Red Dirt Relief Fund

Red Dirt Relief Fund

By Tonya Little

The Red Dirt Relief Fund organization has only been around for a few years, since 2012, but it’s already growing by leaps and bounds and doing great things for the Oklahoma Music Scene. They held the  5th Annual Bob Childers Gypsy Café Festival last April, which raised over $22,000 dollars for the fund, and this year's event is scheduled for Wednesday April 26th.  The festival, held in Stillwater each year and named after the Godfather of the Red Dirt scene Bob Childers, hosted over 60 musicians last year and has over 70 on the bill this year.  It includes names like Brandon Clark, Katie Williams, Bryon White, Gabriel Marshall, Kaitlin Butts, Buffalo Rogers, Ali Harter, Brandon Jenkins, Cody Canada, John Fullbright and Mike Mcclure just to name a few. If you miss it, you will truly miss out on one of the most amazing music experiences that Oklahoma has to offer. Our Oklahoma talent are not only amazing to watch and listen to, but they are all so generous of their time and talents and graciously give back to the community that supports them. This very characteristic of our scene is what makes for such a close and tight knit music family, it’s what sets us apart from all of the rest. Everyone in the scene genuinely cares about one another and doesn’t hesitate to step up and help when the need arises, which is actually in part how the RDRF actually came into existence.

Katie Dale, RDRF Secretary and acting Executive Director, told us more about how it all came to be.

“In 2011 when we did the first Gypsy Café event it was called Red Bull Gypsy café. I worked for Red Bull at the time and they said to all of their people in the field, create an event that tells a roots music story. I was hanging out with Tim Holland from Eskimo Joe’s who I knew from working with him through Red Bull and he said “I’m going to introduce you to a guy named John Cooper”, who I had heard of but never met. Tim took me out to the Farm the first time I had ever been there and I met Coop, and we talked,” she explained.  “And I said here’s what Red Bull wants to do and this is what Tim and I had thought, that it would be cool to really celebrate the Farm and tell that story. Red Bull is going to bring a film crew and all of this kind of stuff, and we can do a little festival out of it. Basically Red Bull just wanted to create the film and tell the story, but we were like if we have all of these musicians in town and everyone is here then we should have a festival and fans could hang out. We did the event and when it was over Red Bull said find a non-profit to give the money to. I talked to Coop and he said “We don’t want to give it away, we want to start our own non-profit, we’ve always wanted to but we’ve never had the seed money to do it, or kind of the momentum to get it started”. Shortly after that I quit Red Bull to be a stay at home mom and Coop and I, with Tim, decided to start the Red Dirt Relief Fund, that’s really where it started. Because we had the money, we had to get it going because you know, the ticket company had to write a check to somebody so we had to get our act together so they could write it to our organization. So we were officially founded in 2012.”

John Cooper, of the Red Dirt Rangers is the President of RDRF and he also told us his story of getting the organization off the ground and how it came to be.

“My band the Red Dirt Rangers, were involved in a helicopter crash in 2004, at the time we didn’t have any insurance. Back then the insurance policy for musicians was if you got hurt your friends threw benefits. So we had benefits thrown for us all over the country; Bakersfield California, Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Norman, Stillwater, we had people sending in money from around the world,” Cooper explained. “It was very humbling but also made us realize the need for something besides just throwing benefits. So fast forward a few years and we began to talk to Mike McClure about it, as some of our friends began to have health problems, like Bob Childers and Tom Skinner. I think Bob Childer’s death was the thing that really spurred us on, because we would have loved to have a way to help Bob with his medical needs that we just didn’t have at the time and we just decided right then that we’re not going to let this happen anymore. So Red Bull approached us about doing the Gypsy Café songwriter festival and Katie Dale was working for Red Bull at the time and she said we also want to give to a charity so what’s the charity of your choice, and I said we’ve been wanting to start at charity for years, and she said well then let’s start one, so we did. And RDRF was born from the original Gypsy Café festival that was put on and sponsored by Red Bull, and we’ve just kept it going since then and its just grown bigger every year, last year we raised about $15000 through the Bob Childer’s gypsy café event and this year we raised over $22,000.”

They believe there were approximately 900 people at Gypsy Café last year, whereas there were only about 700 the year before. So the event and the organization are definitely gaining momentum and recognition. In fact the event has become somewhat of a music family reunion for both musicians and fans alike.

“It really starts with the musicians who are willing to donate their time and come and spend some time together. The fans aren’t always around for those moments at the Farm and you know the times where some of these people haven’t seen each other in a long time or some of them have never even met,” said Dale. “So I feel like it’s an opportunity for a lot of camaraderie and building up of the Oklahoma music community which is already so tight knit and that is why it feels so real to me. That’s why we do it on a Wednesday, and people always complain and are like “why on a Wednesday?!” but it’s hard. That’s the one time that we can get the most people together because that’s not usually a busy day, for the ones that are touring all over the place yeah, but for the most part we can get everybody home on a Wednesday, so that’s why we do it that way.”

