Legendary Songwriter David Olney Dies While Performing Onstage
It’s the often-used cliche to say someone died while doing what they love. For some, it’s a dream they wish upon. For David Olney, it was a reality.
The beloved songwriter for Emmylou Harris and others, who Townes Van Zandt once praised by saying, “Any time anyone asks me who my favorite 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,” died on Saturday, January 17th during mid performance at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rose Beach, Florida.
“David Olney, a beautiful man, a legend, a songwriting poet died last night,” fellow songwriter Amy Rigby shared on social media. “I was sitting next to him in the round, had been so honored and looking forward to getting to trade songs with him and Scott Miller. Olney was in the middle of his third song when he stopped, apologized, and shut his eyes. 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.”
“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.”
David Olney was 71-years-old. No official cause of death has been given.
“Important” is a good way to describe the life and contributions of David Olney. “Jerusalem Tomorrow” was one of the first songs Emmylou Harris recorded from Olney in 1993. He would go on to co-write what many consider one of Emmylou’s most important songs, “Deeper Well” off her iconic 1995 record, Wrecking Ball. But that’s just where the songwriting credits for David Olney begin. Linda Ronstadt, Steve Earle, Steve Young, Del McCoury, Slaid Cleaves, and Laurie Lewis were just some of the many artists who covered or composed songs with David Olney over his nearly 50 year songwriting career.
But the Providence, Rhode Island native had his own performing career as well, releasing over 20 albums spanning four decades, including with the band he helped form, “The X-Rays,” who were signed to Rounder Records, and appeared on Austin City Limits. Olney performed regularly at songwriter festivals like 30A in Florida, and was schedule to perform at Folk Alliance in New Orleans this upcoming week.
Born March 23rd, 1948, David Charles Olney attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, dropping out before he could graduate to join Bland Simpson in recording the 1971 live album Simpson in New York, and eventually relocating to Atlanta. In 1973, Olney moved to Nashville and began writing and pitching songs to record labels with moderate success, along with forming the X-Rays. But as a solo performer is where he would be most prolific, recording for Rounder, Philco, and other labels over the years. Fans of his songwriting would often join him Tuesday nights online for his “You Never Know” Songwriter Series on YouTube.
David Olney was also a cinematographer and producer who worked on numerous shorts and documentaries.
As tragic of a passing as it is, a more storybook ending could never be composed for a songwriter as pure and dedicated to the craft of putting words to music like David Olney.
January 19, 2020 @ 12:15 pm
Thanks for posting this.
January 19, 2020 @ 2:21 pm
That is astonishing.
He knew, and his last act was to apologize for disrupting something he loved so well.
God bless his soul.
January 19, 2020 @ 2:54 pm
Google: Onie Wheeler… the ultimate passing! The other performer to die at the Opry was Grandpa Jones who had just finished performing the second show of the evening on February 19, 1998.
January 20, 2020 @ 4:35 am
Your post is not relevant in the least.
January 20, 2020 @ 2:53 pm
“As tragic of a passing as it is, a more storybook ending could never be composed for a songwriter as pure and dedicated to the craft of putting words to music like David Olney.” Passing @ The Grand Ole Opry I consider a storybook ending!
January 21, 2020 @ 3:16 pm
“died on Saturday, January 17th during mid performance at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rose Beach, Florida.”
January 19, 2020 @ 4:01 pm
Sad news but at least it appears his death was peaceful and painless and while doing the thing he loved to do. We all have to go and there are definatly worse ways for it to happen. Not country music but any jam-band fans would know who Col. Bruce Hampton was. He died a couple years ago on stage at a show honoring him on the evening of his 70th birthday playing with Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Chuck Leavell and a bunch of other highly esteemed musicians from that scene.
Prof. Don R. Mueller
January 19, 2020 @ 5:59 pm
For a musician: This is the “One and Olney” way to go. RIP Mr. Olney.
Texas Joe Valles
January 19, 2020 @ 6:38 pm
Is there any video of this?
January 19, 2020 @ 7:45 pm
There is video of David from the 30A Songwriters fest from earlier in the day, but nothing that I have seen of the specific performance where he passed away. And if there was, I think it would be a hard decision for the owner to post it.
January 19, 2020 @ 7:00 pm
So sad, yet stoic. Going out doing what he loved. RIP !
January 19, 2020 @ 8:10 pm
This is sad, but also graceful and poetic.
January 19, 2020 @ 8:12 pm
doesn’t get more folk punk then that
January 19, 2020 @ 11:22 pm
Except for his age, and 71 seems younger every day, I don’t find this sad at all. What is a better way to go? He didn’t even drop his guitar. He maintained utmost dignity, slipping away doing what he lived for. I want to congratulate this Artist. May we all be so blessed. God bless you, Mr. Olney. Have fun.
January 20, 2020 @ 12:29 am
RIP David…My heart feels great sorrow, but my soul feels gratitude for the beauty you left on this side, and that you went away with all the style and class you’ve always shown. God Bless.
January 20, 2020 @ 2:28 am
Jerusalem Tomorrow remains a masterclass in songwriting. Thank you Mr. Olney r.i.p.
January 20, 2020 @ 4:32 am
No doubt the media loves a human tragedy such as this, and the entire World of Media has most notably taken David’s demise hook-line-and-sinker.
It would have been a more worthy notion and kind gesture by the media if you all could have praised his life’s work, and promoted his countless performances throughout his Global appearances the past several decades. For many music aficionados (even here in Europe) David Olney was a familiar and welcomed soul, with lyrics that touched upon so many emotions, cultures, and classes of people worldwide.
Alas, apparently only David Olney’s death onstage gets your attention;
poignant though it may have been.
January 20, 2020 @ 9:43 am
I appreciate you concern here. But I also think it’s a little unfair, specifically when it comes to my obituary, which was not just a regurgitation of everyone else’s with a flashy headline to draw clicks. I think I did fair justice to his entire career, and unlike some of the writers who no doubt saw this as an opportunistic story, I knew who David Olney was, and as long-time readers here can attest, revere the mid 90’s work of Emmylou Harris as seminal to the formation of Americana and alt-country, and understand Oleny’s place in that through his songs.
Yes, it makes for a seductive topic: a songwriter dying on stage. But if that gets dozens, if not hundreds, or maybe even thousands of people to take pause and recognize the passing of David Olney who otherwise might not, or better yet delve into his body of work, more power to it.
January 20, 2020 @ 1:31 pm
I got a Dave Olney album back when you couldn’t preview them, it was certainly interesting, but the one song that stuck out was about a French serial killer which he sung with a French accent. I would describe it as “Beauty and the beast on meth”! I was trying to find more of his records on Amazon a couple weeks ago but they only have one song. He was certainly a legend.
January 20, 2020 @ 4:09 pm
This Side or The Other was one my favorite albums of 2018.
God bless Mr. Olney.
January 21, 2020 @ 5:28 am
Why is it that NONE of the assorted articles have named any of his titles?