The road is still gravel out there west of Stillwater off of Highway 51. The building burned down years ago leaving just the land it was on. There isn’t a building or a special plaque that denotes the sight as any place of importance.
But at a time there was a little barn building called the Gypsy Cafe and on that little plot of land, the Red Dirt genre was created.
Even with the building gone, people still celebrate the singer-songwriter attitude that came from the land and while the situation isn’t ideal, the Red Dirt Relief Fund is working to make sure people still can experience the Gypsy Cafe, just a little different, Red Dirt Relief Fund board member and Red Dirt Ranger member, John Cooper explains.
“We’re not having Gypsy Cafe as we traditionally have it,” Cooper said. “We’re calling it Gypsy Cafe Reimagined and we’re having 20 singer-songwriters and acts send in one song a piece and we’re putting it into an event that’s being put together. It is airing the same time we’d traditionally have it.”
On Wednesday, the Red Dirt Relief Fund is partnering with O’Colly TV to livestream the concert to all streaming devices. The main goal of the concert is to replenish the Red Dirt Relief Fund’s foundation funds to keep up with their mission especially during this pandemic. Executive director Katy Dale said that the organization has been helping provide for people in the music industry.
“Something that’s happened recently is COVID-19 and the cancelations universally of festivals, gigs, venues, everything has affected everyone in the music business,” Dale said. “We launched an emergency COVID-19 musician relief grant program that is a one-time $250 emergency grant. In the first two weeks we served 400 music people across the state and gave away $100,000. We still have a waiting list of almost 200 individuals waiting for a grant.”
The fund isn’t just for Red Dirt musicians or even just musicians. The grants only requires for people to have been involved in the music industry for five years and currently live in Oklahoma.
“We had to open it to musicians throughout the state of Oklahoma in all genres then we realized that we couldn’t just limit it to musicians, people involved in the music industry also need help and that includes stagehands, promotors, club owners,” Cooper said. “We’ve helped all kinds of people who are associated with the music industry as well because we wanted it to be that.”
Bob Childers Gypsy Cafe is a big source of money for the fund and with the restriction on any social gathering, the committee had to think outside of the box when it came to raising that capital and awareness of the organization, they reached out to Kelly Kerr of the O’Colly Media Group.
“With the way everything is rolling right now with entertainment and what we’re seeing on a national level, this just makes perfect sense for us to offer our streaming service to do this concert,” Kerr said. “It gives them a nice platform and it also lets us participate. It gives them a nice stage, I think that’s a nice way to put it. It is a good virtual stage to have the concert this year.”
Every year for the past nine years, Bob Childers Gypsy Cafe has celebrated the singer-songwriter culture that developed out at the farm years prior. The man the event is named after was responsible for much of the genre’s development and helped many of currently active artists like Cooper write songs they still perform.
“We all wrote songs with Bob, he toured with us and we were all very close with Bob, he was a dear, dear friend,” Cooper said. “Bob was just a seminal figure in the scene and we wanted to honor him and his contribution. He is considered a huge piece in Red Dirt music and really just music in the state of Oklahoma.”
In honor of that spirit, the Gypsy Cafe awards the Restless Spirit Award every year as a lifetime achievement award and as recognition for following in Childers footsteps. Along with that award, the organization also continues to celebrate its singer-songwriter style by announcing the winner of the Jimmy LaFave Songwriting Contest.
“It’s the challenge of not being able to gather together for the feeling that you get when you’re in a group listening to live music together,” Dale said. “We still want to somehow capture that through the storytelling… We’re hoping to share this story that we feel is kind of like a wonderful beautiful secret with a lot more people through this format.”
It’s that story and style of Red Dirt music that lends itself well into bringing the festival online.
“It doesn’t have to be overly produced, I think that’s going to be the charm of this concert,” Kerr said. “I think that will be the redeeming value in it, it will have some charm to it and the value will be in the broken down performances.”
Even though the goal of the livestreamed festival is to replenish funds so the organization can continue its work and demonstrate how the show must go on, a bigger part of it is how it can help other people get through this time of social distancing, stress and uncertainty.
“What I want people to see is the value in music and how it can be healing, it can be fun, all those things,” Kerr said. “That’s what I’ve taken away from this. We just need to make sure we appreciate art and all different kinds of art. My takeaway is that music is still there, it is still vibrant, it could speak to a lot of different people.”