Since 2012 RDRF has given over $38,500 to Oklahoma musicians in need. That’s actually 26 musicians across 12 Oklahoma Cities and towns. But you don’t even have to be a musician to benefit from the RDRF. There are only two requirements to qualify for a grant from the fund; you must have worked in the Oklahoma music industry for 5 years and you must live in Oklahoma. That means that anyone in the industry can qualify including promoters, venue owners, sound techs and more.

“Basically the way that it works is that we have a really simple application process, we call it an application because it’s a piece of paper, but the only requirements to be eligible for aid from RDRF are that you worked in the music business for 5 years and you are a current resident of Oklahoma, and so that’s basically what the application is,” said Dale. “We can take it via telephone, it doesn’t have to be written, but we ask those questions; can you basically give us some documentation or information that can prove those two things and then what is your current situation, why do you need help basically. And can you give us a dollar figure of what kind of need you are in. Because we have developed a rubric, this is all kind of the backside of it, but we’re trying to be as objective as we can in situations that are so subjective. We really want it to be fair and have like a process by which everyone gets an equal shake at whatever. So also our current guidelines are that we can give $2000 a year or $5000 in a lifetime, which a $5000 lifetime maximum. Our hope that in the next year or two that we can raise that. But we just want to make sure we have plenty of funds in the fund before we do that because we know as we grow in addition to bringing in more fundraising, more musicians will know about us and need it. So we don’t want to kind of overextend where we give too much that we don’t have enough to go around. It’s kind of a weird place to be in our growing stages.”

The board of directors not only includes Cooper and Dale, but also Tim Holland as Vice President and Jerry Parsons as Treasurer. The members also include Jerry Payne, Brad Piccolo, Jim Blair, and Brian Horton, which are all members of the local music scene in some way. The mission statement of RDRF is: The Red Dirt Relief Fund provides a safety net of critical assistance for Oklahoma Music people in times of need.

“So this is kind of the cool thing about the way our board is organized is that we built it so that at least half of the people on the board, and at this point it’s more than just half, are actively employed in the music business.,” said Dale. “So they are musicians or they work in venues or the industry, and so often our board members catch wind of something happening and then reach out to that individual and say hey do you know that the RDRF is here? We’ve had a couple of examples where someone just knew about us and no one on the board actually had a connection to the person, but they knew we existed so that’s how they found out about us, so it kind of goes both ways.”

RDRF has also done well at getting a foothold into the major music events around Oklahoma, to help spread the word about their organization. You’ll find them represented at some of this year’s larger festivals like G Fest and Center of the Universe.

“We try to hit up festivals in Oklahoma and say ‘hey man would you put us on as a sponsor and be willing to give us some small percentage of the proceeds?’ We don’t ask for much we just like to be included,” said Cooper. “What we like to do is show up at festivals around Oklahoma and have a booth with our t-shirts and hats for sale and just stating our mission. In the early days that was tough but as we’ve helped more and more people in the music industry, word of mouth has been the very best, the best thing we can do to advertise what we do is to help people because they tell their friends and more and more people know about it. That’s really been the best thing we’ve done is let the musicians and the people in the music industry speak to it with their personal experience. Most everyone in the Oklahoma music scene knows about RDRF which is very heartening to me. One thing that I wanted to add is that we help more than just musicians, it’s anyone in the music industry; sound techs, roadies, venue owners, promoters, anyone that makes their living in the music scene in Oklahoma is eligible for a grant from our fund. It’s not just musicians.”

Although The Gypsy Café is their main fundraiser for the year, the RDRF has other ways of raising money and other projects and organizations that include them in different things to help keep money in the relief fund

“We’ve been fortunate that there are other events, for example the Center of the Universe Festival who have always been very kind to us. They would invite us in just to be present at the festival but also they would cut us a check at the end of it, where they would say we’re going to give X amount of dollars to RDRF basically, and they also did the same for Tulsa Public Schools Music Program, so we were their 2 beneficiaries,” explained Dale. “Cain’s Ballroom has done that in the past where they would add $1 to the price of the tickets and give it to us. So we try to cultivate that where venues or other events will pick us as their charity. Then we have just fans that are super generous that have a donation automatically withdrawn every month, you can donate on our website, so we have people that give $10 a month every month, they are just fans out there that appreciate local music and so they are just doing what they can.”

If you are a music fan and a supporter of the Oklahoma music scene, getting involved even in that small portion can have a huge impact. Even giving only $10 a month can help keep the RDRF fully funded and able to help as many people in the music scene as possible. Many musicians have benefitted from the organization, including Suede Panther drummer Eric Hoffman from Stillwater. Hoffman was in a very serious motorcycle accident late last year which put him out of commission for several months.

