David Olney, 71, dies while performing on stage at a music festival

David Olney, 71, dies on stage after saying ‘I’m sorry’ and lowering his head to his chest while performing at a music festival in Florida

  • Olney has died at age 71 while performing on stage on Saturday evening
  •  The singer and songwriter at first went said ‘I’m sorry’ then went silent
  • David lowered his head to his chest causing his fellow musicians to think he was just taking a break while on stage
  • Doctors ‘were all working so hard’ to revive musician 
  • On Sunday it was stated on his website that the artist experienced a heart attack 

Singer-songwriter David Olney died at 71 Saturday night after he suffered a heart attack while onstage performing at a music festival in Florida. 

Olney, who was in his third performance the 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, initially said, ‘I’m sorry,’ then went silent and lowered his head to his chest, publicist Jill Kettles said on Olney’s website Sunday. 

‘Doctors in the audience and 30A folks were all working so hard to get him to come to,’ said musician and fellow performer Amy Rigby, who was seated near Olney at the time. 

Sad passing: David Olney has died at age 71 while performing on stage on Saturday evening. The singer and songwriter said ‘I’m sorry’ then went silent while he lowered his head to his chest causing his fellow musicians to think he was just taking a break while on stage; here he is seen on Friday

Social media fan: Here is one of his last Instagram posts from the cult favorite 

The Rhode Island native was a staple in Nashville for decades, having made more than 20 albums and penned songs for artists including Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

The folk singer ‘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 wrote on Facebook. ‘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.’ 

Rigby said musician 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 also shared a post online, saying, ‘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. 

He worked hard: It was his third performance at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Seen in 2015

‘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.’ 

Olney was part of the folk-rock and Americana communities, and had just finished another album. 

‘Yesterday, myself, Arana and Irakli had spent the day making final revisions to the album we made with David Olney,’ musician Brett Ryan Stewart said on Facebook. ‘In the very same moment that we hit the save button, collectively yelling “We did it!” we got the news that David, who was in Florida performing, had passed away, on stage. It’s all very surreal. … I am so grateful for our time together. 

He died doing what he loved: ‘Olney was in the middle of his third song when he stopped, apologized, and shut his eyes,’ musician Amy Rigby – who was sitting next to him – wrote on Facebook. Seen in 2012

He continued: ‘I recognized a kindred spirit in him from day one. His stories, his encouragement, his wisdom. Hands down was of the funniest, gentlest, most thoughtful and charming curmudgeons to have graced the earth. Was really looking forward to more.’ 

His friend Abbie Gardner Dobro also said: ‘Today I mourn the loss of my friend and co-writer, David Olney. He passed away last night doing what he loves and it feels like he took all the words with him. 

Her tribute: Abbie Gardner Dobro shared a photo with David while saying said she loved his grumbly voice

His early years: Here he is seen on one of his 20 album covers

‘David is someone I wrote with every time I came to Nashville and we always managed to turn our scraps of ideas into finished songs within 2 hours. I loved listening to his grumbly voice and marveled at how tiny and neat his handwriting was, compared to my scribbly mess… I wish I had a photo of the two of us writing, bent over guitars and notebooks. That’s how I remember us best. 

‘We were supposed to write together next week and I can’t wrap my head around it not happening. I always save certain ideas to write with him… I don’t know if they will go unfinished now. In this moment, I can’t find the right words for what it means to me that our last recorded song was called “Death Will Not Divide Us”… He and I would have gone back and forth with adjectives and verbs about it…

‘But in any case, I hope you’re right, David. I hope you’re right.’

Eye of the Storm: It was added that David was ‘a key member of Nashville’s music community since his move to Music City in 1973. And the Lincoln, Rhode Island native ‘was a compelling and enigmatic presence’

He was also scheduled to appear at the Folk Alliance gathering in New Orleans on January 23 and on February he was scheduled to perform in Tennessee.  

Country Music Hall of Fame member Emmylou Harris said, ‘David Olney tells marvelous stories, with characters who cling to the hope of enduring love, all the while crossing the deep divide into that long, dark night of the soul.’

Troubadour Steve Earle called Olney, ‘One of the best songwriters working in the world today,’ and the late Townes Van Zandt once said, ‘Anytime anyone asks me who my favorite music writers are, I say Mozart, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bob Dylan and Dave Olney.’

His friend and songwriting great Guy Clark said that Olney’s art ‘transcends craftsmanship. It’s inspired, for sure.’

The site added that he is survived by wife, Regine, daughter, Lillian, and son, Redding, and ‘by a devastated music community.’   

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