Drumright, Okla. may not be known as the center of the universe. However, the town -- located just an hour outside of Tulsa -- undergoes a metamorphosis on July 4 each year, with as the OilPatch Festival attracts thousands to the area. While the normal population of the city is 2,907, the oil town played host to roughly 10,000 music fans at the festival, held last week.
At the center of it all is Oklahoma businessman Rick Sellers and his wife Myrna, who organize and host the festival at their ranch each summer, along with music producer Clif Doyal. Sellers told Billboard that the Festival started off as a company party for one of his companies, Keystone Gas, and grew from there.
“We started out at a little place we carved out in the woods down on the bank of a little lake we have here,” he reminisced to The 615. “A few more people came the year after, and we carved out a little bigger spot. Year after year, the party grew, and we started to invite a musician or two. Then, we had to get a little bit of electricity. So, we did that. Then, we got thirsty, so we ran some water lines. We cleared out some more area. Every year was progress, if the party got bigger.”
The 2014 edition of the OilPatch Festival is a way for Sellers to give back. The event -- which lasts from 11a.m. to approximately midnight – is totally free to the public. And, that includes parking, food, drinks, and the entertainment. Past headliners have included acts as diverse as Roy Clark, Kix Brooks, and Head East. At its core, however, the OilPatch Festival is a celebration of the region’s calling card to musical fame -- Red Dirt Music. Performer Chuck Dunlap –- part of the High Desert Riders, says that Sellers is to be commended for being a patron of the regional music scene and helping to shed light on it.
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“I’ve never seen anyone put this much effort behind the Red Dirt music scene. And, he does it for free, so he’s got that spirit of Woody Guthrie going on. He figured out a way to do it where everybody could afford to go, so I think that’s really great.”
What exactly is Red Dirt Music? Dunlap says ask twenty people and prepare to get twenty answers, but in his opinion, it’s a musical mix. “We used to just call it a combination of folk, rock, blues, and country. Somebody put it a tag on it, and called it Red Dirt music, but it’s still a blend of those forms, with some bluegrass and jazz thrown in. It’s music that sounds better being played on the porch than it does the stage. Trying to figure out a way to transfer it to the stage is the tricky part, getting it to come off like it does on the back porch. It’s a lot about the singer-songwriter thing too, because it started with all the singers and songwriters getting out and playing their music.”
But, it’s not all Red Dirt Music. There’s a little bit of traditional country represented there too -- like rising artist Amber Hayes -- who is also an Oklahoma native. She applauded the community and frontier spirit of the Sellers family, saying “It’s so cool for people in this area to spend the whole day getting entertainment with everything free, and not having to go to Tulsa or Oklahoma City. There were people who came up at the merch table who drove a few hours to come. I think it’s all a labor of love for them to give back to the community -- and to this extent, it’s crazy.”
One of the highlights of the show this year was longtime OilPatch favorites LiveWire, who have just released a new single titled “Drivin’ You Outta My Mind.” Lead singer Andy Eutsler said the festival is one of his favorite gigs because you never know what you will see from the stage. “I’ve actually gotten cracked up a couple of times while we’re performing because I would start people watching. I’ve got to be careful because I’ll get to laughing. That’s the best vantage point for any view out here. You see a lot of crazy stuff.”
Headlining the show this year was Cody Canada & the Departed. The former front man for Cross Canadian Ragweed told Billboard that watching his new band grow has been rewarding. “When we first started, we went directly into the Departed from Ragweed. We played the House of Blues in Houston, and this guy says ‘I really like this band, but you’re going to drive away a lot of Ragweed fans.’ I said ‘That’s not my intent. I love everything we did, but this is a new thing.’ Whether this lasts, it’s up to time, but eventually I will get back to writing everything. The first record was a tribute to the Okies that are all here today and the next one –- we had Seth James in the band -- so we were splitting writing, vocals, and lead guitar. So, now with the new record, 'Hippie Love Punk,' this reminds me of the second-to-last Ragweed record. It’s all me writing, and the band is just being a band. There’s no producer, it’s just us singing about truth.”
The Departed’s set included a little bit of Red Dirt history with a magical and historic jam with Red Dirt forebear, Tom Skinner (a member of Garth Brooks' pre-stardom band, Santa Fe) and Okie guitar gun slinger/Red Dirt producer, Jeffrey Parker.
Canada -- like his fellow artists on the bill -- said the OilPatch Festival is truly one of a kind. “I think it’s awesome. That’s the way it should be. There’s plenty of gigs where people can buy beer and pay to get in, but this is for everybody.”
And, like a true businessman, Sellers has already started the process for 2015. “We’ll begin planning for next year tomorrow,” he said. “We’ll take a look at what we might have missed this year with some of the details. There’s always something new that crops up.”