Singer-songwriter David Olney, 71, died while performing on Saturday – apologizing, closing his eyes and not opening them again.

During his second show of the day at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, Olney became still and appeared to be taking a pause, Variety reported.

“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 … outside the boathouse where we were playing,” singer Amy Rigby, who said she was sitting next to him onstage, 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.”

Scott Miller, another performer, echoed Rigby’s version of events.

“David was playing a song when he paused, said ‘I’m sorry’ and put his chin to his chest,” Miller wrote on Facebook. “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.”

Rigby said that when festival staff and audience members realized what had happened, they tried to revive Olney. A biography on his professional website said he appeared to have had a heart attack.


Olney is “widely regarded as a founding father of Americana,” according to Nashville Scene. He became embedded in Nashville’s music world when he moved there in 1973 after briefly studying English at the University of North Carolina, his biography says.

In the 1980s, Olney formed the rock band the X-Rays. He started his solo career in 1986 and produced more than 20 albums with lyrics that often focused on unexplored perspectives, such as that of the donkey who carried Jesus into Jerusalem and that of the iceberg that sank the Titanic, his website says.

His songs were covered by Emmylou Harris, Del McCoury, Linda Ronstadt and Steve Young.

During a break in Olney’s performance on WUWF-FM’s “Acoustic Interlude” on Saturday afternoon, he told the show’s host that he still gets a thrill from performing live.

“You only get one chance to play for somebody for the first time, and when they enjoy it, it’s the most satisfying feeling,” he said.

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