Singer-songwriter David Olney dies on stage during festival

Revered American singer-songwriter David Olney died on Saturday, Jan. 18. He was 71.

The veteran musician and poet died after suffering a heart attack on stage during his own set at the 2020 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.. A statement issued to Olney’s official website confirmed his passing on Saturday.

Olney was often considered a “pioneer” of the Americana genre thanks to his “indelible songs” and captivating live performances. Throughout his five decade-spanning music career, he released 20 studio albums; seemingly inspiring many of those who crossed his path along the way.

Amy Rigby, a fellow-musician and close friend of Olney’s, described him as a “beautiful man,” a “legend” and a “songwriting poet,” in a commemorative Facebook post shared on Sunday following his death.

She recounted witnessing the “graceful and dignified” death. “Olney was in the middle of his third song when he stopped, apologized and shut his eyes,” wrote Rigby.

“He was very still, sitting upright with his guitar on, wearing the coolest hat and a beautiful rust suede jacket,” she added. “We laughed, because it was raining like hell outside the boathouse where we were playing.”


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She continued: “At first, looked like he was just taking a moment … Scott Miller had the presence of mind to say we needed to revive him. Doctors in the audience and 30A folks were all working so hard to get him to come to.  It’s hard to post about this because I can’t really believe he’s gone.”

In his own post, Scott Miller — another close friend of Olney’s — described the situation in an extremely similar way as Rigby. He wrote, “We got him down and tried our best to revive him until the EMT’s arrived.”

“David was playing a song when he paused, said ‘I’m sorry’ and put his chin to his chest,” said Miller. “He never dropped his guitar or fell off his stool. It was as easy and gentle as he was,” he added.

Only a few hours before his unexpected death, Olney’s final, half-hour acoustic performance was recorded for a live WUWF 88.1 broadcast — the University of West Florida’s public radio station.

Olney’s full performance can be seen in the video above.


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Within his lifetime, many of Olney’s songs were covered and recorded by a plethora music icons, including: Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Del McCoury and Steve Earle among others.

Townes Van Zandt, the late-singer-songwriter, once described Olney as “one of the best songwriters ever heard,” according to the obituary issued by his publicist.

“Any time anyone asks me who my favorite music writers are,” said Van Zandt, “I say Mozart, Lightnin Hopkins, Bob Dylan and Dave Olney. That’s true. I mean that from my heart,” he concluded.

David Olney performing live on stage at the Jesse Winchester Tribute at the Folk Alliance held in Memphis.

David Olney performing live on stage at the Jesse Winchester Tribute at the Folk Alliance held in Memphis.

Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Miller later described Olney as “one of the finest songwriters I have had the pleasure of playing with and knowing.”

“What a force. What a writer. What a nice guy,” he added. “The world lost a good one last night. But we still have his work. And it still inspires. And always will. RIP,” he concluded.


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“I am so sorry for his wife, family and friends and all the people who loved him and his music,” wrote Rigby. “Even those who never heard of him,” she added. “We all lost someone important last night.”

Olney is survived by his wife Regine, daughter Lillian, and son Redding.

Olney’s most recent works can be heard through Spotify. Physical copies of works from his entire discography can be purchased through his online webstore.

For more information on the much-beloved artist, you can visit his official website.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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