venues at 18th Street and Boston Avenue, the festival boasts an impressive lineup, featuring John Fullbright with Jacob Tovar, Paul Benjaman, Mike McLure, Scott Evans, Wink Burcham, and BC and the Big Rig to name a few. So come out on a Sunday afternoon for some good music for a good cause. Because I’m afraid I disagree with the Godfather: sunshine, wind and water isn’t enough. I also need good friends and good music.
That, and to keep searching, keep listening.