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Interview: Red Dirt Rangers busy making merry music during the holiday season

by Brandy McDonnell Modified: December 13, 2013 at 5:20 pm •  Published: December 13, 2013
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Red Dirt Rangers
Red Dirt Rangers

A version of this column appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.

Red Dirt Rangers stay busy during the holiday season
The venerable Payne County band is planning to play at least four shows in the coming weeks: Saturday’s Red Dirt Christmas Show at Cain’s Ballroom, Sunday’s Tribute to Woody Guthrie at the Blue Door, Dec. 22’s Kids Christmas Show at the Blue Door and Dec. 26’s gig at Granddad’s Bar.

“The most wonderful time of the year” also happens to be one of the busiest for the Red Dirt Rangers.

For the august Payne County band — singer/guitarist Brad Piccolo, singer/lead guitarist Ben Han and singer/mandolin player John Cooper — the holiday season is packed with some of their favorite things, like sharing the love of music with a new generation, paying tribute to a Sooner State songwriting icon and playing with fellow Oklahoma musicians for a good cause.

“Man, it is busy. But we’re having a good time with it,” said Piccolo in a phone interview this week. “If your head’s above water, you’re doing good.”

Their hectic holiday season is loaded with gigs that have become long-running traditions for the Rangers, including Saturday’s 18th Annual Red Dirt Christmas Show at historic Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. Along with the Rangers, this year’s lineup features up-and-coming Oklahoma stars John Fullbright and John Moreland and their respective bands.

“I like ‘em all, but I this one, I think, is gonna be extra-special,” Cooper said. “Both (are) fantastic songwriters, both getting a lot of really good recognition not only here but nationally. We’re really excited about the show. It’s as good a lineup as we’ve had in a long time.”

A portion of the proceeds of the Christmas show will benefit the nonprofit Red Dirt Relief Fund, which provides a safety net of critical assistance for Oklahoma music people in times of need.

While Fullbright, the Bearden scribe who earned a Grammy nomination for his 2012 debut “From the Ground Up,” and Moreland, the Tulsa musician who has garnered acclaim for his 2013 album “In the Throes,” are more associated with folk-rock and Americana than red dirt music, Cooper said the red dirt scene and Christmas concert are open and eclectic entities. Oklahoma musicians as diverse as Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Byron Berline have played the yuletide show in years past.

“Like the red dirt scene and genre itself, it’s never been exclusive. It’s always been inclusive,” Cooper said. “To me, it’s not really a music, it’s more of scene. If you’re doing original, heartfelt music and you come from our region and you want to be considered red dirt, then more power to it.” I think people get hung up on, ‘Well, is this red dirt music or is that red dirt music?’ … and it’s more open than that.”

Honoring Woody

While Cooper will be attending family festivities, a contingent of Rangers are planning to come to Oklahoma City Sunday for another longstanding music tradition: the Blue Door’s Tribute to Woody Guthrie.

“We’re gonna try our best to be there. … We’ll see if I can get up out of bed the next day,” Piccolo said with a laugh. “Woody means a lot to us. If there wouldn’t have been a Woody, there would be no Red Dirt Rangers. That’s it, plain and simple.”

Others on the bill to pay homage to the Okemah-born folk icon Sunday night include Fullbright, Samantha Crain, Greg Jacobs, Monica Taylor, Susan Herndon and more.

In its 23rd year, the Blue Door’s Woody Guthrie show actually is older than the venerable OKC listening room, whose proprietor, Greg Johnson, started the tribute when he was still based in Austin, Texas.

Playing for kids

Johnson celebrated the Blue Door’s 20th anniversary back in May; the Rangers played their first Kids Christmas Show there in December 1993. They will play the 20th anniversary yuletide children’s concert Dec. 22 at the venue.

“Time flies, man,” Piccolo said. “Some of the kids that were there for the first few shows they have their own kids now and they bring ‘em. It’s really a weird, full-circle type deal. It’s really a cool thing.”

The Rangers’ performance, which will be kept to a kid-friendly 30 to 40 minutes, will include Christmas songs as well as cuts from the band’s 1990s album “Blue Shoe: Music for Kids of All Ages.” The event also will include a visit from Santa Claus, along with punch and cookies for the youngsters. Admission is just $5 a person.

“We love it. Kids are a great audience. The thing with kids is, they don’t owe you anything, and if you’re not entertaining pretty quick, they’ll just find something else to do,” Cooper said. “I think they’re infatuated by music. It’s kind of new and it’s different and it’s special and it’s magical.”

The Rangers will extend the Christmas magic this year with a Dec. 26 gig at Granddad’s Bar, a relatively new smoke-free OKC honky tonk the band has played several times. Cooper won’t rule out a Boxing Day show there becoming another Red Dirt Rangers holiday tradition.

“We’ll see … because that’s just what we needed,” he said wryly. “A lot of people are off work between Christmas and New Year’s, so we feel like we’ll have a nice crowd.

“It’s really busy, but you know, that’s OK. We’re used to it. Things get pretty crazy, but it’s good.”

IN CONCERT

18th Annual Red Dirt Christmas Show

Featuring: Red Dirt Rangers, John Fullbright and John Moreland.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Where: Cain’s Ballroom, 423 N Main, Tulsa.

Information: www.cainsballroom.com or www.reddirtrelieffund.org.

23rd Annual Tribute to Woody Guthrie

Featuring: Red Dirt Rangers, John Fullbright, Samantha Crain, Greg Jacobs, Monica Taylor, Susan Herndon and more.

When: 8 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Blue Door, 2805 N McKinley.

Information: 524-0738 or www.bluedoorokc.com.

Red Dirt Rangers 20th Annual Kids Christmas Show

When: 2 p.m. Dec. 22.

Where: Blue Door, 2805 N McKinley.

Information: 524-0738 or www.bluedoorokc.com.

Red Dirt Rangers

When: 9 p.m. Dec. 26.

Where: Granddad’s Bar, 317 NW 23.

Information: www.grandadsbar.com.

-BAM

by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1...
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