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 Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, Saturday night.
Some news reports said he “collapsed” on stage, but that isn’t quite true: Olney simply became still on his stool, leading some audience members and even the musicians beside him to think he was simply taking a pause, before they realized 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 with Amy Rigby, who was sitting next to him and described his last moments.
“Olney was in the middle of his third song when he stopped, apologized, and shut his eyes,” Rigby wrote on Facebook. “He was very still, sitting upright with his guitar on, wearing the coolest hat and a beautiful rust suede jacket we laughed about because it was raining like hell outside the boathouse where we were playing — I just want the picture to be as graceful and dignified as it was, because it at first looked like he was just taking a moment.”
Added Rigby, “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 … We all lost someone important last night.”
Miller described the scene similarly in his own 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 of 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.”
A half-hour performance Olney gave earlier in the day on his own was captured on video and posted to YouTube.
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.