Sometimes the best way to give back is to start with the thing you love the most.
Price Vernon hit the stage with bands like Big Okie Doom and Ugly Stick, while Steve McAnally played with Killer Gandhi and Nevermind the Embers. After the longtime friends reconnected, they found a way to combine their talents to form The Red Case Society, a charity organization designed to promote local music while giving back to those in need.
“We’ve both worked together in different aspects for many years,” McAnally said. “And like life does, we kind of separated for a while. When we reconnected in April 2021 and spent some time catching up, we both realized we were on the same kind of wavelength without even being aware of it. We both wanted to start doing something for the community and find a way to give back and that’s when we came up with the idea behind Red Case.”
The idea for the name came from the Salvation Army’s distinguishable red kettle. McAnally and Vernon painted what would become their signature red guitar case to make their message stand out and held their first Red Case Society show at JJ’s Alley in September of 2021, with artists who helped raise over $3,500 for the Jesus House. The donation allowed the charity to complete its kitchen expansion to grow from serving 60 people at a time to more than 200.
“We're doing our little presentation and we were both blown away because they were expecting like $300,” Vernon said. “They looked at us like we were heroes. ‘This is going to build our entire kitchen. We're remodeling our kitchen and this is going to pay for the entire remodel.’ Steve and I were just like, ‘Wow, are you kidding me? We did that?’ That was the rocket fuel that launched this thing.
“It's awesome to be able to contribute to local charities and things that directly affect your community,” McAnally said. “But it's also really awesome to be able to have a vehicle for other people to be able to take that and do it as well.”
McAnally does the photography, records interviews and live shows, and manages the social media accounts to promote The Red Case Society and the musicians who donate their talents and time.
“We try to create value for the artists because they're giving their time and they're not getting paid. We help promote what they're doing, because we want them to get something out of helping us. You help us, we help you. We know that just doing music, a lot of people don't get paid, even the good people. It’s hard for me to do stuff for free, it's asking a lot of people, so we want to provide value for everyone involved.”
The Red Case Society has over 15 musicians who play regularly, whether busking or at venues like JJ’s Alley, the Core4 Brewing Co. taproom and VZD’s. Each is passionate about the cause, including those lost along the way.
“Dean Northcutt and Bobby Mauer were both well known musicians in the city that were really dedicated to our cause,” McAnally said. “When we said ‘Red Case,’ and gave them a 10 second spiel, they were there. Every time we said, ‘Hey, we're doing this thing,’ they showed up without missing a beat. They were there from the beginning and we lost them unexpectedly, but both of those guys really exemplified the heart of what we're about.”
Those that have joined The Red Case Society become like family.
“Warren of War-N-Peace is from Zimbabwe, and he’s a guy who is just so incredible,” Vernon said. “He landed here in Oklahoma City through the miracle of God and just wants to give back to this community. That, to us, really kind of captures the point, like in whatever community you're in at that moment, you can help. A lot of people think, ‘Well, I'm just one person, what am I gonna do?’ We're here to tell you to sing a song. Pick your guitar up, sing a song and you will help your community. We've proven that. We have a lot of artists who, who have been in need of social services of some sort, have charities, and you know, musicians, a lot of the time are not the richest people … For everyone it's a passion project, and a lot of times they need help with a lot of different services. So it's a very, as like I say, an incestuous family — the people that are helping the people that need help are all kind of the same people. That's really inspiring to me to see these guys that have been in the position where they know what it's like. You didn't need to be homeless or whatever to have problems with addictions or some shit. To see the passion that those people have, about helping the people that are out there now with those exact same things, it just melts my heart into cheese.”
The causes the group supports are endless, but it’s important to McAnally and Vernon to ensure that the money donated goes directly to causes that support the community.
“We always research and vet the organizations we give to,” McAnally said. “Because if we're gonna bring our friends and our buddies out and we're gonna give our time for free, we want to make sure that the money's going straight to OKC to an organization that's doing good work. We started with homelessness because we knew that Jesus House was an established charity and when you give to them, it goes directly to rehabilitation, no questions. We've done animal rescues, homelessness, hunger, addiction services, all of the charities that impact our community in the strongest ways are the ones that we're looking for, to help them.”
Building trust in the community and amongst the artists was paramount.
“We do busking, live shows, all kinds of different things,” McAnally said. “But anything and everything that ever goes in that red guitar case always goes straight to the charity. We said from the beginning that we wanted to be very transparent. There's a lot of fundraisers with music that you don't always know if that's true, so we wanted to make sure that we did it in a way that was honest and that we produced evidence of us turning over the money.”
Since its inception, The Red Case Society has raised over $10,000 to donate to local charities. McAnally and Vernon hope to see the project continue to grow and expand its reach to obtain new artists and make a bigger impact for organizations in need.
“We're trying to kind of establish a franchise, if you will, in Oklahoma City and beyond,” Vernon said. “Which is exciting, because Oklahoma is kind of the standard for supporting people. That's one of the things that everybody here takes pride in is that we're a community that takes care of our own. We could have a red case all over the city at the same time which could make a lot of impact. There's a lot of music being made around the city at all times, so it’s kind of a no-brainer, why wouldn't you? You literally have to step over a body laying there. To do your thing, just take that energy that it takes to step over him and give that energy to that person who's in need. Because both of us have been in that position. And a few of our artists have been homeless so they know firsthand both the gesture and the impact.”
The team hopes to see other cities take note.
“We also want to provide an example for other cities,” McAnally said. “Our big picture is that The Red Case Society is a kind of a diagram of how you can do it yourself. Why can't there be a Red Case Tulsa, Red Case St. Louis or a Red Case Boston? If you have a local organization of musicians to play in that community, you can play music, and you can raise money for local charities in your area. That can spread out, it's something that can be duplicated everywhere.”
The Red Case Society has made a big impact on McAnally and Vernon’s lives and they hope it does the same for others.
“We like to say that the universe does not dictate, it reverberates,” Vernon said. “If you come out, turn your own light on and help other people, then you're gonna go back and you're probably gonna write better songs, you're gonna be a better person, you're gonna make better music. It's reciprocal in every way that it could possibly be.”
Find The Red Case Society every second Saturday at Core4 Brewing or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.