Rivers are an important source of life on earth, and everything that calls the planet home. Rare plants and trees can be found growing near a river, while many forms of wildlife make their homes on river banks.
Rivers even have a significant historical connection to the development of the United States in providing transportation routes and sites for communities to develop, which makes it possible for commerce to exist.
The Illinois River is fundamental part of the Cherokee County landscape, and has even been the inspiration for songs. In celebration of that life-sustaining role, several Tahlequah and area musicians got together a few years back to collaborate on a compact disc that became known as “Songs For the Illinois River.” They donated proceeds from the album Save The Illinois River Inc., which has the mission of protecting and preserving the watershed.
Volume 2 of “Songs For the Illinois River” is now available, and some of the performers who can be heard on the album gathered for the Earth Day Songwriters Jam on Monday, April 22 at the Iguana Cafée to celebrate the annual environmental protection observance day and to honor the river.
Proceeds from CD sales, as well a portion of the profits made by the Iguana Cafée on Monday, will be donated to STIR, said Nancy Garber, who handles the public relations for the “Songs For The River.”
“There are 18 artists on the album,” she said. “Not all of them were able to make it [for the event]. Some of the songs pay homage to the beauty of the river, or they were inspired by the river. There’s a song on there by Wes Combs, who is a local songwriter, called ‘Ellerville Ode to Dad,’ and it’s about the original Eller community out by Combs Bridge.”
Volume 2 artists who performed on Monday included Combs, Proud Souls, White Trash Bandidos, Rick Holderbee, Oklahoma Wildlife, Dan Garber, Jack Bryant and Dennis Tibbits. Other bands or songwriters on the disc include Badwater, Sand Sheff, Carl Farinelli and Family, John Legg, Rickey Ray, Red Eye Gravy, Mason Jar Revival, Kick ‘N’ Wing and the Dean Williams Band.
Proud Souls bandmember Joel Sherrill wrote a song called “1985,” which is on the new disc, and also helped in the recording production of several other songs at his Pettit Bay recording studio, Southern View Sounds.
“The song ‘1985’, basically, just tells the story of a day on the river. It’s just a true story that everybody’s who’s ever been on the river can relate to,” he said. “Everybody I had in studio was great to work with. Everybody was very professional. I was just floored with some of the songs and some of the talent that I got to work with.”
Jack Bryant’s song, “A River’s Like Life,” has a family connection to the Illinois River.
“I’m just honored that they asked me to be part of [Volume 2]. It’s not just about saving the Illinois. It’s about saving all the scenic rivers,” he said.
“’A River’s Like Life’ is about my growing up on the river. My dad and granddad always used to take me fishing. My grandfather, my dad and his brother, back in the days before the Tenkiller Dam was built, used to hunt up and down the Illinois River. They’d take a flat-bottom boat and put in at Flint Ridge. They’d come down Flint Creek and then go all the way down to the Arkansas. They’d load up and hunt and fish. That’s how they ate.”
Kathy Tibbits, who is handling album sales, said the “Songs For the Illinois River” collaboration reflects the typical nature of music spawned by the river.
“We call it ‘river music.’ They have Red Dirt up around Stillwater. Well, we have river music, and it has been inspiring people for generations,” she said. “There are some really old gospel songs about this river. Every song has a connection to the river.”
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