For the 17th year, the Red Dirt Rangers are bringing the spirit of Christmas — reuniting with dear friends, giving generously to those in need and celebrating good times with great music — to Cain's Ballroom.
The venerable Payne County band will headline its annual Red Dirt Christmas show Saturday at the fabled Tulsa venue. The concert lineup will include reunited red dirt greats The Great Divide, Norman-based up-and-comers The Damn Quails and Stillwater torchbearers Bo Phillips Band.
“It's a party, of course,” said John Cooper, mandolin player and singer for the Rangers. “It's a great lineup that's hitting a lot of different areas.”
This year's party will benefit a good cause: the newly formalized Red Dirt Relief Fund, founded to provide “a safety net of critical assistance” when folks on the red dirt music scene are in need.
“The old joke is that musicians don't have insurance, they have benefit shows,” said Cooper, who is president of the relief fund's board of directors. “It's kind of sad that it's true.”
Cooper and Rangers guitarist/singer Brad Piccolo were among several musicians in attendance at a media conference Tuesday at the Stillwater Convention and Visitors Bureau, where the relief fund announced that it had officially secured 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
“It only took a year and a half,” Cooper said wryly. “They make it very difficult for you to give away money for free to people who need it.”
The relief fund got its start when Red Bull donated the proceeds of its 2011 Gypsy Cafe red dirt music festival in Stillwater, which proudly proclaims itself “The Original Home of Red Dirt Music.” The energy drink company also sponsored and donated the proceeds of this year's Gypsy Cafe.
For the Rangers, though, the idea dates back to 2004, when Cooper, Piccolo and lead guitarist/singer Ben Han were seriously injured in a helicopter crash near Cushing. They were the beneficiaries of several charity shows.
Modeled after The Grammy Foundation's MusiCares program, the relief fund makes donated monies available to anyone who has been in the business of making red dirt music for at least five years.
Folks are eligible for a grant of up to $2,000 annually and $5,000 maximum in a lifetime. This year, the relief fund has given $2,000 grants to two Oklahoma musicians: one who lost his home in a wildfire and one who required a major surgery and had no medical insurance.
“That's the spirit of our scene, everyone wants to help each other out,” Cooper said. “I'll quote what Randy Crouch always says about our scene: ‘It's all one big band, the rest is just bull- - - -.'”
Cooper is especially thrilled to share the lineup this Red Dirt Christmas with The Great Divide, the first band on the scene to score a major-label deal. The seminal band — singer/songwriter/guitarist Mike McClure, bassist Kelley Green, drummer J.J. Lester and his brother, rhythm guitarist Scotte Lester — reunited in summer 2011, more than eight years after a bitter breakup.
“They're old friends of ours. We played some legendary shows with them at Horsethief Canyon ... back in the day,” Cooper said, referring to a secluded spot on the Cimarron River southwest of Perkins. “It will be just great to do a show with them again.”
J.J. Lester fondly recalls playing past editions of the Red Dirt Christmas, and this year's show will mark The Great Divide's first performance at Cain's since reuniting last year.
“My brother and I ... grew up with grandparents who were musicians. And they played all that old Gene Autry and Bob Wills and the old cowboy music and the Texas swing band stuff. So the nostalgia of all the different guys who have been there and made that place famous, for me it's like the Gruene Hall of Oklahoma,” Lester said. “So it's just a really cool vibe in there. It's a fun place to play, and we love it.”
Plus, he said sharing the bill — and hopefully the stage — with the Rangers is sure to be a good time.
“It's just a special thing for us to get to go and play with those guys. We're huge fans of their hearts for this music and the Red Dirt Relief Fund,” Lester said.
“We're just thrilled about the cause and excited to spend some time with friends and ... we're getting to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. So it's a trifecta of good things.”
17th Annual Red Dirt Christmas
• With: Red Dirt Rangers, The Great Divide, The Damn Quails and Bo Phillips Band.
• When: 8 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 7 p.m.
• Where: Cain's Ballroom, 423 N Main, Tulsa.
• Information: www.