Phil Clark

The 2019 Tom Skinner Skyline Music Festival raised $15,441 for Oklahoma musicians in crisis.

COVID-19 has halted our regular way of life. When non-essential businesses like bars and restaurants were closed to the public and gatherings of 10 or more people were banned, musicians’ way of making a living was called into question.

Katie Dale, executive director of the Red Dirt Relief Fund, knew the organization had to step in.

“We started seeing cancellations. Gigs, big festivals, big gatherings, they were immediately canceling,” says Dale, who moved to Tulsa in 2001. “We knew this was going to really impact the ability of working musicians to make a living. As you know, our mission is to provide a safety net of critical assistance in times of emergency, and we really couldn’t imagine a more critical situation than this one.”

On March 16, the Red Dirt Relief Fund announced an emergency grant program to help Oklahoma musicians losing income because of COVID-19 cancellations. The organization originally pledged $50,000, which was doubled by donations from Tulsans and a sizable donation from the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

With these funds the organization has given 400 one-time grants of $250 each statewide to musicians, producers, engineers, management and people whose jobs rely on music.

“It doesn’t matter the genre,” Dale says. “We have fulfilled grants this past week to members of the Tulsa Symphony, two-member church bands, singer/songwriters who have played our festivals for years, hip-hop performers and more.”

Board members of the Red Dirt Relief Fund, launched in April 2011, are working remotely from home to provide a safety net of extra cash for musicians.

“To many, $250 may not seem like a lot of money, but the response has been overwhelming — things like, ‘You are lifesavers,’ ‘You’re doing the Lord’s work,’ ‘You don’t know how much this means to my family,’” Dale says.

Although this is a difficult time for all of us, there is always a bright side. COVID-19 has brought many people in the music industry together and has forced innovation. 

“Well, the good news is that the community has kind of banded together to try to support one another,” Dale says. “And there is music streaming online all the time now.”

Online music streaming is one of the many ways we can continue to support musicians during this uncertain time. Dale says tuning in to a live music stream might even help alleviate the stress and anxiety so many of us face.

“Live streams are a great way to support,” Dale says. “They always include a link to their Venmo or Cash App or PayPal. So even if you could tip a couple of dollars, it helps keep them afloat. And also purchase things on their website. Music that you can directly buy, vinyl, merch, those kinds of things are funds that go right into their pockets. 

“And (music is) really good for all of us, too. It can relieve stress and anxiety and give us a sense of togetherness, even though we are physically distant.”

To donate to RDRF, visit reddirtrelieffund.org/donate

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