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“I booked them in 1997 for the fi rst fes-


tival and every festival since. Besides my band, they’re probably the only band that has played every year. I always enjoy their music and how they present it,” noted mu- sician Byron Berline, founder of the Oklahoma International Blue Grass Festival, said.


In 2004, things took a drastic turn. Cooper and the other RDR members, Brad Piccolo—also a CREC member—and Ben Han, were playing a private party near Cushing. There was a helicopter there and guests were invited to take rides. The three band members hopped in the back, with another guest in the front with the pilot. The musicians were looking forward to an aerial view of sunset over the Cimarron River.


As they dipped over the water, the heli- copter hit some electric lines, and it crashed into the river. The guest in the front seat was killed; the pilot drowned trying to get out. Cooper had multiple broken bones and punctured lungs and Han was uncon- scious. Piccolo remained conscious through the ordeal only to discover later that he had severe back injuries. Piccolo pulled his two friends out of the cabin, which was fi lling up with water and onto the top of the nearly-upside-down air- craft. Recovery from their injuries was slow but Cooper focused on an upcoming gig as a goal. Five weeks to the day after the ac- cident, the group performed for a huge au- dience at Oklahoma City’s Zoo Amphitheater. After that concert, the musi- cians took some time off and re-evaluated their priorities.


“We decided there was more to life than running up and down the road in a rock and roll band. Brad was recently married and his wife was pregnant. And I wanted a home. We continued to play and stay busy but we toured smart. We started concen- trating more back here in Oklahoma. We wanted to become the most famous band in the state,” Cooper said.


Grounded at Home And, they’re one of the most beloved. Their annual Christmas Show at Cain’s Ballroom is always packed. The latest show served as a benefi t for The Red Dirt Relief Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization, which helps community musicians in crisis. Recently they helped one musician with medical bills, and another one who lost his home in a wildfi re.


This 25th year is a big one for the band.


They have a new CD coming out—Lone Chimney. Cooper and Piccolo host the Red Dirt Radio Hour broadcast on National Public Radio by KOSU on Sunday nights. Cooper also hosts “Third Thursdays” at the Cushing Country Club—open to the pub- lic. And the band is embarking on their 2013 Oklahoma World Tour, so watch for an appearance near you. Did Cooper fi nd his home? You bet. He and his wife Erica live on 10 acres near Lone Chimney with four dogs, chickens, a horse and, soon, some goats. The house, which John has built mostly himself, is a work in progress—as is his marriage, his life, his career and a big vegetable garden. And it’s all good.


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Upcoming Events


Red Dirt Radio Hour: Sunday, 9 p.m. on KOSU 91.7 FM in Stillwater and Central Oklahoma KOSN 107.5 FM in northeastern Oklahoma KOSN 101.9 FM in southeastern Oklahoma Online at KOSU.org


April 10: Red Dirt Rangers headline a Bob Wills Tribute event at the Oklahoma History Center, 7:30. For ticket information, call 405-522-0765


April 13: Stillwater Community Center, 7:30 p.m., Time Changes Everything, a play by Thomas Conner and John Wooley, starring Piccolo as Woody Guthrie and Cooper as Bob Wills, followed by the Red Dirt Rangers playing the music of Guthrie and Wills


April 27: Tulsa, Grand Opening of the Woody Guthrie Center. RDR will be one of several acts in a concert on Guthrie Green


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