Oklahoma Red Dirt/Country Female Artists Gone or Too Busy? We Don’t Buy It.

Photo by: Madi Denton | Camille Harp & Kierston White at Edgemere Under the Stars

Medicine Stone Music Festival’s recently announced lineup is stirring up press, but not in a way the festival planning committee perhaps anticipated. Soon after the release of its 30-band lineup, which contained only one woman artist, Oklahoma singer-songwriter Samantha Crain posted on Twitter, “Oklahoma is crawling with lady red dirt talent and Medicine Stone has a lineup full of men.” Rebuttals to Crain’s criticism, including a response from the event organizers, wants the public to believe that the absence of female artists in the lineup is due to a lack of available and willing female talent.  As a company that works with a variety of festivals and encounters the booking process first hand, Cellar Door Music Group doesn’t buy it.

Turnpike Troubadours guitarist Ryan Engleman commented via Twitter, “Just FYI—we tried to get 6 different female artists to this festival. Jamie [Wilson] was the only one who worked out.”

Saving Country Music, an online music blog, picked up on the Twitter hype and posted an article the next day titled “Red Dirt and Texas Country Have a Female Problem.” Despite its criticism of the current, male-dominated state of music, though, it came to a similar conclusion to Engleman’s. “Part of the problem is that much of the region’s female talent makes a B-line for Nashville and never looks back,” it stated.

However, the cold hard truth is that Medicine Stone didn’t make a larger effort to diversify its lineup, and instead of apologies, festival supporters and planners are grasping at excuses.  

While undoubtedly there are many women who move to different states after gaining high rates of exposure and success as artists, there are also many well-known regional Oklahoma red dirt and country artists who are still here. Just to name a few, Kaitlin Butts, Camille Harp, Ali Harter, Kierston White, Eva Coon (The Mills Band), and Katie Williams are all alive and well in the state, and that doesn’t even include the outrageously talented women in Tulsa, Texas, and other Oklahoma areas.  A festival that has the means to add Jason Boland, Randy Rogers Band and Stoney LaRue just couldn’t find any other female artists willing to perform?  With over five months notice and plenty of women to choose from, that reasoning doesn’t stand.

Prominent Oklahoma figures had their say in the wake of Samantha Crain’s tweets. The Oklahoman’s own Nathan Poppe chimed in as well as prominent female Okie artists like Annie Oakley and Cami Stinson. “No one wants to get included just because they’re female,” Stinson posted publicly, “but there are badass female musicians who should be. Music is male-dominated, but there are countless female artists to book. They often bring new perspectives and audiences.”

In addition to covering the issue at hand, the Saving Country Music article went on to point out a larger problem where Twitter users fired back at Crain’s initial tweet. They derisively commented that she should find a place to victimize herself some more or start her own women’s festival “instead of being a lazy c**t.” If these voices are among Medicine Stone’s defenders, it’s fairly clear that this is a much more deeply rooted problem.

Jamie Wilson, the sole woman playing the event (and who has spent a good deal of her response being gracious to the festival), spoke up in the blog’s comment section and shed some light on the inner workings of the industry. “I was told by a very well known booking agent he loves my music and my style, but ‘girls don’t sell beer’ so he couldn’t take me on,” she said. “When most of the venues in the scene rely on beer sales and not ticket sales (w/ most of the band deals being a very high percentage of the door), I get why they want someone in there who will call everyone to party.”

It is no argument that Red Dirt and Texas Country artists are primarily (white) males, which makes it that much tougher to diversity the lineup for a public festival. Male musicians undeniably create a larger pool than women, but that’s why it’s so important to be more conscious of that when selecting artists.

Overall, Medicine Stone has opened a dialogue that is important to our music scene and even our state and we are interested to see what its PR team does with its newfound platform.

The very roots of Red Dirt music lie in Stillwater, and it’s a genre with which Oklahoma closely identifies. Sexism, racism and inequality already pervade our lives in so many other places; let’s remember that music and art has historically been a place to not only transcend the boundaries of prejudice, but to also eradicate them.

And if there is some notion that this isn’t a situation we can’t improve, then, well, we just don’t buy that either.

This article was originally written for Cellar Door Music Group (cellardoormusicgroup.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.

Jennifer Maynord
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Jennifer Maynord was the Founder and Creative Director of Cellar Door Music Group. She now runs Artio Services, an organization dedicated to diplomacy through the arts. She is also a founding member of folk band Willow Way.

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aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.

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