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Aspiring songwriters come together at Allied Arts workshop

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Oklahoma songwriters sit down with aspiring writers to share their experience and ideas. 

Rick Reiley, a songwriter from Cushing, said the only thing he wanted to do since he was able to hold a pen was write, igniting his passion to write songs.

On Wednesday, Oklahoma State University’s Allied Arts and the Red Dirt Relief Fund teamed up to help bring iconic red dirt musicians, such as Reiley, to campus for a songwriting workshop. 

The popular red dirt genre has deep roots in Stillwater. Bands such as Cross Canadian Ragweed got their start in Stillwater, and the genre has been popularized by many local bands. 

The Red Dirt Relief Fund is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Oklahoma musicians in need. Every year the organization hosts a fundraising event called Gypsy Cafe. The event will feature close to 60 Oklahoma singer-songwriters. 

The third annual Jimmy LaFave Songwriting Contest is a part of the event. Winners receive a cash prize, a donation to the Red Dirt Relief Fund in their name and a chance to perform at the Gypsy Cafe festival. Entries are due March 1, and the contest is open to any unsigned Oklahoma songwriter. 

John Cooper of the band Red Dirt Rangers began the workshop by inviting musicians to share their songwriting process. 

“Songwriting itself is kind of a magical thing,” Cooper said. “It’s hard to describe. You have to work at it to do it right. Put your heart and soul into it. Don’t try to pull yourself out, pour yourself in.” 

Reiley prefers the stream of consciousness approach.

“Sometimes, after three or four pages of that, a spark will come and something will come from that,” Reiley said. “Great songs are everywhere.” 

Bo Phillips, of the Bo Phillips Band, gets his inspiration from things that touch his heart and mind. 

“Everything that I do, as far as writing, has to be something that has touched me in a way that makes me go, ‘Oh,'” Phillips said. “Write what you know and it will touch someone.” 

The musicians were happy to help provide advice to aspiring songwriters, like children and family services senior Marissa Ibarra-Reyes. Ibarra-Reyes came to the event to regain her inspiration for songwriting. They pointed her in the direction of events she could attend and gave her advice. 

Nellie Clay, a celebrated folk singer/song writer from Oklahoma, had an atypical journey to songwriting.

Clay was a painter when she decided to move to the woods of Alaska to live alone. She was given a guitar and stumbled upon songwriting as a way to express herself. She said she was a wallflower and felt like her voice was unheard until she turned to songwriting.

 “I had a whole lot of things inside me that were boiling and brewing under the surface,” Clay said. “All that quiet solitude in the woods made me realize that I had a lot to say.” 

While in Alaska, she began playing instruments and singing around campfires with her neighbors. She said she believes singing songs with people is a powerful thing that helps human beings connect. 

“Music is a great way of communicating,” Clay said.

Gene Collier, writer of the famous song “Boys from Oklahoma,” grew up listening to his dad play guitar. Collier recommends that aspiring songwriters test their songs on themselves.

“Become your own audience,” Collier said. “If you do that, you’ll be a player until you die.” 

He recommends looking to unusual stories for inspiration. He once wrote a song based on the musicians of the infamous Titanic and has also used films to inspire him. 

“Music is as close to magic as human beings can get,” Collier said. “There’s magic in music. Music is magic. What a great thing we’re part of.”