Singer-songwriter David Olney has died at age 71, after falling silent and dropping his head in the midst of a performance at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Florida.
Olney simply became still on his stool on Saturday night, leading some audience members and even the musicians beside him to think he was simply taking a pause, before they realised what had happened and lowered him to the stage.
Olney was giving his second festival performance of the day as part of an “in the round” song-swap show.
Performer Scott Miller described the scene in a Facebook post: “David was playing a song when he paused, said ‘I’m sorry’ and put his chin to his chest. He never dropped his guitar or fell off his stool. It was as easy and gentle as he was. We got him down and tried our best to revive him until the EMTs arrived. … The world lost a good one last night. But we still have his work. And it still inspires. And always will. RIP.”
Olney was a revered figure in the folk-rock and Americana communities who had recorded 20 albums of his own as well as having his songs covered by Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Del McCoury and his former roommate Steve Earle.
The late Townes Van Zandt famously said of Olney: “Any time anyone asks me who my favourite music writers are… I say Mozart, Lightnin Hopkins, Bob Dylan and Dave Olney. Dave Olney is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard — and that’s true. I mean that from my heart.”
Singer-songwriter David Olney died onstage last night, 18 January 2020, at the 30A Songwriter Festival in South Walton, Florida. Amy Rigby writes: “Olney was in the middle of his third song when he stopped, apologized and shut his eyes…” He was 71.@ChiReviewPress pic.twitter.com/s05xgHLlR9
— The Show Won't Go On (@TheShowWontGoOn) January 19, 2020
Harris, in particular, brought attention to Olney as a songwriter with her covers of “Jerusalem Tomorrow” in 1993 and “Deeper Well” on her essential 1995 album “Wrecking Ball.”
Olney first became known as a member of the X-Rays, a more raucous band that was signed to the Rounder label in the early 1980s and opened for acts like Elvis Costello. He also recorded for Rounder later in his prolific career as a solo artist, along with other labels like Philco.
He had just completed a new album.
Born in 1948, the musician moved to Nashville in 1973 after and became part of what some would describe as a seminal alternative-country scene that included Earle, Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Rodney Crowell.
Outside of performing his own material, Olney appeared at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival in shows like a contemporary updating of “As You Like It,” and he was known to write his own sonnets. Said Emmylou Harris, “David Olney tells marvelous stories, with characters who cling to the hope of enduring love, all the while crossing the deep divide into that long, dark night of the soul.”
Olney is survived by his wife, Regine, daughter, Lillian, and son, Redding.