“They reached out to me. I’m pretty in the know with those folks, but I think about the same time that it was suggested to me to apply, Katie Dale reached out to us. We did apply but we were encouraged to apply by the RDRF people. They gifted me twice, they gave me $2000 on the first check, and I was eligible for another check after the first of the year. At the end of the day they ended up giving us $3000, and I tell you what, it sure saved our bacon,” said Hoffman. “It was right about 4 months that I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do anything really, I was completely out of work for 4 months. I couldn’t gig, I couldn’t cut hair, hell I couldn’t stand up for a month and half really. It paid my mortgage for a good three months, and it paid my phone bill and my light bill. It really kept things going. My wife picked up another job while I was out as well, but we didn’t have to go without anything because of the people that helped me out so much.”

Many musicians and people working in the music industry don’t have access to insurance or benefits that help them while they are recovering from an illness or injury. Without RDRF around, many of the people in our music scene would just have to go without, or find other ways to raise money. Having this organization in place is a lifesaver for the people in our music scene, and it’s an incredible to give back and help support the scene and music community.

“There were other people other than RDRF I do have to say that, I have a friend that put on a benefit for me in Enid named Tammy Wilson, and I had random friends that I hadn’t talked to in a long, long time just send me checks in the mail, it was crazy. But RDRF far and above did more than anybody and it was absolutely pain free, I didn’t have to go beg for it I didn’t have to throw myself at the mercy of the council, my wife applied for it and they approved it and they sent me a check. It was amazing at how quick it was, at least to me,” explained Hoffman. “It was incredible how easy it was, and they didn’t question what kind of musician I was. There’s not a red dirt music requirement, just that you are a working Oklahoman musician. So you could be a rapper, a guitar player or an opera singer. If you are a working Oklahoma Musician and you need help, and they think they can do it, you are going to get help. It’s not genre specific, which is another incredible thing about it. Most musicians don’t have health insurance, and they don’t get paid if they aren’t working, so I think it’s an incredible thing and it’s something I will give back to as much as I can for as long as I can. If they call me up I’ll be there whenever for as long as they need me. I played drums at Gypsy Cafe from 4pm in the afternoon until the last song at the end of the day on the main stage, with what must have been 30-40 different musicians. I probably played 8-10 hours of drums, and I would do it again tomorrow, anytime they ask. And the fact that I got to pay back some of the charity that I was given is two-fold. Without help we don’t go down the road, if it’s not for a sound guy or a promoter or a road crew tech , those guys are just as important as anybody and without them it just doesn’t work so I’m glad they are included. Our music scene is the best in the world.”

Another well known local legend in the Red Dirt music scene was able to use the help of RDRF and he also happily supported and endorsed them whenever he could.

“Someone who we all love and who was such a huge advocate for us was Tom Skinner,” said Dale. “He did a video clip, at one point a company out of Oklahoma City donated their time to make a PSA for us, and they came to the gypsy café 2 years ago and Tom was there and he was part of the Stand project. That’s another thing we had a partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation 2 years ago. Chuck Dunlap rewrote one of his songs called Stand, and so that was a project where Kaiser created a fund from the money that came from the Itunes purchase of the song to help support musicians in Oklahoma in general and then they gave us all the vinyl to sell for benefit of RDRF. Sometimes we kind of stumble into really cool projects like that where different organizations want to help and they have an idea like that. But Tom Skinner was there as well, and he benefited from RDRF on 2 occasions because he was battling his healthy situation. He was just a super cool guy, and he always supported what we did and was always so grateful to just to share his story on our behalf, so that was really cool.”

RDRF is just in its early years too, and has the potential for great growth. In fact they created a second musical event, which was held in Tulsa. It was held in October of last year, the Tom Skinner Skyline Music Festival.

 “We wanted to do a second event, we felt like we needed to have two events to really get the fund where we want it to be so we can help as many people as possible. It’s very much along the lines of Gypsy Café except we’re doing it in Tulsa. The plan is to do it in the Brady district, because of all the venues that are so close together, it just makes sense," explained Cooper. "The main thing I want to reiterate is that we are helping all the people in the music industry, and honestly when we started this fund it was going to be for the “red dirt” scene or musicians or people we knew, but we quickly realized that there’s a much bigger need and we wanted to make it available to all genres of music. We’ve helped people in jazz, we’ve helped people in the more progressive punk scenes and straight up rock-n-roll. There are no musical boundaries, it’s for everyone.”

If you want to learn more about RDRF or give an online donation, you can go to their website at www.reddirtrelieffund.org. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Tonya LittleComment