Red Dirt Rangers' primary vocalist, mandolin player, percussionist and all around Red Dirt Ambassador John Cooper laughed when telling me that he's only been in one band his entire career. "If someone had told me when I started that I'd still be in the same band 20 years later, I'd have said they were totally insane," Cooper said.
The Red Dirt Rangers are celebrating its 20th anniversary, and granted, there has been a rotating cast of characters augmenting the group during the years, the core of Cooper and guitarist Brad Piccolo, along with lead guitarist Ben Han, still stands strong and plays a full schedule of concerts throughout the year.
By now, the Red Dirt Rangers name is nearly synonymous with the Red Dirt music scene, and for reasons beyond the group's moniker. Even though the group doesn't really fit into what has evolved into the current "Red Dirt" sound at this point, it remains prototypical of the Stillwater movement, widely known for accepting musicians of all styles and backgrounds into its circle with open arms. Sharing a stage, a guitar and microphone are rules more than an exception; and while the Rangers command a stage better than many of their peers, the group never hesitates to share the spotlight with old friends and young musicians.
After 20 years, the group has undoubtedly been through much together, not the least of which was a harrowing helicopter crash five years ago that left each of the principals hospitalized and seriously injured and the future of the group in question. Mike Easterling's in depth Urban Tulsa cover story in the June 10, 2009 (find it online at urbantulsa.com) reviewed the tale of The Rangers' history and the nightmare of the crash and recuperation process. Right now, however, the band is celebrating and looking forward.
Friday night, Aug. 28, the group celebrates with a benefit show at the most appropriate of halls, Cain's Ballroom. While the concert will technically be a free show, donations will be accepted at the door, with 100 percent of the proceeds to be given away to friends and musicians in need of medical help.
"When we had our crash five years ago, we didn't have insurance either," Cooper said. "We were blessed, though. As friends and other people heard, they threw benefit concerts and helped us with our bills. That's how we do it as musicians; that's our insurance. We throw benefits. Now, we want to use this opportunity to give back."
Although this is the Rangers' night, the band has recruited a special guest for the evening that is creating nearly as much buzz as the headliner. Yes, the rumors are true; Medicine Show will be reuniting for a one off show to help celebrate Red Dirt Rangers' birthday. Having Medicine Show take part in the evening only seemed appropriate to the Rangers as both groups formed roughly six months apart.
"Over the years, Medicine Show has been offered good sums of money to get back together, but they turned it down. When we asked them to be a part of this, though, they agreed because they felt like this was a good cause," said Piccolo. "We've always been closely tied, musically--sort of musical cousins, if not brothers. Since this is a family reunion, you naturally want your cousins and brothers to be there."
Friday night's show should prove to be something special, however.
Turnpike Troubadours open the evening followed by a brief set change. Once Medicine Show hits the stage, however, the music should continue throughout the rest of the night. According to Piccolo, Red Dirt Rangers intend to join Medicine Show mid-way through the evening. "Hopefully, it will seamlessly integrate to us without stopping. We'll play a few songs together and go from there. Coop calls it the 'Vulcan band meld,' kind of like the Vulcan mind meld, but musically, between bands," he said. "This isn't really about us. It's really about the friends and fans that have been with us for 20 years."
Although the announced lineup stars Red Dirt Rangers with a special reunion performance from Medicine Show, you can expect many more guests to show up on stage. After all, a Rangers show always brings out close friends and additional musicians, so a 20th birthday will surely draw even more.
Doors open at 7pm, and the show starts around 8pm. Although admission is free, it's important to give what you can as a donation. Sure this is an opportunity to have fun and celebrate the band, but it's also a chance to help others and that giving spirit is part of why Red Dirt Rangers are still running strong 20 years later.
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