David Olney was performing at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, on Saturday

By Claudia Harmata
January 19, 2020 03:45 PM
Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

David Olney, a famed folk singer-songwriter, has died. He was 71.

Olney was performing at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, on Saturday when he suffered an apparent heart attack and died, according to his website.

Musician Amy Rigby was performing with Olney at the festival when he died, and shared the news on Facebook, describing his final moments.

“David Olney, a beautiful man, a legend, a songwriting poet died last night. 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,” she wrote.

“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,” Rigby, 61, described. “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.”

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“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,” she continued. “It’s hard to post about this because I can’t really believe he’s gone. I am so sorry for his wife and family and friends and all the people who loved him and his music. Even those who never heard of him. We all lost someone important last night.”

Davis Olney

Miller, who was also on stage, similarly described Olney’s final moment.

“Last night we lost David Olney, one of the finest songwriters I have had the pleasure of playing with and knowing. When I did my first show with him ( maybe 5-6 years ago) my friend Robin Williams said, ‘Oh, you are in for a treat’ and indeed I was. What a force. What a writer,” Miller wrote on Facebook. “And what a nice guy. We always talked of Anne McCue, Robin and Linda Williams and who saw them last; last night we also spoke of our mutual love for Modernist Poetry.”

“Then we started our set in the round with Amy Rigby,” he added. “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 EMT’s arrived. The world lost a good one last night. But we still have his work. And it still inspires. And always will. RIP.”

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Olney was well known in the folk-rock and Americana music communities. He had recorded 20 albums throughout his career, with some of his songs covered by Country Music Hall of Fame member Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Del McCoury and Steve Young.

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

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