Every family has its holiday traditions, and as Christmas draws near, so does the "family" of Red Dirt musicians. This Saturday night, Dec. 12, the Red Dirt Rangers and a group of their musical cousins will gather together for the 14th annual Red Dirt Christmas concert at Cain's Ballroom to celebrate a tradition of their own.
John Cooper of Red Dirt Rangers said last week he never thought of the show becoming a long-standing institution for the town.
"No way," he laughed. "We thought we'd do it once, that it would only be a onetime thing. The first year it was us with Medicine Show and Whirligig, and we sold over 900 tickets. That's when we thought, 'Whoa, we can actually do this.'"
Years later, the show has not only become an annual event, but one that's looked forward to by fans and musicians alike. If you're familiar with the Red Dirt music scene, and specifically the Rangers, you know any show leaves the door open for guests to show up and play. Throughout the years, however, the Christmas show has become the real family reunion of the music scene with other artists specifically making a trip to be a part of the show. Once the music starts, you never know who might show up.
In fact, once the show gets off the ground, you never know just how the evening will present itself. Three years ago, Red Dirt Rangers, Stoney LaRue and Cross Canadian Ragweed shared the bill and all took the stage together to open the evening with "Take Me Back to Tulsa." It was a packed stage, with 17 band members in total, but instead of dispersing and having each band take a separate set, the conglomeration rotated through players during the evening and shared the stage for a full night of music.
According to Cooper, it was a spur of the moment decision. "That's what makes it fun," he said. "You never quite know what's going to go down. We all just show up and see how we feel that night."
It's exactly that loose feel and open invite that keeps everyone coming back for more. When Cross Canadian Ragweed was here in late October, Jeremy Plato and Cody Canada spoke briefly about the Christmas show, and while they were excited to be coming back to play, each was adamant about something.
"It's not our show -- it's the Rangers' show," they said. "We're just coming to play."
This is the fourth year that Ragweed has been included on the bill and, according to Cooper, it's not so much by design as by the band's desire to be a part of the show. "I'm sure one year, they'll have something else to do and not be able to make it, but as far as I'm concerned, they're always invited -- we've known them forever, or at least since they started out," Cooper said.
It's exactly that inclusiveness that makes this show so special each year.
This year's lineup officially includes Red Dirt Rangers, Cross Canadian Ragweed and Mike McClure Band, but that doesn't by any count mean those are the only bands who will show up. In the past, locals like Randy Crouch and Tom Skinner have joined in, and Brandon Jenkins has appeared while back in Tulsa for a weekend.
Even though Stoney LaRue isn't part of the official lineup
because he's recording a new record in Nashville, that doesn't fully exclude the possibility of his presence. According to Cooper, he talked to LaRue just a couple weeks ago, and he was still lamenting missing the show and trying to figure out a way to make it back to Tulsa for an evening.
In all likelihood, we'll probably see a few of the old Medicine Show guys stop in on Saturday night and the possibility of seeing a few guys from Whirligig is also a possibility as the group has recently stepped up its presence around the band's 15th anniversary.
"If they show up, that's great -- we want it that way," Cooper said. "You know that eventually, everybody gets on stage. That's the ways it's always been with the Red Dirt scene--everyone in the pool."
So, what's the difference between the Oklahoma Red Dirt and Texas music scenes, which are often associated with one another?
"In Texas, it's cut-throat," Cooper said. "It's a dogfight all the time. They're amazed that we're all so open up here, but that's what makes us different and what makes our scene strong and growing. It isn't a competition -- it's just supposed to be about the music."
That open-door policy is part of what makes the Christmas show so special. More so than possibly any other show of the year, everyone makes an effort to come out and be a part -- even if it's just a small part.
The vibe on stage and in the room really does feel like a family reunion. The music starts early, everyone stays late, and stories and songs are swapped until the wee hours.
This year, ticket prices have dropped from previous shows as Cooper and the bands acknowledge that the economy is hitting everyone. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door with proceeds again going to Mandy's Ministries, a non-profit organization that purchases cars seats for kids and under-privileged families.
Founded by Cross Canadian drummer Randy Ragsdale and his wife, Mandy's Ministries was formed after Ragsdale lost his younger sister in a car accident. Although she was in a car seat, it wasn't the correct one for her size and she died from injuries sustained in the accident. In response to the tragedy, and in hopes that others might not feel the same loss, Mandy's Ministries was formed to raise awareness and help provide proper car seats for families in need.
It's just that sense of community and keeping things "in the family" that adds to the specialness of the evening. If you love your Red Dirt, the 14th Annual Red Dirt Christmas isn't a show you'll want to miss. Be sure to arrive early because the doors open at 7pm and the show starts at 8, but you never know how the evening will transpire.
Ragweed and the Rangers are always a good time and the Addition of Mike McClure to this year's show only helps add to the variety and promises to add a little more rock and attitude to the evening. Plan on staying late, however, as Red Dirt Rangers have rented the room, so it's treated like a private party (albeit a very large one) and the bands will likely hang out and play well into the night -- just like a family reunion at Christmas should.
Share this article: