DAVIS — If you look closely, you can still see the holes in the walls of Arbuckle Ballroom from the fire code-busting concert the late, great George Jones put on there in the 1970s.
“They literally cut holes in the walls for fire safety because of the fire marshal that night ... and you can see where they came back in and patched it. The more doors you have, the more people you can get in. So they were like exit holes,” said Rachel Jones, who with her husband John has owned the 40-year-old venue for the past four years.
She thinks Sunday's show might be even bigger than The Possum's performance back in the day.
The venerable Davis venue will play host Sunday to “Red Dirt Rising: An Oklahoma Tornado Relief Benefit Concert,” which will bring together more than 100 musicians on four stages. The one-day festival will feature top red dirt and Texas country talents like The Great Divide, The Damn Quails, No Justice, JB and the Moonshine Band, Curtis Grimes and the Red Dirt Rangers.
“We're expecting the biggest crowd that the Arbuckle has ever had,” said Stillwater red dirt musician Bo Phillips, who is organizing the event.
He hopes “Red Dirt Rising” will attract 2,500 to 3,000 fans and raise more than $100,000. The proceeds will be donated to the National Christian Foundation's Oklahoma Tornado Relief Fund. The charity has a donor that pledged to match each donation dollar for dollar up to $1 million.
“That may be a lofty goal, but I think if you state your goal ... you're a lot more apt to work towards it,” Phillips said.
“I want all the money that we collect to stay in Oklahoma, and I wanted to pick somebody or some organization that has as minimal overhead costs as possible.”
He began organizing “Red Dirt Rising” on May 21, the day after a devastating EF5 tornado tore through Moore and the surrounding area. Since his band was already set to play a Saturday show at the ballroom, he called up the Joneses, who readily agreed to host the benefit.
“As soon as it happened, we knew that they were going to need some crazy funding to even make a dent in what's needed over there. And I'm not even talking about just Moore. ... It's not just for Moore, it's for Carney and Shawnee and El Reno this last week. Whoever is affected, we'll try to help,” Phillips said.
“I guess since it was my brainchild, it's one of those deals that you want to see it through, so I just adopted the role of organizing the bands.”
While more than 100 musicians are set to play at the benefit, Phillips estimated he had to turn away about 150 more interested players.
“I posted on Facebook (a call for bands) and then we made a few phone calls and literally had hundreds of bands and acts wanting to come in and play. We had to pare it down just logistically just to be able to fit it into one day,” he said.
“The great thing about the red dirt community is we always try to help folks if we can. So I expected a decent turnout, but I in no way expected hundreds. I expected maybe 20 or 30, so I was blown away with the number of musicians that wanted to be a part of this. They wanted to make a difference.”
Musicians aren't the only ones donating their time and talent for the all-ages benefit. Graphic designer Ragan Parkerson at Chris' University Spirit in Stillwater worked up the logo that will be printed on the limited number of T-shirts for sale at the event.
“Stages have been donated; sound companies came in and donated their time. ... Bands that can't even come are sending merch for us to sell,” Jones said. “We've been totally humbled and overwhelmed by the response.”
Phillips' own band isn't even on the lineup, since he wanted to be available to help with any issues that come up during the event. After all, “Red Dirt Rising” will feature continual music on four stages: 30-minute song swaps are planned the indoor and outdoor acoustic stages, while half-hour full electric sets will fill the band stages inside and outside the ballroom. The plan is to have live music playing on one indoor and one outdoor stage at all times.
“With any red dirt type event, there's an opportunity for people who don't have a spot to be on stage eventually. So, there's probably going to be an opportunity for me to grab a guitar and do a couple of songs,” Phillips said. “That's kind of the spirit of red dirt music ... and if I don't get to strum a guitar, I'm OK with that.”