By BRYAN CANTRELL
I hope that every day becomes your friend
That you find laughter there again and again
And when you speak your mind, be fair what you say
And make your own way at the end of each day
– Jimmy LaFave
It was nearly three years ago that musician/songwriter and Red Dirt music pioneer Jimmy LaFave broke the news publicly that he suffered from a rare form of cancer called spindle cell sarcoma. And while that disease ultimately took his life less than two months later, LaFave never canceled a show or missed a performance while battling the illness, even attending his own sold-out benefit show at the Paramount Theater in Austin three days before his death on May 21, 2017.
Three weeks before his death, LaFave was presented with the Gypsy Café Festival’s inaugural Restless Spirit Award: an award given, as the plaque states, “In recognition of your impact and influence on the Oklahoma Music Community in a spirit akin to Bob Childers.” The award, named after a Bob Childers song, has since been given to Brandon Jenkins (posthumously) and Randy Crouch (“I ain’t dead yet!”)
Akin to Bob Childers (A.K.A. the Godfather of Red Dirt Music) is accurate. LaFave produced Childers’ (A.K.A. Dylan of the Dust’s) first album, I Ain’t No Jukebox, in 1979, and both were instrumental in ushering Red Dirt music from a farm in Stillwater to radio stations throughout Oklahoma and Texas.
The next Restless Spirit Award will be presented on April 29 in Stillwater (for now, more on that later), at the 9th annual Gypsy Café Festival. Featuring more than 60 Oklahoma songwriters on three stages, this is the largest homegrown songwriter festival in the state, with all proceeds benefiting Oklahoma musicians in need through the Red Dirt Relief Fund. Last year, the festival raised more than $22,000.
In 2018, Gypsy Café and the Red Dirt Relief Fund brought some of LaFave’s spirit into the mix by including the Jimmy LaFave Songwriting Contest in the festival. The winner will perform at the festival and take home $500. The contest is open to unsigned musicians and is free to enter, but, as I reminded you last month, the deadline for entries is March 1, so it’s time to start thinking about the 2021 contest.
Gypsy Café Online?
It is not, however, too late to make plans to attend Bob Childers Gypsy Café Festival. In fact, as we get closer to press time, it turns out it’s too early to make plans to attend this, or any festival or gathering in the foreseeable future.
This is an especially challenging time to be writing for a monthly paper. When a situation is so fluid that it changes hourly, a month is a virtual eternity.
Virtual is a word we’re going to be hearing a lot over the next month or so, as in, virtual meeting, virtual presentation, virtual fundraising event, and even virtual concert, in which we get our live music fix through live, online streaming video.
There’s a good possibility that this year’s Gypsy Café Festival will be a virtual event, although there has been no official announcement as of press time. Visit reddirtrelieffund.org for information.
If the festival is forced to go online, it’ll still be a great show to watch from the comfort of your own home while practicing social distancing. Just remember to click that donate button. Red Dirt Relief Fund is providing a much-needed safety net during a difficult time for our local musicians and could use your donation now more than ever. Allow me to expand on that a bit…
Red Dirt Relief Fund Steps Up
As we get closer to press time, more and more gigs and festivals are being canceled or postponed to combat the spread of COVID-19. These decisions are necessary, and those responsible are doing the right thing by making the health and safety of the community the No. 1 priority. We’re all making sacrifices to deal with an unprecidented situation, but many musicians are sacrificing more than their share.
Like many professionals, I have the ability to work from home, so this pandemic is not affecting my income. Musicians, however, don’t have a work-from-home option or paid sick leave. If the gig is canceled, so is their paycheck.
To alleviate this strain, Red Dirt Relief Fund has pledged to donate $50,000 to working Oklahoma music people in the form of one-time emergency grants of $250 on a first-come, first-served basis.
The grant is eligible to Oklahoma musicians who have worked in the music business for the past five years.
“As an organization that provides a safety net of emergency assistance to Oklahoma music people, we cannot imagine a more critical time to come to their aid,” Red Dirt Relief Fund stated in a press release. “While we realize these smaller grants will not completely alleviate the financial strain for our working music community, we believe this act of solidarity can help everyone better weather this storm.”
If you would like to be part of this act of solidarity, go to reddirtrelieffund.org and make a donation.
It’s a different world out there right now, as America is basically closed. I was disappointed when March Madness was canceled. The NBA, MLB and Master’s postponements; also very unfortunate. But when live music joined the indefinite hiatus list, the crisis got real.
For literally thousands of generations, humans have gathered around music. Whatever your race or ethnicity, religion or nationality, your ancient ancestors sat around the fire and somebody had a drum. Somebody had a song. Charles Darwin insisted that humans sang to each other before we spoke to each other. Music is so ingrained in us that going without for a while is going to be a challenge.
We will get through this. Follow your favorite musicians on social media and support virtual concerts by clicking the donate button. It’s not ideal, but for now, we need to use the help of technology to keep searching, keep listening.