What Is Red Dirt, Anyway?
It was a few years ago when I bought a couple acres along the shore of
Twin Lakes near . My wife and I decided to move
from our home in Shawnee,
OK East Nashville where we had
spent nearly a decade to be closer to her family. I spent the next few months
building a small cabin and trying to figure out a way to start earning some
income again. I had released a few albums of my original music in Nashville, and had a
website and other such marketing tools, but for the first time in a long time,
I would also be representing myself and trying to book gigs.
Starting from scratch is never easy in any industry, but starting up as a musician in a new area is like trying to become a drug lord with a single pot plant and poor people skills. Fortunately, a few places gave me a break right away and I started playing local shows. As I was perusing The Gazette one evening, I saw an ad for a gig I had coming up at one of the local casinos. It read, "Come hear one of the finest Red Dirt Songwriters". "What the hell is a red dirt songwriter?", I thought. I considered myself knowledgeable in many musical forms, but here was a term I had never heard of. Later that night I played an open mic, and when I had finished, the host quickly introduced me to the venue's owner and we booked a few shows. "We love red dirt songwriters!", he said.
As I drove home, all I could think about was how bizarre it was to be classified in some sort of musical genre and have absolutely no idea what it is or who else is involved in it! Thus, my education into Red Dirt began.
I researched all the "big players" first. I had heard of Cross Canadian Ragweed because they had signed with Universal South and had done some shows in
guys like Stoney Larue, Wade Bowen, Jason Boland, and Randy Rogers were all new
to me. In fact, most of the people involved with the "Red Dirt"
movement were people I never heard of. It was FANTASTIC! It had been so long
since I had been inspired by new music, and here was a whole list of new bands
and artists, most of which offered something I liked.
But, I was still perplexed as to what it meant to be a "red dirt" artist. Some of it was southern rock, some of it was straight country, and some of it was heavily influenced by the great Texas songwriters that I had spent my childhood idolizing; folks like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Willie Nelson, and others. In fact, most of the music I had grown up playing in a little town nestled in the heart of the
was represented well within this umbrella of music known as "Red
I had been listening to and starting to incorporate some of the "new" music into my sets when I shared the stage with a songwriter friend one night. At the end of our set, we were discussing some of the songs that were regionally popular when I asked him, "So what is Red Dirt music to you?". "It's basically
Oklahoma and Texas bands and artists", he said. This
response did not sit well with me. I wasn't from Oklahoma
or Texas and
had only been living in the area a few months when I began seeing the label of
"Red Dirt" alongside my name. "Can a boy from
West-By-God-Virginia ever really be considered a Red Dirt artist?", I
wondered. "Where do I fit into this music scene?".
Well, that was a few years ago now. I have been burning up the highways and two-lanes all over
Oklahoma and Texas with my band Yesterday's Wine. I have shared stages with many of these "Red
Dirt" artists, and even wrote a few songs with them. I immersed myself into the Red Dirt School of
Higher Learning as best I could, and I think with my perspective as one who was
on the outside looking in, I may just be able to shed some light on this thing
called "Red Dirt" to those in other parts of the country.
Although "Red Dirt" is considered to be a musical genre by many, I think that title far outweighs any musical classification. Granted, you will often hear certain traits within this genre--traditional country, southern rock, folk, singer-songwriters, and even a splash of bluegrass from time to time, but even more important than that is the spirit of independence that comes along with it. And let's face it, this part of the country is no place for anyone but strong, independent people. They raise their families between the tornadoes, ice storms, and droughts! The people who settled this area were willing to take on an untamed, partially desolate place just to have few acres of their own, and accepted all the hardships that came with it.
I think "Red Dirt" was the perfect word choice for describing the music that grows out of
Oklahoma and Texas. Two things come from the red dirt you
find in this area---Oil and an Independent Spirit--and neither comes easy. People
here work hard and they play hard. They embrace life--the good and the bad, the
joy and the pain---for all that it's worth. They don't have time or the
patience for anything less than the truth, and that is the language that you
will hear in "Red Dirt" music.
I was raised with that same type of independent lifestyle, only we took coal from the ground, not oil. We embraced the same values, and maybe that is why I embraced the same music at an early age as my red dirt brothers. Our music was an extension of our spirit, not just some nice little tunes that helped pass the time. If it wasn't good enough to pick from the porch, we didn't have much need for it.
When I think about it in such terms, I guess I have always been a "Red Dirt" artist. I guess that is why Texas Music spoke to me at the earliest of ages. And I guess that is why so many
Oklahoma and Texas venues, artists,
and music fans have allowed me into the flock even though I grew up just a few
miles away from being a "Yankee".
So now, when I see the words "Red Dirt Songwriter" by my name, I just smile and think to myself....damn straight.