By Joshua Wallace
I have been a fan of the Red Dirt scene ever since I discovered the vast world of independent country that exists beyond the mainstream. I started picking up on some of these bands around 2008 with acts like Jason Boland and The Stragglers and Cross Canadian Ragweed being my introduction to the music. However, being from south GA, I had no direct connection to these bands like someone who lived there did. That’s where this book comes in for me. It helps me fill in some missing pieces of the story and gives me a bit of the history that I didn’t know or couldn’t know without actually being there. Josh Crutchmer might be the print planning editor at The New York Times, but his background is firmly planted in Oklahoma and the red dirt scene. He interviewed everyone quoted in this book and he has gathered a fine collection of characters to tell this story. It’s a good history for newcomers and established fans alike.
The book is divided mostly into chapters by band. You have essentials like Tom Skinner, Bob Childers, Jimmy LaFave and even Garth Brooks and his stories about starting out in dives in Oklahoma. I love the chapters that provide a bit of history too. You get a great deal about The Farm which was a legendary Stillwater, OK venue that is heralded as the birthplace of Red Dirt. There are also chapters about early bands such as The Red Dirt Rangers and The Great Divide. You get a great deal of background on the red dirt scene before you start getting into more current artists.
The chapters on current artists are great also because these chapters tell stories and give background pieces on them that you might not have gotten elsewhere. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Hold My Beer with Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen where you get a bit about both of the men and then they discuss their collaboration which to date has produced two of my favorite recent red dirt releases. Then you have the great chapter on Jamie Lin Wilson followed by a good discussion of the gender gap in Red Dirt which features a few of the current great female artists in the scene.
I can’t talk about this book without discussing the chapter on Turnpike Troubadours and specifically Evan Felker. The coverage in Rolling Stone that discussed Crutchmer’s interviews with Felker is quite possibly the reason many people know about this book. It’s how I heard of it, for sure. If you read that article and are looking forward to this bit in the book, I’m here to say it delivers. I’m not going to give many spoilers in this review, but I do want to say this chapter ends on a positive note which is great news for Turnpike fans.
There is so much discussed in this book that it’s hard to put it in an article like this. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking to do a deep dive into the history and current state of the Red Dirt music scene. The author does at times mention the current pandemic and how it has changed things since he started writing the book. It’s refreshing to see the author acknowledge the current uncertainty of things going forward in a book of this nature. I also highly recommend this book if, like me, you are an outsider to the red dirt scene. I have naturally become a fan of this music over the years, but with red dirt being such a self contained scene, it’s hard to get the full story just being on the outside looking in like I am. You can find everything you need to about this book on reddirtbook.com and the book is available everywhere as of September 19th, 2020.