Apr 20, 2012

So Much Red Dirt, So little Red Dirt...

      A couple weeks ago, a musician friend of mine said something on a social site about how he feels people overuse the term "Red Dirt" when talking about music today. I will tell you now; it kicked off an interesting discussion. I didn't disagree; in fact I didn't really have an opinion on it at the time. I was probably like a lot of you and just hadn't thought of it the way he had. He feels very strongly that the label is being used to define a lot of music that really just doesn't fit. To him, the term “Red Dirt” is becoming something akin to the Pop music label. His point being, that if it ain't Nashville and it comes from Texas or Oklahoma, most of it's getting labeled as Red Dirt. Well, that lead me to do some thinking, and that lead to some research and I have to say I tend to agree with him now. Last Friday night at the Red Bull Gypsy Cafe in Stillwater, OK, the difference became glaringly obvious to me. (check out the Gypsy Cafe story and you will understand why)

    Before the Gypsy Cafe, I was one of the people who believed that the genre label debate was silly. I am a fan of music. I believe that if music is good, why does it matter what label is put on it? However, after a night of the purest, true Red Dirt music I had ever heard, I left Stillwater with a better understanding of what my friend was trying to say that day. That night, I found myself listening to the songs, hearing the music, and not just sitting there watching a show. It wasn't like anything I had seen before, and I have seen tons of concerts & shows. I actually caught myself mouth agape, dang near drooling a couple times, just caught up in it all. That night I left a little disappointed in myself for having understood so little about true Red Dirt music.

     Earlier this week, I got a chance to pick the brain of Steve Rice, lead singer for the band No Justice, Stillwater, OK resident, and a self-confessed Red Dirt music fan, and get his take on the matter. Steve told me, "I think, for the record, that Red Dirt music is not about a genre. Red Dirt music is about the attitude, environment, musical and lyrical honesty, and connection between fans and bands. It is not something that you see in all genres." He also added "I really don't like to use labels. In the end, it's all just 'music' and good or bad, is determined by the individual critic."

    He did mention though, that to him, Red Dirt music started years ago out on "The Farm" in Stillwater and didn't really stray too far. So I asked Steve where he would steer people who wanted to know more about the roots and history of Red Dirt music. He said, "I'd tell them to listen to some Bob Childers, Red Dirt Rangers, Great Divide, Jason Boland and The Stragglers, or Ragweed..." Those guys were all around in the early days of Red Dirt music at "The Farm" and remain pretty true to those roots today. I really saw his point after that. In my opinion, if you take a good hard look at most of the music on Texas and Oklahoma radio today, there isn't a lot of it that conveys that original Red Dirt feeling like those bands do.

       Now please don't get me wrong, I am not bashing, or trash talking here at all. I am a huge fan of the Texas & Oklahoma country music scenes and am a fan of most of the music that "Red Dirt" radio stations play. But the Red Dirt label is different than other genre labels. It shouldn't be a catch all genre or tag for all Texas/Oklahoma based music. Taking all that into consideration, I do agree that a lot of the music that is labeled Red Dirt today might get that label just because it comes from Texas or Oklahoma. And that some of the people that do so, simply may not have a true understanding of what Red Dirt means, or the history behind it.

    Red Dirt has a different, specific musical history. Red Dirt is a way of life. Red Dirt is simple and timeless. If you understand it, Red Dirt touches your soul. I do believe that it is possible to misuse a term or use a label so much that it loses its meaning. As fans, we can't let that happen to Red Dirt. Country music from Oklahoma doesn't have to be tagged Red Dirt. Call the music what it is, Oklahoma country, or Texas country, or alternative country, or Americana... or better yet why label it at all? Why call it anything other than music?


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